by Thom Barthelmess, Youth Services Manager
As a child, I found Valentine’s Day to be the supreme annual holiday, surpassing even Christmas as the most-looked-forward-to festival of the year. In our house, it was the time the Valentine’s Day Peacock came and left a trail of construction paper hearts, bearing mysterious clues in Latin, clues that led to a prize of a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a pair of pink socks. The construction paper hearts for my two sisters and me were a different color—usually red, pink, and white—so we wouldn’t inadvertently cross paths in our sleuthing, and the prizes were sized to our own feet (mine were preternaturally gigantic, even then). It was a joyous, albeit peculiar tradition, and made up for the invariable disappointments that came from the classroom valentine exchange, so fraught with worries that the branded valentines you chose to distribute to your classmates’ cardboard mailboxes weren’t the right ones, or the discovery that your own mailbox was more or less empty.
Though I no longer worry about my cardboard mailbox, I do have some concerns with the way our contemporary celebration of Valentine’s Day suggests to some, particularly to young girls, that success in life depends upon success in romance, that being part of a couple is more important than being a whole and independent individual. And so, for my literary lionization of the day, I’m choosing to celebrate independence, highlighting books that inspire young women to claim their power and exert their strength.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, does exactly what its title promises, highlighting the accomplishments of 50 amazing scientists. Arranged in chronological order by birth year, the compendium begins with Egyptian astronomer Hypathia (born 350-370 CE) and ends with Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, born in 1977. And along the way, we learn about other doctors, physicists, inventors, pharmacologists, zoologists, paleontologists, etc. Truly fascinating. Check out a print copy or the ebook.
Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History, written by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, features 40 entries about individuals and groups of women whose fearless militancy has moved the place of women forward across the globe. Included are stories about the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of grieving mothers in Argentina who risked their lives to protest the military dictatorship that was “disappearing” their families; and the Guerilla Girls, a group of performance artists who sported masks and plastered cities with posters to protest the lack of female representation in the world’s art museums and to champion the power of a history told by all of its participants. Get the print copy or the ebook.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, with illustrations by various artists, showcases a particularly wide variety of women with an equally wide variety of achievements. The entries are short and tight, the illustrations are glorious, and the stories cover lots of inspirational territory, from Grace O’Malley, a sixteenth century Irish pirate, to Coy Mathis, a transgender elementary school student. This book is so new that we have it on order, but you can place a hold now and read it when it arrives.
February 14 is the day we have set aside to celebrate love. And I love the opportunities that more and more young women and young people have to define and pursue their own success.