Posts Tagged ‘Victorian era’

Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure

by Shana Corey; ill. Hadley Hooper

Scholastic, 2012

40 pages

I know it sounds curmudgeonly, but kids don’t get outside enough these days.

We parents are too scared of catastrophe; kids are too enmeshed in devices (also a parental failing, since we’re the ones who are supposed to set limits on the things). And don’t get me started on the lack of recess and P.E. at school.

Being constantly indoors is simply not good–for the immune system, for overall health. And it means that kids miss out on simple pleasures like birdsong and swinging, not to mention myriad opportunities for creativity, initiative, and (where children move in herds) cooperation.

The late 19th- and early 20th-century girls of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low’s day faced similar problems, but for very different reasons.

They spent their days sitting–occasionally outside, but mostly inside–because that was all that was considered appropriate for girls of “good breeding.” Physical activity, it was said, would make them coarse, forward, and a host of other heinous things.

Not to mention that they were considered “too delicate” for play and sports, a stereotype probably reinforced by the actual physical limitations of corsets, bustles, and other body-distorting garments. Glowing, outdoorsy skin was the mark of lower-class women and girls who had either too much freedom or too much responsibility, depending on your perspective.

Daisy, however, wasn’t buying it. And as Shana Corey and Hadley Hooper show in Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure, her refusal to accept cultural norms gave birth to one of the most enduring and empowering girls’ movements in history.

Daisy grew up in Savannah, Georgia, part of a family whose wealth enabled her to travel extensively and indulge in expensive hobbies. With a chronic itch for adventure, she gained a reputation for stunts like ditching a dinner party to go fishing in full evening dress.

Eventually, she married a wealthy Englishman and settled in the UK, where she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes. Robert, a former war hero, had founded the Boy Scouts; Agnes led its offshoot, the Girl Guides.

Daisy was already looking for some way to turn her thirst for adventure into something that would benefit society. Her friendship with the Baden-Powells gave her a concrete idea. Returning to the United States, she founded the Girl Scouts with just a handful of girls from Savannah’s upper crust.

From the start, Daisy emphasized physical activity, practical skills, and charity. She also insisted on inclusion, both racial and socioeconomic. It was controversial from the start, but Daisy simply didn’t care–she knew it was good for girls and for society.

There’s so much to love about this book. Corey tells the story in clear, cheery prose while still communicating important concepts like individuality and courage. She makes energy, activity, and initiative seem appealing and fun–much more so than sitting on the couch all day (or accepting limitations on one’s personhood).

Hooper’s punchy, graphic illustrations add to the book’s energy, and their sly humor augments Corey’s sense of fun. There’s also a more detailed, but accessible, biography of Daisy and her organization, along with a great bibliography for girls (and grown-ups) who want to know more.

But my favorite part of the book are the quotes. Curving around the text, incorporated into the illustrations, they inspire readers in Daisy’s own words.

“Every time you show your courage, it grows.”

“The work of to-day is the history of to-morrow, and we are its makers.”

“To make yourself strong and healthy it is necessary to begin with your inside.”

They made both me and my daughter want to–made us feel like we could–run out the door and do something to improve ourselves and the world. And that, my friends, is what empowerment feels like.

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When Mindy Saved Hanukkah

by Eric A. Kimmel; ill. by Barbara McClintock

Scholastic Press, 1998

32 pages

Courage is a difficult, even counterintuitive, quality to cultivate in our children.

By definition, it requires direct exposure to danger or adversity–the very kinds of circumstances from which we try to protect our kids.

And when dealing with girls, there’s an added challenge.

In our culture, courage is usually depicted as a masculine trait–e.g., we tell people to “man up” or “buck up,” not “woman up” or “doe up.”

As if that didn’t make it hard enough to en-courage girls, we use feminine language to evoke cowardice and weakness (e.g., “You run/throw/scream like a girl”).

This is why I keep my radar up for books featuring courageous heroines–they’re a great way to counteract the courage-is-for-boys message that has a tendency to seep into our everyday language.

Eric Kimmel’s When Mindy Saved Hanukkah is that kind of book.

The title character is a miniature human who lives with her family behind the walls of New York City’s Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Like the Borrowers of classic kid lit, Mindy Klein’s family repurposes castoff, full-size items to serve their own needs.

For Hannukah, that means melting down one of the synagogue’s discarded candles to produce smaller versions for the Kleins and their friends.

