Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz

26 "rad" women from diverse ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds are profiled in Rad American Women A-Z. The main criteria for inclusion in the book was that "every single one of these individuals changed America in some way," though Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl acknowledge that "one of the of making this book was choosing which people to include...there are thousands of rad women whose stories deserve to be shared."

In the introduction, they emphatically state that the word "rad" was chosen quite deliberately for several reasons:
What does it mean to be 'rad'? Well, it means a few things. 'Rad is short for 'radical,' which comes from the Latin word meaning 'from the root.' So a radical person can be someone like Ella Baker, who did grassroots organizing. A radical can be a person who wants to make big changes in society, like Angela Davis and the Grimke sisters, who fought to end discrimination of all kinds. Radical can also be used to describe something that is different from the usual, like Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial or Ursula LeGuin's innovative science fiction. 'Rad' is also a slang word that means 'cool' or 'awesome.' Like when flashy Flo-Jo ran faster than any woman in the world, or when Patti Smith takes the stage to rock out.
I was so pleased at the diversity represented among wide range of women. The 26 women include those who identify as Native American, African American, Asian American, Latina, and white women. Straight, gay, and transgender populations are represented. Temple Grandin, who is autistic, is featured alongside neurotypical women. Those with achievements in the fields of sports, entertainment, medicine, law, science, writing, social justice, and more are in these pages.

Billie Jean King crushed barriers and changed minds on the tennis court and across the nation. Carol Burnett was a pioneering comedienne. Rachel Carson studied biology and helped open minds to the impact human actions had on the environment. "Queen Bessie" Coleman earned her international pilot's license two years before Amelia Earhart, even though she had to go to France since no aviation school in the U.S. would accept a black woman. Nellie Bly revolutionized journalism.

While I'd heard of many of these women, I appreciated the opportunity to expand my education by learning about Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, Nisei humanitarian Yuri Kochiyama, legendary folk singer Odetta, transgender writer Kate Bornstein, and abolitionists the Grimke sisters, among others.

The illustrations are stark black and white on bold, bright, solid-color backgrounds that capture the movement and action of these strong women. It's an absolutely perfect pairing of text and illustration.

My boys kept coming back to one particular page, though, and it was one I wouldn't have expected.
X is for the women whose names we don't know.
It's for the women we haven't learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.
X is for the women whose voices weren't heard.
For the women who aren't in the history books or the Halls of Fame, or on postage stamps and coins.
For the women who didn't get credit for their ideas and inventions.
Who couldn't own property or sign their own names.
The women who weren't taught to read or write but managed to communicate anyway. Who weren't allowed to work but still supported their families, or who worked all day but weren't paid as much as the men. 
X is for the radical histories that didn't get recorded.
X is for our mothers, our matriarchs, our ancestors.
The nurses and neighbors and aunties and teachers.
The women who made huge changes and the women who made dinner.
X is for the hands that built and shared and wrote and fought.
The bodies that birthed and worked and strained to keep going.
The feet that walked, ran, jumped, and balanced.
The minds that dreamed and desired, the hearts that loved.
X is also for all that's happening now and all that is still to come.
X is for the women in homes and offices and fields and labs and classrooms, who invent and transform and build and create.
X is for all we don't know about the past, but X is also for the future...
When my six-year-old read this page, he looked up at me and said, "That's you, Mom!" At first, I felt the need to correct him. After all, I can read and write and own property. I can earn for a fair wage. My name is known and my voice is heard, at least by a small circle.

But then again, this page is for me. I'm a mother, a neighbor, a friend. I make dinner (sometimes) and build and share and write. I balance and love and dream. I may not have changed the world or my country, but I believe I'm making a positive difference in at least a few lives.

That X is for me, too.

Rad American Women A-Z
written by Kate Schatz
illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
ISBN: 9780872866836
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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