Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives

Today we are taking part in the kick-off of the blog tour for a fantastic new book, Scribbling Women:  True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn. When you are done reading the review, be sure to check out the Tundra Books Blog for updates and information about an exciting contest to win copies of all of Marthe Jocelyn’s books. As you will see, she has quite a diverse list of published books.

Scribbling Women:  True Tales from Astonishing Lives is an amazing find for Women’s History Month. Jocelyn has gathered the stories of eleven women whose writing has captured significant times and events in history in a way that no one else could.

The title, Scribbling Women, refers to a quote from a letter Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to his publisher in 1855 exclaiming that he was irritated by the “mob of scribbling women” who were popular with American readers. He thought his books wouldn’t be able to compete with those of the women authors of the time, and in fact stated that if he was successful at selling books, he would be ashamed because obviously “the public taste is occupied with their trash.” Sour grapes?

Rather than “scribbling,” these are 11 women who tell important tales. Several of them wrote under conditions that were extremely harsh, yet they persevered. Some weren’t authors in the traditional sense. For example Margaret Catchpole wrote letters about life in the penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia that are the only records of that time. Two wrote diaries. Some of the books were groundbreaking, such as Isabella Beeton’s Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, the forerunner of our modern cookbook. Others simply connected well with their readers, and continue to do so, such as the novel by then nine-year-old Daisy Ashford.

The chapters are laid out in chronological order, starting with Sei Shonagan, who was born in 965. As to be expected, the information about the earliest writers is less complete. For example, Sei Shonagan’s true name has been lost, as well as the details of her life other than those she wrote about in her book The Pillow Talk. Doris Pilkington-Garimara is the only author from the group who is still living.

Jocelyn does a wonderful job of using each woman’s own words and “voice” to tell her story. Each chapter reads as a separate piece, and readers could certainly pick and chose which chapters they are most interested in. All are so absorbing, however, it is hard not to read it from cover to cover as soon as you pick it up.

The lives of stories of these women are full of contrasts and parallels, which give the book a rich complexity. I have pointed out a few in this trailer for the book.

Have you ever heard the saying that each of us has a story to tell? This book is definitely convincing evidence the saying is true.

It also leads to a number of questions, such as what about modern day bloggers, who “scribble” electronically. Are our voices going to be lost to future generations? What do you think?

Marthe Jocelyn wrote a lovely post about how the book came about at Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History Month.

Reading level: Young Adult (14 and up)
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Tundra Books (March 22, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780887769528
ISBN-13: 978-0887769528


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by the new Nonfiction Monday blog to see who is hosting each week.

This week’s post is at Practically Paradise.

Seeds of Change

Seeds of Change:  Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler Seeds-of-Changeis about the life of Wangari Maathai, a woman whose story is both uplifting and complex.

The book begins with a scene of Wangari’s mother showing young Wangari the mugumo, the wild fig tree, and explaining its importance to both the environment and her culture.

Her brother tells her of the things he learns at school, and Wangari decides she would like to go too. Although it is unusual for a girl to receive an education, Wangari does go to school. In fact she goes all the way to study in the United States and becomes a scientist.

When Wangari returns to Kenya, she find many things have changed. She finds the trees have all been cut down and the resulting environmental damage means that people can no longer grow food for themselves. In a move that is in one hand simple, and in the other incredibly insightful, she encourages the women to re-plant the trees.

Her tree-planting movement grew and flourished as did the trees themselves, but not completely without hardship. Wangari had to overcome harsh political resistance and was even briefly imprisoned. She was released, however, and in 2004 Wangari became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

You will not believe this is Jen Cullerton Johnson’s first picture book. She has done a masterful job of incorporating multiple layers of meaning. She adds important concrete details, such as the feel of the rough bark of the tree, the sounds of the birds, and the things Wangari’s brother taught her from his school. Children can relate to these things. Mothers reading the book can relate to the mothers being able to feed their children. People interested in environmental issues will be encouraged by the message that simple things initiated by a handful of people can make a positive difference in our world. People of many ages and backgrounds will find something that resonates in this wonderful book.

Sonia Lynn Sadler’s illustrations are bright, bold and beautiful. I was not surprised to read that she is inspired by quilts, you can see the influence of warm, colorful, geometric quilt designs on almost every page.

