Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Five Fabulous Picture Books about Trailblazing Women

Margarita Engle, author
Rafael Lopez, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Girls cannot be drummers.  Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl.  She longed to play tall congas and small bongos and silvery, moon-bright timbales.  She had to keep her dream quiet.  She had to practice in secret.  But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girls tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere. 

Why It’s Fabulous:
This Pura Belpre winner’s stunning illustrations are full of bright colors and vivid imagination: A blend of the real and the fantastic as well as of nature and of culture. The lyrical free verse is intoxicating.  Drum Dream Girl works both independently and with a teacher until she has mastered the art.  Her determination and skill wins her father over. As a result, she finally plays for an audience,  prompting a change in the cultural tradition.  Now, both men and women are allowed to play the drums.

Shana Corey, author
Edwin Fotheringham, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Are you brave enough to make a wave?

If you love sports and people who aren’t afraid to swim against the tide, Annette Kellerman and her freestyle approach to life will make you heart swell.

This book is a winning portrait of a little-known athlete, performer, and fashion revolutionary who broke records (and rules) and dazzled the world with her splashy pluck and courage.

Why She’s Fabulous:
Annette begins life with physical limitations.  To build up her strength, she swims. The water is the one place she feels graceful and strong.  At a time when female athletes were not common, she begins winning swimming races and develops a new sport—water ballet.  Not only does she break down barriers in sports, but she does in swimwear as well.  The women who did swim were covered from neck to ankles—some even wore corsets!  Annette’s bathing suit is so scandalous at the time, she is arrested!  She argues before a judge and wins!  Women begin swimming more for exercise and fun.  Even more importantly, they are able to do it more comfortably because now they wear suits like Annette’s.  As a trailblazer for women in sports and in fashion, Annette makes a lasting impact.

Sue Macy, author
C. F. Payne, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Press Box:  Women and Children Not Admitted

So read the press pass that Mary Garber had to wear as a reporter at sporting events.  It was embarrassing, even insulting, but in the 1940s, sports—and sports reporting—was a man’s world.

Mary didn’t let that stop her.  She never let anything stop her, really. As a kid, she played quarterback for her local football team.  Later, as a reporter, she dug in her heels and built up her own sports beat.  For close to fifty years, Mary shined the spotlight on local heroes whose efforts might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  “That’s Miss Mary Garber,” one boy said at a soapbox derby.  “And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are.  If you do something, she’s going to write about you.”

This is the story of a woman who pursued her dream and changed the world.

Why She’s Fabulous:
Mary combines the two things she loves—writing and sports—and makes a career out of it when few women had professional careers outside a nurse or a teacher. She also has a keen eye and optimistic perspective. Using all these passions and talents, Mary covers beats that include athletes in their novice days and in their professional careers:  Big sports competitions, like Major League Baseball games, and small town ones, like soapbox derbies.  She writes about men and women as well as Blacks and Whites. Many athletes are positively impacted by her work, and she blazes a trail that eventually allows women more opportunities in sports reporting. 

Duncan Tonatiuh, author and illustrator

Publisher Summary:
As a child Amalia Hernandez saw a pair of dancers in the town square.  The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the music inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.

Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier.  She began traveling through the Mexican countryside, witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage.  She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.

Why She’s Fabulous:
Not only does Amalia become a successful dancer through years of practice and rehearsals, but she also creates new ones merging various styles.  Traveling all over Mexico, she studies traditional dances and cultural traditions (like dress and music).  Inspired by all of her training and traveling, Amalia produces original dances that celebrate her culture and country’s history.  She takes on many roles—choreographer, company founder, teacher, and director.  Amelia’s innovative vision resonates long after her passing.  Her dance company continues to perform all over the world, celebrating both the artistry of dance as well as the culture of the Mexican people.

Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, authors
Brigette Barrager, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Mary Blair lived her life in color: vivid, wild color.

For her imaginative childhood to her career as an illustrator, designer, and animator for Walt Disney Studios, Mary wouldn’t play by the rules.  At a time when studios wanted to hire men and think in black and white, Mary painted twinkling emerald skies, peach giraffes with tangerine spots, and magenta horses that could fly.  She painted her world.

Why She’s Fabulous:
Mary collects colors everywhere she goes and saves them in her imagination. When she is hired at Disney Studios, she thinks she will finally have the opportunity to share her artistic flair.  Unfortunately, her colors and creatively are met with resistance in a then male-dominated field.  Walt Disney appreciates her vision though.  He commissions her for a special project that utilizes her talents.  Mary creates a “world of laughter, a world of smiles. And color, color, color, everywhere.”  She is a woman who refuses “to color in the lines.” As a result, she makes her mark on the culture. 


  1. I love Drum Dream Girl and Danza, both taught me new things and were so beautiful to read, too. In Miss Mary Reporting: she was so brave! I know of the others, still haven't read them, and you've made me want to. I remember Annette Kellerman in the news. She was a very big deal!

  2. I love all these biographies! I hadn't thought about how different their art is until I saw them together in your post. Great way to celebrate Women's History Month.

  3. Great selection. I loved Danza and haven't read a couple of these yet.


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