________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 1. . . .September 6, 2013


Courageous Women Rebels. (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series).

Joy Crysdale.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2013.
124 pp., trade pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-926920-99-3.

Subject Headings:
Women social reformers-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Women political activists-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Julie Chychota.

***½ /4



…But then Strahl told Shannen and the others with her he was standing firm: there would be no new school for Attawapiskat First Nation. Shannen stood her ground as well. She shook Strahl’s hand and told him, “We’re not going to quit.”

Shannen Koostachin was at the forefront of what would come to be called the biggest youth-led children’s rights campaign in Canadian history. She became the face of a movement bent on obtaining a basic right for her people: a good education.

Across the country, other school children rallied behind her and her schoolmates. She spoke to media at news conferences, to school boards, teachers, students, religious groups, and workers’ organizations. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded to children whose courageous actions make a difference for children around the world.

Anyone who saw her speak, live or on video, was astounded by this young teenager’s passion and strength. She was so effective and powerful in all she did that Shannen’s campaign for a school was able to continue even after her death.


Courageous Women Rebels is Joy Crysdale’s second book for, and the nineteenth title in, “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series”. In this latest survey of women who have changed the world, Crysdale chronicles the lives of 10 activists who rebelled against existing systems of thought and practice in their quests for justice. Jointly, they have opposed gender inequality, slavery, apartheid, tyranny, war, and forced sterilization, and simultaneously championed the rights of women, gays and lesbians, children, and animals.

     In solidarity with the series’ sisterhood, Courageous Women Rebels follows a familiar arrangement. Ten chapters are preceded by a “Contents” and an “Introduction,” and succeeded by three sections known as “Sources and Resources,” “Acknowledgments,” and “Photo Credits.” Crysdale tidily compresses research from over ninety sources into coherent biographies for Olympe de Gouges, Sojourner Truth, Sarojini Naidu, Ruth First, Gloria Steinem, Joan Baez, Leilani Muir, Temple Grandin, Michelle Douglas, and Shannen Koostachin. The subjects receive evenhanded treatment, with six chapters of 10 pages and four of 12. The author’s selections, however, favour North America, with three Canadians and four Americans in the bunch; the remaining activists represent France, India, and South Africa.

      Accompanying the biographies, and distributed equitably throughout, are 39 sidebars and 21 black and white reproductions of portraits and photographs. The images satisfy a reader’s curiosity about the activists’ appearances while the sidebars highlight social and political contexts, past and present, thereby extending the reader’s understanding of the biographies. For example, the chapter on Naidu uses sidebars to address India’s caste system, child marriages, and women participants in the Arab Spring uprising. Finally, although some books in the series include a glossary, this one defines its terminology in the main text.

      To inject individuality into the books, each one’s layout includes unique decorative elements. However, unlike the chalkboards and olive branches that form visual motifs in Terrific Women Teachers and Nobel’s Women of Peace, respectively, there is no comparable symbol that cohesively signifies “activist”. Rather than insist on embellishment, designer Melissa Kaita opts for a Spartan sensibility. For instance, the titles, bylines, page headings, page numbers, and sidebars – everything apart from the main text – appears in a sans seriffed font. Furthermore, the title on the cover, chapter titles, and sidebars are set atop swatches of black while the lettering for all headings resembles the chemically-altered fabric of the “burnout” look. In tandem with hits of red on the front and back covers, these visual effects project assertiveness, in keeping with the “courageous rebels” who challenged the status quo. Overall, the consistent format of “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series” translates into a recognizable brand of books infused with a sense of playfulness.

      Crysdale’s writing style smoothly guides the reader through the biographies in Courageous Women Rebels. Chapters begin with dramatic moments in the subjects’ lives, designed to claim the reader’s attention. The author then develops the stories with details of the women’s births, early years, and people or experiences that spurred them on to take a stand on issues dear to them. Just as she did in Fearless Female Journalists, Crysdale approaches difficult topics candidly yet considerately. For example, she avoids lurid description, writing matter-of-factly of de Gouges’s beheading, Truth’s inhumane treatment at the hands of slave owners, First’s attempted suicide and death by letter bomb, and Koostachin’s fatal car accident. Furthermore, in deference to the target audience, in whose eyes Sojourner Truth and Gloria Steinem, too, probably, represent ancient history, Crysdale cites the recognition given them, respectively, by contemporary celebrities Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, to emphasize their relevance even today. In each instance, whether a woman is rich or poor, straight or gay, or 13 or 50 when she embarks on a path of activism, the book presents her life story in a way such that readers can relate to it.

      Although its introduction characterizes rebels as individuals who “follow their own path, and don’t care what anyone thinks”, the book reveals that their independence should not be equated with isolation. On the contrary, the support of family, friends, peers, and professionals has played a significant role in the women’s accomplishments. For example, de Gouges dictated her treatises on women’s rights and equality to a scribe, a mental-health group buoyed Muir’s spirits at a critical time, and Douglas received encouragement from family and legal consultants. One of the strengths of Courageous Women Rebels is that it underscores the importance of community, even as it singles out these 10 women for their far-ranging influence.

      If only “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series” would mind its p’s and q’s, the overall reading experience would be so much more edifying. One may easily forgive a “who” in place of “whom” (p. 38) and a couple of unclear pronoun references (p. 31, 71). One might even excuse three or four one- or two-sentence paragraphs, and actively indulge a fondness for dashes—they make a bolder statement than commas or parentheses, after all. One really wishes, however, that someone had repaired at least three-quarters, if not all, of the 64 sentence fragments beginning with “But” or “And” that populate Courageous Women Rebels. There would have been ways to make such corrections yet still retain the book’s conversational tone. Essentially, it would be encouraging to see the series model grammar of an excellence on par with the other aspects of these nonfiction books.

      So far, five books in “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series”, including Crysdale’s Fearless Female Journalists, appear on the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer Project list, which recognizes “well written and illustrated books with significant feminist content” (http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/amelia-bloomer-book-list). The list generally places the books in the “Intermediate” category for grades 5 to 9, a classification that corresponds closely to the intended readership of nine- to thirteen-year-olds proposed by Second Story Press. It would come as no surprise if Courageous Women Rebels was nominated to the next annual Project list.

      Not only does the series provide good starting points for school projects on women in different disciplines, but the books also make for engaging recreational reading. Courageous Women Rebels, like its sister books, is the perfect size to take along to the cabin for a rainy-day read or on an airplane as an alternative to in-flight movies. At a reasonable $10.95, it should find its way into many a school, public, or personal library collection. As the book’s introduction suggests, the biographies may inspire readers to set their own “shining examples of how people can make a difference.”

Highly Recommended.

Julie Chychota puts the listening and note-taking skills she learned as a University of Manitoba student to good use in capturing speech as text for clients with hearing disabilities in Ottawa, ON.

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

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