Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independent Dames


Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2008. Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution. Illustrated by Matt Faulkner.

First off, I just want to say that I love the premise of this one. Laurie Halse Anderson is writing about little known (or unknown) characters in American history. Placing women (and girls) into the historical context of the American Revolution. And I like the idea that she's "exposing" (if you will) kids to this notion of how important women are to society, to history, to life, at an early age (mid-to-upper elementary school). The field does seem in many ways exclusive to men--specific men--Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc. Women are marginalized often along with African-Americans and Native-Americans when it comes to history textbooks. This isn't always the case. And I believe each school district is responsible for adopting their own textbooks and setting the curriculum. So some schools may be more progressive than others. (Maybe progressive isn't quite the right word. But it's as close as I could get at the moment.) My experience--limited as it may be, and as ancient as it may be--didn't allow me to really start learning about important women in history, in society, in literature until I was in college. (I would even go so far as to say that it wasn't until college that I was exposed to more than just the same old dead white guys in history and literature.)

In Independent Dames we learn about many many women (and some girls) who helped play a role in America's fight for independence. On each spread, we learn about a handful of women--perhaps two or three to a page. We never really see more than a sentence or two on each woman, but we get the big picture--women played a role too. An important role. A role that while may be dismissed by the traditional textbook, is an important one to the overall victory and morale of the war. Women as soldiers. Women as spies. Women as nurses. Women providing food, clothes, shelter, money. Women working in men's jobs in order to help their country.

It's well researched. There is an extensive timeline of the war. There are extensive notes in the sidebars. There are extensive notes in the back along with a bibliography and index.

I liked the information. It seemed a bit crowded in places. There was a lot going on on each page. I did a horrible job in describing the business--so I'll just point you to a better description:
Instead of one narrative thread through the pages, there are four types of writing on each spread- a timeline, biographical information, narrative storyline, and dialogue bubbles.
And I wasn't crazy about the illustrations. I didn't hate them. But I didn't love them. They just weren't my personal style of choice. But they weren't bad.

But teachers and parents should think about including this one.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Your review makes me want to go get this book. As a history & English teacher, I can say that in the communities I come in touch with, textbooks cover only the basics these days, because so much information is available and the kids couldn't carry the books! If asked to learn about someone in a particular category such as Women During the Revolution, they would have no frame of reference even if given a list of names! A book like this is great even for my 6th graders! I will check it out and probably add to my classroom library. It's also a great gift for a young girl, I bet!