Title: Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought)
Author: Kathleen Krull
Illustrator: Kathryn Hewitt
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Concepts: caring labor, child schooling and work, jobs, poverty, human resources, economic role of government, discrimination, economics of gender and race, slavery, social justice
Review: In this book, Kathleen Krull provides a rapid-fire pace of biographies of noteworthy women through the ages. With roughly four pages on each person, Krull covers notable persons over a wide span of countries and years, up to and including the present. Moving chronologically, the extraordinary women profiled vary from the very famous (i.e., Eleanor Roosevelt) to the less remembered (i.e., Jeannette Rankin), although not all the women are necessarily role models. Indeed, in her introduction to the book, Krull notes, “Like any group of individuals, male or female, this one includes the good, the bad, and some who were both.”
In addition to providing basic overviews of each woman’s life and contributions, the book contains little details like Isabella I reportedly only taking two baths in her entire life or that Queen Victoria’s favorite author was Jane Austen. These interesting tidbits are likely to hold a lot of appeal for children who can alternatively be repelled or recognize themselves in the historical figures, depending on the particular factoid. Either way, these kinds of details help children to connect with the women profiled rather than seeing them as remote and lost in history.
The watercolor illustrations with their bobble-head figures will likely appeal to children’s sense of humor, and these likewise include the little details. For example, Queen Victoria’s necklace with the image of Prince Albert on it, Marie Antoinette’s pet pugs, and Cleopatra’s homemade cosmetics are all featured in the illustrations as well as being mentioned in the text.
In a book about women who accomplished much, Krull never forgets to contextualize the lives of these women, especially about gender inequality. These women are outliers who worked against the grain by using extreme measures – i.e., dressing as men, facing death threats, etc. – while other women of their times often faced worse fates – i.e., feet binding, arranged marriages, etc. Despite eventually rising to fame, the women profiled were held back in many ways, such as limited educational opportunities, even among royalty notwithstanding the common wisdom that these are people born with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth.
While interesting in its own right, this book could serve as a starting resource for a child who has to pick a famous historical person for a biography project. At the end of the book, the author even provides a list that culls the “most useful” books for kids on these extraordinary women. The book is also designed in such a way that it can be read cover to cover or can be skipped around for specific time periods or types of people (i.e., ruler vs. activist).
And, the book is peppered with economic topics throughout, covering a lot of ground because of the various roles these women played in history, many working within the government in some fashion. In addition, when describing the cultural milieu of their times, other economic topics are touched upon. For instance, poverty is alluded to in reference to both the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Where applicable, the brief biographies include the educational backgrounds of these women and reference caring labor in their roles as wives and mothers. Amongst others, some specific economic facts about the women in this book are these:
- Marie Antoinette’s entertainments provided jobs for thousands as “she considered their employment her political duty.” (p. 42)
- Amongst Golda Meir’s talents was raising money, including $50 million in one U.S. trip alone. Her position in the Israeli government allowed her to make decisions about how the state would be involved in education, employment, and housing.
- Indira Gandhi worked 18 hours a day as prime minister of India, saying she was “a person with a job to do.” (pg. 77)
- As first lady, Eva Peron devoted millions to charity and worked to ensure that the poor in Argentina had employment opportunities, medicine, and other basic necessities, even keeping money in her desk to distribute when needed.
- Wilma Mankiller “ruled over a population of 140,000, with an annual budget of $75 million and 1,200 employees” as chief of the Cherokee Nation. (p. 84)
- After winning $1.3 million along with her Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi established a fund for Burmese minorities and refugees, focusing on health and education needs.
- Growing up in poverty in Guatemala, Rigoberta Menchu worked all day on plantations and later as a maid while her spare time was spent at the riverside looking for snails to sell. Later in life, like Suu Kyi, she used her Nobel Peace Prize money to establish a foundation for minorities and refugees, focusing on civil rights.
In sum, Lives of Extraordinary Women is an excellent book for teaching children about economics, history, and the important roles that women have played in society over the years.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children