Children's Books About Trailblazing Women, Jane Austen, Everything Else


The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2018

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when it was possible to have information about the world at your fingertips without the internet. Besides ungainly encyclopedias, extremely handy, fat paperback books like The World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Almanac Books, $14.99, alThe World Almanac and Book of Facts 2018l ages), updated annually on newsprint, pack a world of information in their pages. The 2018 edition, in fact, is its 150th anniversary. The bread-and-butter of the more-than-1,000-page book repeats facts going back centuries, covering world history, national statistics, sports records, and basic facts on science, ranging from dog breeds and historic disasters to nutrition. It is an annual primarily because of its current-events review and updates on consumer information. Not fancily packaged in the slick colorful pages of a kid-centric fact potpourri, The World Almanac is still full of fascinating information, facts and history that does the internet one better in a major respect — it is not necessarily information you went looking for, but, like a newspaper, it is there to stumble on and help you connect the dots in the world in most, if not all, its aspects.

What Would She Do? 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women

Kay Woodward has scoured world history for What Would She Do? 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 8-12) to find 25 women who made a difference, sometimes a world-changing difference, like Cleopatra, whose life, the author notes, was “a whirlwind of war, romance, and tragedy.” She goes on, “Yet she had a dark side…. Anyone who got in her way was assassinated.” The names can be famous in many realms: Frida Kahlo, the artist; Amelia Earhart, the flier; Virginia Woolf, author; Marie Curie, scientist. But there are also unknowns from around the world, all delivered and presented with verve and an appreciation of the subjects’ environment. The author and illustrators give illuminating renditions of the subjects in styles that show their accomplishments in the context of their times. But the author also includes the question, “What would she do?” to issues suitable to an advice columnist with the answer the author assumes the subject might propose. So to the question of what would Cleopatra do when her clothes were criticized by schoolmates, she answers, “She’d know that other people’s opinions don’t matter.” The answer establishes a refrain to be yourself and don’t be cowed by others, a lesson of the subjects that combines history, biography and solid but tongue-in-cheek advice to inspire and teach.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen

Growing up in a house where her father was not only a school teacher but also where the school was in the house and the students were boarders, Jane Austen, as profiled in Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen (Harper Collins, $17.99, ages 4-8), had a full and enriching life of observation and vicarious education. She herself was briefly sent to boarding school until an outbreak of typhus sent her home and ended her formal education at the age of 11. Her home, however, provided a 500-volume library, an annual school play held in their barn, and a rich environment to observe the formalities and foibles of life at the turn of the 18th to the 19th centuries. She made good use of this environment to craft a new kind of realistic prose that set the pattern for fiction from then on and has made her own novels favorites for over two centuries. Deborah Hopkinson, with the sprightly watercolors of Qin Leng drawn in pastels with thin ink outlines, captures the world of Jane Austen and the challenges and good-spirited way she addressed them, to create the world of her novels. This makes an excellent introduction to her or her work, whether read before or after first encountering a Jane Austen novel.

Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World

In 1888, at a time when the emperor of Germany and church officials were skeptical of letting people roam freely around the country, the first long-distance car ride was undertaken by Bertha Benz, wife and collaborator of pioneering car manufacturer Karl Benz. She took her two teenage sons, against the edict of the emperor, on a 60-mile ride over German roads suitable at the time for horses and livestock. In fact, as Jan Adkins explains and shows in elegant period drawings in Bertha Takes a Drive: How the Benz Automobile Changed the World (Charlesbridge, $17.99, ages 5-8), Bertha Benz proved her value as her husband’s collaborator by fixing problems on the road, including insulation for the brakes that helped improve the performance for cars thereafter. The drawings are precise and elegant, identifying the parts of the car to bring us back to those early days of technological innovation and ingenuity.   

Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.


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