Children's Books Focus on Timely Topics

By Basbanes, Nicholas A. | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 16, 2008 | Go to article overview

Children's Books Focus on Timely Topics


Basbanes, Nicholas A., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


March is Women's History Month, and the arrival of the vernal equinox means that days get longer, with thoughts turning to renewal and the many wonders of the outdoors.

"Elizabeth Leads the Way," by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon; Henry Holt, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 6-10.

In the America of the 19th century, women did not have the right to vote, and most were not allowed to attend college. When Elizabeth Cady was 13 years old, she heard her father, a judge, lament that a woman whose husband had just died would lose the family farm, because the law would not allow her to own the property by herself. From that point on, as Tanya Lee Stone writes in this graceful tribute, the young woman -- whose married name would be Stanton -- was determined to change the laws. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815- 1902) labored tirelessly to give every woman the right to vote. "We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause," she declared, "but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way."

"Women Daredevils," by Julie Cummins, illustrations by Cheryl Harness; Dutton, $17.99, 48 pages, ages 6-12.

This evocative effort recalls a time during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a plucky group of courageous performers routinely pulled off stunts such as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, standing on the wings of a flying airplane, being shot safely out of a cannon or training wild animals. "They were individuals who endangered their lives performing death-defying stunts to entertain the public," Julie Cummins writes. "They defied gravity, flew without wings, plunged into watery depths, and they were women." Drawing on research conducted at the New York Public Library, Cummins profiles the lives and stunts of 14 "women daredevils" ranging in age from 15 to 63, proof positive that "the chill of the thrill never loses its appeal." Cheryl Harness' illustrations cleverly suggest old circus posters.

"Eggs," by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Emma Stevenson; Holiday House, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

This splendidly illustrated effort introduces young readers to an extraordinary miracle of nature that comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes. The eggs of fish known as sturgeon, for instance, look like clusters of black, gray or yellow pearls, and are known as caviar when served as a delicacy in restaurants. A sea turtle lays eggs that are round like pingpong balls in the sand; those of an octopus look like grains of rice. An ostrich egg is large enough to hold a pint of water or 19 chicken eggs. Birds are not the only creatures to build nests for their eggs; wasps, and bees do so, as well. Marilyn Singer covers the subject thoroughly, offering fascinating information in a way that readers of all ages will find most engaging.

"About Habitats: Wetlands," by Cathryn Sill, illustrations by John Sill; Peachtree Press, $16.95, ages 3-7.

What are known as wetlands -- they can be bogs, marshes, swamps or vernal pools -- are found on every continent but Antarctica and provide shelter for thousands of species of plants and animals. Cathryn and John Sill, a husband-and-wife team who specialize in natural history, focus on the diversity of these essential habitats, explaining, with an economy of text and lush illustrations, their role in maintaining the delicate balance among the earth's environments. Plants in wetlands, we learn, have special ways of growing. Some have roots in the soil and grow out of the water; others grow beneath the surface; while others float on top. …

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