________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Nobel's Women of Peace. (The Women's Hall of Fame Series).

Michelle Benjamin & Maggie Mooney.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2008.
146 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-897187-38-8.

Subject Headings:
Women Nobel Prize winners-Biography.
Women pacifists-Biography.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Julie Chychota.

***½ /4

excerpt:

The wars in Central America were brutal, and Jody witnessed firsthand the horrible deaths and injuries caused by landmines. When she saw the children who had lost arms and legs in explosions, her life's work became clear. She says, "I didn't pick landmines, the issue picked me. I saw the devastating and crippling effects of landmines, especially on women and children. A country littered with thousands of landmines does not have peace." Jody's mission would be to help rid the world of these cruel devices.

Her foe was formidable. Jody calls landmines "the perfect soldier." They don't need food or water. They don't need instructions or even uniforms. Anti-personnel landmines are designed to explode when a person walks over them or picks them up, and they are a frighteningly effective weapon for killing people. The problem is they don't know who they're killing, or when. Sometimes for years after a war has ended, landmines continue to murder and injure. No one is safe: landmines injure and kill women walking to get water, farmers working in their fields, and children playing. The mines themselves are often brightly colored, attracting the attention of curious children.

Nobel's Women of Peace has the distinction of being lucky number thirteen in "The Women's Hall of Fame Series." Yet it is not luck that characterizes the lives of the pacifists featured therein, but rather diligent work and passionate commitment. By celebrating these women's contributions to peace-building, authors Michelle Benjamin and Maggie Mooney hope to ignite in young readers the same drive "to make positive things happen in the world."

     Every book in the series recounts the lives of 10 to 12 women, usually in a particular profession, such that past titles have focussed on physicians, explorers, filmmakers, and athletes, as a few examples. In contrast, Nobel's Women of Peace gathers together an eclectic set of individuals: a governess, a nun, an agricultural worker, a prime minister elect, a lawyer and former Chief Justice, administrative assistants, academics, and social and political activists. Yet despite differences in nationality, social class, family structure, spiritual beliefs, education, and profession, they share one thing in common: they are the only 12 women to have received the Nobel Prize for Peace since its inception in 1901. Their scarcity relieves the authors of the usual difficult decisions concerning whom to include/exclude. However, it also prompts Benjamin and Mooney to remark upon the "low representation of women among Nobel Peace Prize laureates," a situation they feel is mitigated only in part by the increasing frequency with which women have received the award in the latter part of the century. That is, while only three women--Bertha von Suttner, Jane Addams, and Emily Greene Balch--were awarded the prize prior to the 1970s, nine others have been similarly honored since then, namely Betty Williams and Mááiread Corrigan Maguire (jointly), Mother Teresa, Alva Myrdal, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rigoberta Menchúú Tum, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Maathai.

     "The Women's Hall of Fame Series" is memorable for its visually and tactilely pleasing glossy covers, smooth pages, and illustrative details. Naturally, Nobel's Women of Peace does not disappoint. First, its pale aquamarine background rescues from triteness the front cover's representation of peace, a dove carrying an olive branch in its beak superimposed over a globe. Underneath the artwork appear the photographs of four of the "women of peace." Second, the book's internal layout combines photographs, sidebars, and whimsical graphics to enhance the written text. Every chapter begins with a half-page photograph set within a globe-shaped ellipse framed on either side by olive branches. Above each portrait is positioned the proper name of a recipient (or of recipients in the case of Williams and Corrigan Maguire), along with the date she received the Nobel Prize. Directly beneath is a nickname or phrase that characterizes the individual; for instance, Aung San Suu Kyi's moniker is "The Titanium Orchid," while Jody Williams's catchphrase is "Go Forth As Troublemakers." An additional 28 photographic reproductions grace the remaining pages while olive branch graphics bedeck the sidebars and page numbers. As with the other titles in the series, the design is elegantly simple and effective.

     In their introduction, Benjamin and Mooney provide a short account of Alfred Nobel, the intellectual inventor and entrepreneur whose name is now linked to six prestigious prizes (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/). Influenced by friends like Bertha von Suttner who championed disarmament, and as a means to offset his invention of dynamite--which he had expected would end all warfare--Nobel left money in his will to create prizes to recognize advances in various fields, including the promotion of peace. Accordingly, the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes individuals and organizations for their participation in "disarmament, humanitarian work, and environmental activism."

