First of all, BIG shout-out to the wonderful rebellious woman who recommended this book for me. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (English translation by Montana Kane) has been suggested by a few lovely writers here on Book Riot (see here and here and here). However, credit for placing it directly in my hands goes to my enabler Siobhan Coombs, as suggested reading for the June Meeting of Queens of Kings (my comic book reading group for women only). Once again Siobhan has absolutely nailed the book recommendations and inspired me to read even more! So, naturally, I am here to share this wisdom with you.
Let’s start with the source material. When Siobhan suggested this book for our next Queens of Kings meeting, I instantly fell in love. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but this cover is both beautiful and empowering. It is a graphic novel, made up of multiple short stories featuring many different women over history. As summarised by previous Book Riot writers, Brazen is both informative and entertaining. Not every woman in this book is famous; in fact, there is probably an even share of Know/Didn’t Know, depending on where your previous interests lie. And not every story has a happy ending. However, Bagieu has presented each and every tale with equal respect, dedication, and love. Extra note needs to be made on the diversity of women included: we have a range of nationalities, race, genders, sexual preferences, ages, and social class. It is truly a book about all women. ALL WOMEN. There are 29 stories collected here, and they are accessible for everyone.
I was so impressed with Brazen, I gave it to our 11-year-old son. He devoured it. The graphic novel was easy for him to read without being a distraction from the stories themselves. He especially liked how the style of the illustrations complimented both the time period and the culture of each story. He was so fascinated about the history of these amazing women, he soon asked: “Where can I read more about them?”
It was hard to find books with a similar universal nature; books that would appeal to all ages. Instead, we agreed to a mix of books for younger children as introductions, and older books for a more mature discussion. If you have any recommendations, please add them in the comments below!
Hedy Lamarr and a Secret Communication System by Trina Robbins, Cynthia Martin, and Anne Timmons
There are a bunch of books out there detailing the filmography of possibly the most beautiful actress in U.S. history. The trick is to find the books that include her inventions as well. That’s why I like Hedy Lamarr and a Secret Communication System by Trina Robbin, Cynthia Martin, and Anne Timmons. It’s a short graphic novel, covering all the highlights from Lamarr’s life. It gives a little more detail than Bagieu, with an extended reading list, bibliography, and further internet resources for afterwards. This is a greater starter book for kids or simply a gateway for more Lamarr loveliness.
There is also a new book coming out next year: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict. Check out the cover reveal and synopsis from Book Riot Editor Amanda.
Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History by Shana Corey and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
I’ll be honest: Annette Kellerman is a personal fave of mine. Our local swimming centre has a huge mural dedicated to her achievements and the Sydney Powerhouse Museum presented a beautiful exhibit on Kellerman’s fashion designs and environmental work. However, I found myself severely lacking in a decent book to share with the kids. And then I found Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History by Shana Corey and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Another graphic novel, capturing the exuberance and grace many associate with Kellerman. This book covers it all; from her sick and frail childhood to her determination to swim better than anyone else. Kellerman was never one to simply accept “no” from others. There is a strong message of health (physical and mental), beauty, and following your heart. And before you ask: Yes, Kellerman is responsible for women having freedom of fashion on the beach.
You Should Meet: Mae Jemison by Laurie Calkhoven and illustrated by Monique Dong
On the list of top jobs kids want to be when they grow up, astronauts are number 11. Yes, I was one of those kids. So is our four-year-old daughter. When I looked for a follow-up book on Mae Jemison, I was thrilled to find You Should Meet: Mae Jemison by Laurie Calkhoven, illustrated by Monique Dong, a ready-to-read kids book. The highlight for me is showing what Mae achieved before applying to NASA and their astronaut training program. One does not simply walk into NASA and become an astronaut. You need to build a strong foundation in skills and knowledge first. Start with reading this book.
Women in African History: Njinga Mbandi by UNESCO and illustrated by Pat Masioni
This should be part of any feminist history studies, along with Boudica and Joan of Arc. This one goes to the heart of colonisation and slavery. Women in African History: Njinga Mbandi by UNESCO and illustrated by Pat Masioni is well-researched and very respectful of the history. Njinga was both a diplomat and a warrior with one goal in her mind: to protect her people from being enslaved by the Portuguese no matter what. Her leadership was a defining feature in African history, including resettling former slaves and allowing the women to bear children. Masioni’s art captures the life in Angola (then called Ndongo) and presents it in a vivid scene-setting style. It’s easy to say the UNESCO research is presented in an informative manner and all, but the defining feature of this is the Masioni’s art. It brings the amazing story of Njinga to life!
Also worth checking out is Nzinga: African Warrior Queen by Moses L Howard. While it is fictional history, Howard’s detailed research is best appreciated with the accurate scene-setting of Angola life. Definitely one for the older readers.
Once again, thanks to Siobhan for the awesome book suggestion. I can’t wait for our next Queens meet!