I distinctly remember my surprise during Year 11 Modern History when my teacher (Mrs Mountford) showed my class old-style advertisements and magazine articles espousing women’s place in the home. I found it hard to fathom that a woman’s chief aspiration at the time was to have the house sparkling, the children ready for bed and hubby’s dinner cooked and his socks warming by the fire in readiness for his arrival home from work. A new picture book champions greater aspirations for today’s girls and women.
Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World celebrates those who have achieved amazing feats and encourages young readers to also follow their “hearts, talents and dreams”. I was keen to share it with my eight-year-old twin girls, both to inspire them to aim high and also to instill in them an appreciation of how wonderful life in Australia is today for girls and women, even if we haven’t got gender equality just right, just yet.
My daughter Zoe picked this book up as soon as she saw it. The bright, fun cover grabbed her attention and she started reading it on her own before later adding it to our bedtime reading stack for me to read aloud.
Each of the 13 women included in the book are introduced with gorgeous illustrations. United Kingdom author/illustrator Kate Pankhurst has depicted the women in a fun, youthful way, which is still respectful. This book is jam-packed with information, but it’s presented in bite-sized chunks so it’s not overwhelming – and it’s interesting.
Each woman is featured across a colourful double-page spread, specifically designed to reflect her own story. For example, the pages about French designer Coco Chanel include a timeline to easily show young readers the progression of fashion as she launched defining garmets for women. Illustrations of her swimwear, little black dress and trousers depict the fashion as well as give an insight to the times. Others women are introduced with maps, such as American teenager Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel. Her spread is peppered with interesting snippets about her challenges, her swimsuit and how fast she swam (two hours faster than anyone before her).
There’s a glossary at the back to help explain some of the terms like suffragette and segregation, and a “gallery of greatness” where each of the featured women is pictured giving lighthearted advice that reflects their own path and encourages girls to also aim for greatness. The gallery also provides an opportunity for readers to look at the pictures and see if they can recall the names of each of the women and their corresponding achievement. Each of the women included – Jane Austen, Gertrude Ederle, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawa, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Anne Frank – are certainly worthy of acknowledgment, although I was personally disappointed not to see any Australian women included.
Fantastically Great Women who changed the World is written and illustrated by Kate Pankhurst, who is a descendant of Emmeline Pankhurst. It is published by Bloomsbury, October 2016, RRP $14.99 (pbk).