At least, that’s the plan.

But when Papa Klein tries to acquire the candle, he discovers that the synagogue has a new resident: a fierce cat who thinks mini-humans are likely to be even tastier than mice.

Most of the family treats this setback as final–but Mindy insists that she can get the candle.

And get the candle she does, after a grueling and hair-raising foray into the larger world.

The story itself is incredibly engaging.  Kimmel is a master plotter, concocting a tale that shimmers with a magical blend of suspense, humor, and the warmth of a close-knit family and community.

As for the illustrations, McClintock’s paintings are the perfect foil for Kimmel’s text.  Her domestic scenes are full of creativity and humor, and her reveal of the synagogue is simply breathtaking.

The book is also a great introduction to the story of Hannukah, particularly for Gentile or secular Jewish families.  Kimmel layers the text with natural allusions to synagogue culture and the holiday’s origin, then provides an easy-to-understand glossary in the back.

But the best part of the book, of course, is Mindy’s inspiring courage, a blend of several traits that are themselves challenging to cultivate.

First, there’s her confidence.  When everyone else tries to convince Mindy to stay home, she lists all the reasons she’s the perfect person to fetch the candle–her speed, her strength, etc.

Then there’s her perseverance.  Mindy’s adventure pushes her right to the limits of her physical and mental endurance, but she refuses to quit.

And finally, there is her common sense: when Mindy ends up in a stalemate with the cat, she has the smarts to accept help and work as part of a team.

The end result is success and provision, not just for Mindy’s family but for all their friends who gather at the synagogue for Hanukkah.

So perhaps that’s what’s most inspiring about this book–the idea that one little girl’s courage can impact an entire community.

“Man up”?  Maybe I’ll start saying “Mindy up” instead.

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Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

by Laurie Halse Anderson; ill. by Matt Faulkner

Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2002

40 pages

If you attended primary school in the United States, you probably know something about the origins of Thanksgiving–where the holiday originated, and why.  What you may not know is that, for much of the 1800s, Thanksgiving wasn’t a very big deal.

As Laurie Halse Anderson explains in Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, the holiday was quite popular in 19th-century New England (where it originated) but largely ignored everywhere else.

That didn’t sit well with Sarah Hale, the nation’s first female magazine editor and a dedicated campaigner for abolition, girls’ education, and a variety of other progressive causes.

Thankful countries are great countries, she believed.  And, as the nation careened toward civil war, she saw a national day of thanks as a way to help unify a divided people.

So she wrote letter after letter after letter, and motivated her readers to do the same–for thirty-eight years.

First she convinced the states, which issued individual Thanksgiving proclamations, then she set her sights on the White House.  Five presidents turned her down before she found a sympathetic audience in Abraham Lincoln.  In 1863, he established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

It’s a truly inspiring story, and Anderson and illustrator Matt Faulkner tell it in a way that even the littlest kids can understand.

Anderson sticks with short but engaging sentences and clear, uncluttered language.  She repeats several times, like a refrain, that Hale was “bold, brave, stubborn, and smart.”  For his part, Faulkner embellishes the text with energetic watercolors that cleverly combine realism and metaphor.

Together, text and illustrations convey both the tremendous challenges Hale faced, both as a woman and as a concerned citizen, and her cheerfully unflagging spirit in the face of those challenges.

But what does all this mean to the little girls in our lives?

I think Anderson answers that question best.  At the end of the book, she points out that Sarah Hale effected major change at a time when women operated under tremendous legal, social, and cultural restrictions.

Today’s little girls still face some of those same restrictions.  My daughter has more (legally protected) opportunities than ever crossed Hale’s radar screen, but she’s still a rung down the ladder from the boys around her.

She’s barely six, and already I see her encountering the message that certain pastimes, toys, or interests are off-limits to or “not normal” for her because she’s a girl.  Or, worse, the message that boys are the active ones, the ones who make change and get things done.

But not according to Thank You, Sarah.

This is a book that tells girls to focus on passions, not restrictions.  To act, not shrink back.  To confront challenges, not fear them.

Thank You, Sarah tells girls that they can be women and still make waves.  That, like Sarah, they don’t have to order their lives around others’ (under)estimates of them.

As Anderson points out early in the book, Hale looked “like a dainty little lady.  Never underestimate dainty little ladies.”

That’s a message I can be thankful for.

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