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.