Together the text and illustrations make a fabulous package, sure to sow some Seeds of Change of its own.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (June 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 160060367X
ISBN-13: 978-1600603679

Book supplied by publisher.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Anastasia Suen’s Nonfiction Monday page. This week’s post is at Apples with Many Seeds

Candy Bomber Hits the Right Spot

Candy Bomber:  The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell is a real treat. It has everything you could want from a book:  drama, roaring airplanes, human interest, history, and candy all mixed into a powerful true story.chocolate-bomber

Candy Bomber is about pilot Gail Halvorsen, who was assigned to fly food and supplies into West Berlin after World War II ended. West Berlin was under siege at the time by the Soviets. They were trying to gain control of all of Berlin by cutting off supplies to its inhabitants. The United States, Britain and France were working hard to overcome the blockade by flying in a stream of cargo planes filled with flour, potatoes, meat, and medicine, but not candy.

One day Gail Halvorsen decided to spend the day in West Berlin after flying in and out many times. At the end of the runway he met some children. Once he had talked to them, he decided to share the two pieces of gum he had in his pocket. When he saw what a rare and special treat it was to them, he realized he wanted to do more. He told the children to watch for a plane that wiggled its wings. The next day he wiggled the wings of his plane and then dropped candy in bundles tied to little parachutes.

The amazing thing is that immediately he began to receive letters and artwork from the grateful children. News of his kindness spread, and the candy drops became an official U.S. Air Force operation. Other pilots joined in and he began receiving candy donations to distribute. Even after Halvorsen moved on to another position, other pilots continued the candy drops. But the people of West Berlin would not forget his acts of kindness. Halvorsen continued to have contact with several of the children long after they had grown into adulthood.

Author Michael Tunnell has an obvious passion for his topic. He got to know Gail Halvorsen personally, because it turned out he lived in a Utah town not far away. The book is illustrated with actual photographs and letters from Halvorson’s own collection, supplied by Halvorsen himself. Not many authors get to enjoy such access to primary sources.

This was not an easy book to write because, instead of rising conflict with drama at the end, most of the intense parts of this story come at the beginning. Yet Tunnell has overcome this obstacle to write a very compelling book that will appeal to both boys and girls of a wide range of ages.

Just like a piece of chocolate, once you get your hands on it, you will want to savor it.

Related activities:

1. Download an activity and discussion guide at Charlesbridge

2. Today children would probably text or e-mail their thanks, but in the time this story starts the children sent Mr. Halvorsen cards, letters and drawings. Show the examples in the book and ask your children to make and send a letter, card or drawing to a special someone. Or consider exchanging letters with someone from another country.

3. Make a parachute and test it at Growing With Science

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 110 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing; New edition (July 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580893368
ISBN-13: 978-1580893367

Book supplied by publisher.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Anastasia Suen’s Nonfiction Monday page. This week’s post is at Moms Inspire Learning.

Remarkable Women Writers Book Resonates

Do you know a child who wants to be a writer and/or has a writing talent that should be nurtured? Remarkable Women Writers by Heather Ball is a wonderful examination of the lives of ten women writers that may be just the powerful encouragement he or she needs. For readers, this book is an insightful look into how some of our favorite books came about. Finally, adult writers will find passages that resonate strongly with their own experiences.


Starting with a perennial favorite, Jane Austin, and ending with superstar J.K. Rowling, these biographies tell of personal struggles, doubts, and rejection letters. Mary Ann Evans, writing in the 1800’s, took the pen name of a man, George Eliot, in order to be taken seriously as a writer. (Have times changed so much? Read interviews by modern mystery writer J.A. Jance.) Funny, talented Judy Blume faced criticism and censorship. Yet these women did not give up and eventually found success.

You can’t help, but to learn from these stories. Heather Ball writes:

Sometimes, a writer’s ideas come from her own experiences. She writes about her family, friends, her home and how she feels about things that go on around her… Sometimes, a writer wants to protest an injustice or express a strong opinion… And then sometimes, a writer is compelled to write suddenly, as if she has received a gift.

Remarkable Women Writers is part of the Women’s Hall of Fame Series. I love the format of relatively short, easy-to-read biographies that are still filled with rich detail. Each chapter has appropriate black and white illustrations and photographs (depending on the era), and interesting sidebars to pull the reader in. There is a very useful list of sources in the back, organized by author, so that you can quickly delve more deeply into the lives of the writers who interest you.

The biographies would be appropriate for approximately age nine and up. If you are a reader and/or a writer, this book definitely has something for you.

Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: SECOND STORY PRESS (2006)
ISBN-10: 1897187084
ISBN-13: 978-1897187081
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.4 inches

I wish to thank the publisher for being willing to provide a copy of this older book.