The Rest of What We Read for Women's History Month

It's the last day of March, which means the end of another Women's History Month. I only have three more books to share today. They were the last in the bag, and didn't really fit into a neat theme like the books in my previous posts. They are a grab bag assortment: a scientist/artist, a nurse, and a Holocaust survivor.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merien
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis.
Henry Holt & Company, 2010.
 "Summer birds," we learn at the beginning of this book, "was a medieval name for the mysterious butterflies and moths that appeared suddenly during warm weather and vanished in the fall." We meet 13-year-old Maria Merien, who disagrees with the medieval theory that butterflies appear magically from the mud. She sets out to capture the insects, secretly, so that no one will accuse her of witchcraft. She keeps them in boxes and jars, watching and studying them. She sees the caterpillars eat and spin cocoons, turning into "summer birds," which means the grown-ups are wrong. They are not born of mud. She paints beautiful pictures of the insects at each stage of life, filling her notebooks with data. Her studies expand to tadpoles and frogs. She hopes to someday publish a book of her paintings. The historical note at the end explains that Merien became a famous scientist, artist, and explorer. Considering she was born in 1647, she led an amazing, adventurous life!

The story is told in the first person, which makes it a bit easier for a kiddo to identify with Maria. Paschkis's illustrations are exquisite.

 Here is a lecture from East Tennessee University about Maria Merien's nature paintings.

Florence Nightingale by Demi.
Henry Holt & Company, 2014.
This is a straightforward biography of Florence Nightingale, famous Crimean War nurse. As a child, her parents threw lavish parties, but Florence preferred to play by herself. She would imagine running a hospital, talking care of her sick dolls. As a teenager, her family traveled through Europe, but Florence was always distracted by the poor and the sick, keeping detailed lists of hospitals and charities. She was religious, and believed that God was calling her to be a nurse, but her parents were against it. She visited orphanages and hospitals, learning about hygiene and medicine. She won out over her parents, and became a superintendent of a hospital for poor women. She trained her nurses well, then after a year, was asked to lead a group of nurses to the military hospital in Scutari, Turkey. She worked to improve the food of the patients and to get more supplies. She became known as the Lady with the Lamp. When the war ended, she presented reports to the British government on how to improve medical care, and a commission was formed to implement those changes. Despite her own illness, she never stopped working for improvements in medical care, eventually starting a school, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She continued to work for the care of London's poorest, and became involved with the Red Cross.

The text is easier to follow. I love Demi's paintings, which remind me of stained glass.

Here is a mini-biographical video by Bio.

Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen, as told to
Michelle R. McCann by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick,
illustrated by Ann Marshall.
Tricycle Press, 2003.

This picture book begins with an author's note and prologue, explaining that the people in this story are real (including a list of "the Diamond Children") and a bit of the background of the Nazi concentration camps. We then meet Luba, lying in a new camp, sure she is hearing her son calling for her. She sits up, realizing she does hear children. She rushes outside to find 54 children, including babies, huddled in the snow. They had been dumped there at Bergen-Belsen, separated from their parents. Luba had lost her own family, including her son. She wondered why she'd been spared. Meeting these children, she thinks she knows the answer. She brings the children into her own crowded quarters. She works hard to protect the new children. As a camp nurse, she has a bit more freedom, and her long sleeve cover the tattoo marking her as a Jew, so she is able to walk to the kitchen area twice a day for food. She convinces guards' wives to give her extra clothes and blankets, and collects scraps of wood for the stove after dark. One day, the children surprise her with birthday gifts. Just as things begin to grow desperate, British soldiers arrive to liberate the camp. Because of Luba's bravery and generosity, 52 of the 54 "Diamond Children" survived through the end of the war.

Holocaust books for children are tricky. It's such a terrifying subject matter. This one manages to strike just the right balance, and Marshall's paintings are beautiful and haunting.

Here is an old Dateline NBC story I found about Luba Tryszynska-Frederick.

Thanks for celebrating strong women in history with us this month!

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  1. Have you read The Liars Daughter? (its set partly where Florence Nightingale was working with the soldiers of the Crimean War) its really great. I really like the look of those illustrations and keep hearing about Demi(no surname? Whats the story there?) And...your blog looks so lovely. Very Orla Keily-ish.

    1. I haven't read it. You're always full of the best recommendations!

      From Demi's website: "Demi, born Charlotte Dumaresq Hunt, is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator. During her career she has published over 150 titles... Demi earned her nickname as a young child when her father started calling her demi, because she was half the size of her sister, 1 year older."

      She has tons of biographical picture books, yet we'd never checked any out until now! I'm not sure why. Her art is beautiful.

      And thanks! I get bored easily, and thought this background looked nice and springy. :)


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