Title: Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills, and Frills
Author: Julie Cummins
Illustrator: Cheryl Harness
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 7.0
Concepts: human resources, jobs, economics and gender, scarcity
Review: This book’s ten fascinating narratives tell us about the accomplishments, characteristics, and backgrounds of a group of women who risked their lives during the late 1800s and early 1900s to entertain the public with daredevil stunts. From Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go down Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive, to Zazel, the first person to perform as a human cannonball in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, these women collectively set a series of unprecedented benchmarks in the world of performance sports and stunts. While knowledge of some of these women’s feats may have faded, their endeavors garnered much attention during their days, particularly at a time when there were fewer options for leisure activities and the general public turned to live performances as an important source of amusement.
Woven throughout these interesting stories of courage and danger are an interesting set of economics lessons about why these women took on such risky endeavors and the social norms at the time about women’s roles in the public sphere. According to the author, Annie tried to use the fame she garnered from going down Niagara Falls in order to escape poverty; Isabelle Butler performed aerial somersaults in an automobile for the Barnum & Bailey Circus and earned $100 per second of the actual stunt; and Mabel Stark’s education and first job centered on nursing despite her love of animal training because women were excluded from the few available job openings for wild animal trainers. To emphasize these lessons, the end of the book provides a historical timeline that highlights these daredevils’ feats within a broader context of women’s accomplishments in the labor market, politics, sports, and science. These lessons about gender equality, combined with the exciting biographies and unique poster-like illustrations, make this book a valuable addition to any picture book collection that is rich in social studies content.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children