If anyone follows me closely (either on the blog or on Goodreads), you’ll notice that this book has been listed under my “currently reading” since the summer. Well the reason why is a super cute story, so buckle up. I saw a few photos of pages from this book and absolutely fell in love with the illustrations. Plus, who can scroll past a subtitle like “Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics” without a double take? So, naturally, I bought it.
When it arrived, I flipped through it and saw some names I recognized and so many that I didn’t. Each of the stories was only about 2-3 pages (granted, this is a larger than normal size book – think coffee-table-book sized – which is phenomenal for enjoying the illustrations) and I knew they would be stories to savor and remember. This is not the type of book that I wanted to breeze through, reading multiple stories a day. Then I had an idea that I suggested to my husband…he approved. Let me tell you, it turned into one of the cutest things we’ve ever done. Every night after we got in bed, we’d read a story out loud together before we fell asleep. Let me repeat that: we read a story out loud together every night before bed. Like seriously, that is fairy tale cute right there. If your heart is melting a little right now, you’re welcome and sorry, not sorry.
“To see beauty in the world and say it is ugly; to get up in the morning and do what you cannot do; and to give free reign to your dreams, because those who dream too much become victims of their dreams.”
(from Yennenga: The Warrior Who Just Wanted to Have Kids; early 12th century, Burkina Faso/Ghana)
This book tells the story of women throughout history that survived, that stood up for themselves and their cause, with a strength and power to be proud of. But as history is written by the “winners” (and no matter what side of that you fall on, the writers are always men), these resilient women and their stories have, in many cases, been lost to time. Porath crowdsourced widely, including open requests on Tumblr, to create and finalize the list of women who would be included in this collection. And I may not be an expert in the field, but I think he did an admirable job including a diverse cast of women, from a vast array of time periods, locations, backgrounds, race/ethnicities, specialties, motivations, and maturity levels. There are warriors, scientists, activists, governmental leaders, pilots, samurais, writers, spies, travelers, pirates, myths/legends and so many more. They fought within and outside of the law, following and breaking rules as needed to fight for themselves and/or what the felt was right (whether it be traditionally “feminine” or not – and both are definitely represented). Their stories are beyond the normal “princess” bedtime tales, telling of the complexities of their life and times and the challenges they faced and fought to overcome. Some were perhaps a little crazy, but all stood/fought for something, and in that respect, this is a book of brave female role models.
Porath’s language is fantastically snarky (he throws a ton of feminist shade that we seriously loved). Although this seems like it is written for kids…that’s definitely not entirely true. I mean don’t get me wrong, many/most of the stories are totally fine for young ears and I’d highly recommend sharing them (I wish I’d heard of more of these women earlier in life). The exposure to other cultures and realties these stories would provide is something I truly think should be shared with our youth/children. But, as in many kids movies (think Disney/Pixar), the writer speaks to an adult audience as well. And he also does a great job marking stories with warnings for when different types of violence/triggers might be present, as well as with a 1-5 scale a maturity, so you can filter a little. Plus, if you are reading out loud (as we were), it’d be fairly easy to censor certain parts as you go. The illustrations themselves are perfect for any age – so good!
My husband and I learned a lot while reading this and loved the experience of having these stories as a shared moment before bed. And since reading it, we’ve noticed references (in pop culture, the news and otherwise) to many of these women that we would have totally missed before. These women and their legacies are present in our lives with no recognition or credit. I’m glad that we, at least between ourselves, can give it to them now.
**As a follow-up, Porath has continued to collect and highlight women that he could not fit into this book (because yes, there ARE that many awesome woman from history). If you still want more after this book (as we do), check out his website!**
Although pretty much every entry was awesome (I think I’ve said that like 6 times in this review, but I still feel like it’s worth saying again), we wanted to highlight a few of our favorites – giving you a peek at our personalities, as well as what kinds of women show up in this collection. Here are some of our favorite entries, though to be honest, it’s nigh on impossible to pick:
- The Night Witches: The Civilian Pilots Who Became the Nazis’ Worst Nightmare (c 1940, Russia)
- Boudica: The Headhunter Queen of Britain (c 20-60 CE, England)
- Mary Bowser: The Spy Who Set Fire to the Confederate White House (19th century, US)
- Tin Hinan: The Queen Who Put Men in Veils (c 4th-5th century, Algeria)
- Agontime and the Dahomey Amazons: The Fiercest Woman in the World (19th century, Benin)
- Nana Asma’u: The Princess Who Loved Learning (7193-1864, Nigeria)
- Osh-Tisch: Princess of Two Spirits (late 19th/early 20th century, Crow Nation/US)
- Marjana: The Slave Girl Who Killed Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves (Arabian Myth)
- Malinche: The Maligned Mother of Mexico (1496/1501 – 1529, Mexico)