     Following the introduction, 11 chapters arrange the Nobel recipients in chronological order, according to the year in which they won the Peace Prize, from Bertha von Suttner in 1905 to Wangari Maathai in 2004. Most readers will be familiar with Mother Teresa's compassion for the poor, the diseased, and the dying, yet they may not be aware of how the other exceptional women profiled in this volume have served the cause of peace. For instance, Jane Addams in Chicago and Emily Greene Balch in Boston in the late 1800s started settlement houses to provide food, shelter, education, and important services to recent immigrants and impoverished persons. Not only did they lobby for legislative changes pertaining to women and children, but they also joined with other pacifists to protest against World War I. One hundred years later, in 1990s Iran, Shirin Ebadi at long last obtained a licence allowing her to practice law within the same system that had earlier betrayed her trust by demoting her from Chief Justice to court secretary. Since that time, she has openly defended human rights under Sharia Law, both as a lawyer and a professor. Wangari Maathai is the last woman thus far to win the Peace Prize. In 1977, she initiated the Green Belt Movement wherein Kenyan women began planting trees native to their country in an attempt to restore an ecosystem bereft of its diversity by the cash crops grown under colonization. (Another title in the series, Heather Ball's Great Women Leaders, devotes a chapter to Maathai also.) The rest of the biographies are no less powerful.

     Although none of the prizewinners are Canadian, Benjamin and Mooney emphasize two connections to Canada for their domestic readers. For instance, they note that Shirin Ebadi represented the family of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist murdered in Iran. They posit that the Nobel laureate's involvement drew attention to the proceedings and raised awareness of human rights issues, especially with respect to women. The second tie-in to Canada is the "Axworthy Challenge" mentioned in the chapter on Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). At a 1996 ICBL meeting in Ottawa, Canada's then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy challenged participants to reconvene in one year's time to sign an international treaty banning landmines. Canada's support enabled ICBL to finalize the treaty in one-fifth of the time initially anticipated. Given Canada's history of peacekeeping, perhaps it won't be that much longer before the list of Peace Prize laureates contains a Canadian woman's name.

     Benjamin and Mooney forego any footnotes or glossary in favour of incorporating definitions, explanations, and quotations into the text proper, and into the occasional sidebars. Within the text, for example, the authors use the word "novitiate," then set off the definition, "a beginning nun," with dashes. They do the same thing for "campaññeros," a Spanish word meaning, in this context, "companions in the struggle." In one instance, Benjamin and Mooney insert in brackets the pronunciation and North American equivalent of a name their readers might find unfamiliar: "Mááiread (pronounced mu-RADE--it's Irish for Margaret)." These in-text definitions and explanations are not as disruptive to the reading process as they would be if they were placed at the end of the book and the reader had to flip back and forth.

     Meanwhile, gray sidebars act like recessed wall niches, adding depth and focus around particular points. For instance, one of the first sidebars informs readers that the words "pacifism" and "pacifist" came into fashion at Bertha von Suttner's insistence. Others detail the steps to canonization, the effects and treatment of leprosy, or why Aung San Suu Kyi's country is known simultaneously as Burma and Myanmar. Quite often they contain quotations by or about the Peace Prize winners. Consequently, the sidebars nudge a reader's knowledge along bit by bit, frame by frame.

     Thanks largely to its back matter, Nobel's Women of Peace runs about twenty pages longer then the rest of the books in the series. Besides a page apiece for photo credits and acknowledgements, Benjamin and Mooney include a three-page "What You Can Do?" section followed by a ten-page bibliography. "What You Can Do?" offers an annotated list of eight organizations and their URLs, as well as three additional ideas for motivating readers to be "troublemakers for peace." Under "Sources and Resources," the authors cite electronic and hardcopy texts, generic as well as specific, which they used in their research and which readers can use to learn more about the Nobel Prize winners.

     Characterized by a weighty yet impelling tone, the book's careful style is considerate of its intended audience. It doesn't patronize its young readers by skirting the hardships and brutalities that occur in the absence of peace; rather, it describes them at a level of detail not comprehensive but readily comprehensible to the 9- to 13-year-old age bracket. More importantly, the text's 12 role models demonstrate that it is possible to combat such difficulties with pacifist attitudes and actions.

     Criticisms of the book are few. Presumably its lapses into a journalistic use of one- or two-sentence paragraphs are for emphasis; however, they detract from the tidiness of the surrounding text. The editing seems more vigilant this time around, although the "buts" heading up sentences and paragraphs are still ample enough to send this reader into a tailspin.

     Nevertheless, Nobel's Women of Peace creates an awareness of how much has already been achieved and how much more there is left to accomplish in the pursuit of peace around the world. It makes an attractive addition to "The Women's Hall of Fame Series" and might set a precedent for future books about like-minded women based on some affiliation other than profession. May Second Story Press continue to document the lives of girls and women.

Highly Recommended.

Julie Chychota now lives in Ottawa, ON, but in the past she worked as a project assistant for the University of Manitoba's Mauro Centre, home of Canada's first Ph.D. program in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS).

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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