ALL BY HERSELF: 14 GIRLS WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by Michael Sreirnagle
Brwondeer/Harcourt Brace, 1999
This is a book of poems about fourteen young women—some of whose names may be well known to most of us: Amelia Earhart, Rachel Carson, Sacajawea, Wilma Rudolph, Pocahontas, Wanda Gag, Mary Jane McLeod, and Golda Mabovitch/Golda Meir. Many of us may be less familiar with the names of others: Violet Sheehy, Ida Lewis, Harriet Hanson, Kate Shelley, Maria Mitchell, and Frances Ward.
In free verse poems, Ann Whitford Paul, celebrates the hard work, courage, and accomplishments of these remarkable females. In the back matter of the book, the author includes additional information about each of the “girls.” Each two-page spread includes a boxed poem on the left-hand side and a framed portrait of a young woman, picturing her in a setting emblematic of her early life, her interests and dreams, or a specific event written about in the poem, on the right hand side. Sacajawea is illustrated leading explorers through snowy terrain. Ida Lewis is shown in a rowboat on a rough sea rescuing men whose boat has capsized. Children’s author and illustrator Wanda Gag is pictured with pen in hand drawing a picture, and Maria Mitchell is shown staring through a telescope. Both text and art inform readers about these “14 girls who made a difference.”
A Look at the Poems
Long years ago a girl embarked
with two explorers, Lewis and Clark,
to learn about uncharted land…
traveling on for two years’ time,
trudging, tramping day by day,
wending, winding on her way,
with every dauntless step she took,
she walked into our history books.
I highly recommend reading Joseph Bruchac’s well-researched historical novel Sacajawea.
Written by Joseph Bruchac
(Maria, who was mostly self-educated, taught for many years as Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College.)
From Maria Mitchell
With her father, each clear night,
Maria watched the dome of sky,
studying with careful eye,
entranced by every cosmic sight.
He let her use his telescope,
so she could see the lights out far—
the color, gleam of every star.
I recommend reading Maria’s Comet, a picture book about Mitchell that “is fanciful and rich in poetic imagery that will work well for reading aloud” (School Library Journal). The book does have a lovely lyrical text. It includes a note from the author explaining that the book is a work of fiction—but inspired by the life of the real Maria Mitchell. The author also includes a page with information about astronomy terms that were used in the book.
Here’s how Maria’s Comet begins:
As darkness falls,
Papa goes up to the roof to sweep the sky.
When I was little,
I thought Papa stood on our rooftop
sweeping the stars into place,
with one great whoosh of a broom.
Maria’s father was an astronomer. She learned later that he swept “the sky with a small brass telescope/moving it slowly over the sea of stars/like a sailor scanning the waves.”
Kate Shelley helped rescue survivors from a train wreck on a railroad bridge during a torrential storm in the summer of 1881. She later received a gold medal from the state of Iowa for the heroism she showed that night.
From Kate Shelley (This poem captures the drama of Kate’s rescue mission.)
The water lapped the railroad bridge.
Her lantern’s small flame quivered. Then it died!
Kate strained to see the ties placed far apart,
stooped down to her knees, and groped through the dark.
Jabbed by splinters, ripped by nails,
she crawled along the planks—across a span, five hundred feet.
Read your students Kate Shelley: Bound for Legend, a fine nonfiction book that tells about Kate’s family life prior to the train wreck and provides a gripping account—in both text and illustrations—of her rescue mission.
KATE SHELLEY: BOUND FOR LEGEND
Written by Robert D. San Souci
Paintings by Max Ginsburg
From Rachel Carson
(This poem speaks of her childhood and how she felt when, at the age of ten, she saw a story she had written published in a children’s magazine.)
So pleased was she to see her words in print,
she knew what she would do
when she was not a child—
she’d write about the flowers
bugs and birds and trees
and all things growing wild.
RACHEL: THE STORY OF RACHEL CARSON
Written by Amy Ehrlich
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Silver Whistle/Harcourt, 2003
I recommend the beautifully illustrated picture book biography Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson. While not a complete biography, this book gives readers brief glimpses of Rachel at certain times/days in her life: when she won a silver badge for a story she had sent to St. Nicholas Magazine, in a college biology class in 1927, at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory on Cape Cod in 1929, collecting specimens to study under her microscope along an estuary of the Sheepscot River in Maine in 1953, learning about the aftereffects of spraying insecticides to kill mosquitoes in 1958. It also touches on the discussions that followed the publication of her book Silent Spring and how Congress established committees to investigate the poisons. This book would be a good introduction to Rachel Carson for young people who have probably never heard about this woman who is credited with beginning today’s environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring.
Wendell Minor’s luminescent one and two-page spreads, done in watercolor and gouache, draw readers into the natural world that Rachel loved so much, into the world she studied and loved to explore.
Click here to read an interview with Amy Ehrlich and Wendell Minor about Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson.