I Love You Eleanor: Kids’ Books for Women’s History Month, Part 1

From "Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt,” by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley. Disney/Hyperion, New York, c. 2009.

From Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt, Disney/ Hyperion, New York, c. 2009.

My husband threw down the F-word the other day, right in front of our six-year-old son.

Jack and I had just gotten back from the library, and we were sitting at the table reading together.  My husband walked in and caught a glimpse of what we were up to.

That’s when he let it fly.

“There you go again,” he said. “Pushing your feminist agenda.”

“Damn straight,” I said, and he and I both laughed.

Yep, that F-bomb.

Now, just in case anyone’s unclear here, my husband is a big fan of strong women.  (He would say, “I married you, didn’t I?’) And if I have any say in the matter, I hope to inculcate the same excellent quality in Jack. Hence the books that have been coming home with us from the library these days.

It’s one of the things I like best about homeschooling: the freedom to include, and even privilege, certain kinds of books, certain points of view.  Like the point of view that women have had an important role in history.  Radical, right?  I know!

This is not to say Jack is always on board for whatever I might like to expose him to.  I’ve learned the hard way not to try and push him to learn things he has no interest in.  (Yes, I AM aware I just ended two sentences in a row with prepositions.  There’s another one in an earlier paragraph, too.  Deal with it.)

Luckily for me and my “feminist agenda,” Jack loves history, AND he loves women.  (In fact, he’s had a kind of swoony eye for the ladies since he was a baby. I’m not kidding, he used to say “Hi” in this rapt, flirty way to pretty young women when he was a year old—but that’s kind of a separate issue.)

Jack will happily tell you about women’s suffrage, and he seems genuinely excited about the likelihood of woman President in the near future.

That’s my boy!

I’ve got to give a lot of credit for his forward thinking to some excellent picture books we’ve read.  (Thank you, public library!)  And since March is Women’s History Month, I’ve decided to honor a few of our favorites here.

Today’s pick:

Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt, by Doreen Rappaport.  Illustrated by Gary Kelley.  Disney/Hyperion, New York, c. 2009.

Filled with beautifully painted illustrations and moving text, this biography follows Eleanor from her lonely childhood to her adulthood as First Lady and a political pioneer who cared deeply about inequality and ordinary people’s suffering.

I’ll admit it.  I fell in love with Eleanor reading this book. (I also, um, got something in my eye as I was reading.)  Here’s just one of the many reasons why:

From “Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt,” Disney/ Hyperion, New York, c. 2009.

From “Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt,” c. 2009.

She resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when they refused to let Marian Anderson sing in their auditorium.  Then she organized a concert for the great black contralto at the Lincoln Memorial, which was attended by 75,000.

This was in 1939, people.

Eleanor urged women to get into politics—and stay in.  She met with coal miners and sharecroppers during the Depression.  She visited the bedsides of countless injured soldiers during World War II.  She spoke out against Japanese internment and anti-Semitism when it unpopular to do so.

She had more than her share of struggles—her mother thought she was ugly, her parents died when she was ten, her mother-in-law was oppressive, and her critics dismissed her as a “do-gooder”—but she was guided by an intense will, deep compassion, and the strength to stand up for what she believed in.

Here are just a few of her quotes:

“Do something every day that scares you.”

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

“I have never felt that anything really mattered but knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much exactly what I’d want any child—son or daughter—to learn.

Happy Women’s History Month, everybody!

Next up in the series:  Maggie Gee, female Chinese-American pilot in World War II!

Comments: 5 thoughts on “I Love You Eleanor: Kids’ Books for Women’s History Month, Part 1

  1. oj burns says:

    Thank you for the recommendation. Age group for this book? I now have three granddaughters and I’, looking for them to like strong women too since I think each of them is going to be one :-

    But I thought you said you, somewhere, had learned not to read these posts 🙂

  2. Thea Sullivan says:

    HI Mr. Burns!

    (I know, I know, I should call you O.J. In fact, I just got a FB message from my own former high school student, a 30-something actress in NYC, and she called me “Ms. Sullivan!” Old habits die hard.)

    As for reading comments, I absolutely read the ones of my blog! It’s the ones on places like Salon that I was counseled to avoid (of course, I read those too). I only wish I had time to respond to more blog comments!

    Here’s the deal on the Eleanor book: it’s for elementary grades–it’s a picture book, and the writing is fairly simple–but the text is well-written enough that older kids would enjoy it, too. Also check out “Sky High” about Maggie Gee, Chinese-American WWII pilot, and “American Dames,” about women in the American Revolution.

    Have fun, and here’s to you for being a cool grandpa to those strong girls!

  3. The other ts says:

    A fun read on a most timely subject. I too must be a fan of strong women. Look who I married – twice!

  4. Great column as usual – put me at ease about the Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Queen Elizabeth etc series I have my son reading. Having named my daughter Alienor (of Aquitaine), I so appreciate your teacher’s perspective on feminism. Rowayton produced some strong ladies, if we lean in any farther we may fall over. Planning a run for office in the next 10-15 years, and may look to you (and your son!) for inspirational speech-writing. Your blog is wonderful. CMC

    • Thea Sullivan says:

      Thanks so much, Carolyn! Great to hear of so many moms encouraging their kids to admire leaders of both genders. Your political plans sound very exciting–keep us posted!

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