3 Picture Books about Unconventional Women

In honour of International Women’s Day, I am posting this blog today.

Right now I am exploring the possibility of writing for the nonfiction market. I have been reading about famous women, and I came across some delightful picture book biographies during my research.

Mary Kingsley is a woman who explored Africa during a time that it was unheard of women to do so. I have a connection to Africa, and I also have a connection to unconventional women. So I thought that I might like to write about her one day. I was surprised to see that there already is an existing picture book about the explorer. That’s not to say that I can’t write about her anymore. But I wanted to see what spin the author took on the story.

So I took out the picture book from the library. “Uncommon Traveller: Mary Kingsley in Africa” is written by Don Brown. The book chronicles Kingsley’s life starting from her lonely childhood and ending when she returned to England and wrote her books about Africa. It concentrates, however, on her two trips to Africa in 1893 and 1894. We see Kingsley during her daring exploits thumping a crocodile with a paddle, falling into a spike-filled pit, and plodding through ink-black slimy creeks. Her trips, which she called a “picnic”, added much knowledge to West Africa.

I was thrilled to see that Don Brown has written stories about other unconventional women. Another picture book that I read to my daughter is called “Ruth Law Thrills a Nation”. In 1916, Ruth Law made the first attempt at flying from Chicago to New York City. Although she never did accomplish this goal – it was another women, Katherine Simpson, who did it a year later – she broke all nonstop flight records in the United States. The story chronicles the flight from the start- we find her waking up in a tent on the hotel roof in order to get used to the cold – to the finish, where she is given a heroine’s welcome by the president. The accompanying pictures make the feat even more awe inspiring as we see Ruth whipping through the skies, a crude scroll of maps taped to her leg.

A third book that Brown wrote is called “Rare Treasures: Mary Anning and her Remarkable Discoveries”. Mary Anning was one of the first commercial fossil collectors. Born in 1799, she left school at age 11. Still, she taught herself all about fossils and became an expert on the subject, so much so that the finest scientists of her time prized her thoughts. Anning made many major discoveries, including the first complete plesiosaur fossil in 1823. She did this despite the often dangerous conditions -rocks tumbling around her, rising tides – she worked in.

I had never heard of Ruth Law or Mary Anning, but these women, along with Mary Kingsley, are women I would like my daughter and other children to know about. They were women who went against the conventions of their time.

I don’t know if I will actually write about Mary Kingsley, but it was still helpful to read the picture book about her as well as the other ones.

What are you exploring these days?



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