CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 26. . . .March 7, 2014
Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series).
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2013.
150 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $10.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927583-12-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927583-13-5 (epub).
Women executives-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Julie Chychota.
Churches and community halls made ideal places for finding talented and outgoing women. Women who were looking for new job opportunities were happy to join Madam Walker’s company as recruiting agents. In this unjust era, the job prospects for African American women were limited to washerwoman, maid, cook, sharecropper, or factory worker. None of these options paid much more than a dollar a day. Female Walker agents, on the other hand, often earned more in one day than white men earned in a full week! They had choices, too. They could earn money by selling products door-to-door or by offering beauty treatments.
Madam Walker’s mail-order business was hugely successful, and she was keen to keep expanding. Business was thriving. In the meantime, her imagination was brimming with ways she could spend – or, rather, invest – her money. Cars? A mansion? Fine clothing? Some of these possessions appealed to her, sure, but only insofar as they showed her fellow African American citizens that they, too, could aspire to greatness. More importantly, she wanted to give back to the black community by building schools, giving scholarships, financing education for children, and donating money to civil-rights charities. She also had the notion that, as a rich business owner, she could use her elevated position in society to bring about change. She wanted to make life safer for her people, and to help them earn respect and win fair wages. (From “Madam C. J. Walker”.)
For Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, the latest title in “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series”, author Jill Bryant chronicles the achievements of 10 women “motivated to do much more than make money” (p. 1). Bryant’s subjects have discerned the need for particular products or services, but they also have concerned themselves with philanthropy, that is, leaving the world a better place by giving back to it through various means. While the author’s call to “Be bold, be confident, work hard, and make your special vision come to life” (p. 2) may be slanted towards girls inclined towards careers in business, the book’s and series’ broader aim is to promote women role models with whom girls can identify.
Bryant begins Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs with a four-page introduction that outlines characteristics of entrepreneurs. She then devotes between 10 and 14 pages apiece to her women subjects, arranged chronologically according to year of birth. The first two, Madam C.J. Walker and Dorothy Shaver, are United States citizens from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Dame Anita Roddick of the United Kingdom and Naina Lal Kidwai of India, born in 1942 and 1957, respectively, represent the mid-twentieth century. Six more women follow, born within a span of ten years, from 1969 to 1979: Sheryl Sandberg and Sue Chen, like Walker and Shaver, are American; Susan Mashibe is Tanzanian; and Nicole Robertson, Kelsey Ramsden, and Jodi Glover are Canadian. Among them, they represent leadership in beauty products (Walker and Roddick), retail fashion (Shaver), banking (Lal Kidwai), media (Sandberg and Robertson), medical devices (Chen), aviation (Mashibe), construction (Ramsden), and water purification (Glover). Though their business interests and heritages vary, Bryant highlights discipline, determination, and dedication as common denominators in her subjects’ lives.
The initial paragraphs of a chapter form a verbal sketch that contours the mini-biography to come. A childhood memory, a guiding principle or aesthetic, or a behaviour or action characteristic of an entrepreneur precedes an account of her birth and formative years. Bryant then traces the individual’s educational and career trajectories. It is important to recognize the many firsts achieved within the chosen group. To cite just three examples, Shaver was the first woman president of a Fifth Avenue department store (pp. 28-29), Mashibe became the first Tanzanian woman to obtain a license as a pilot (p. 87), and Ramsden was named “Canada’s number-one woman entrepreneur” in 2012 (p. 116). Equally important in rounding out the biographies are the women’s philanthropic pursuits, whether those involve making charitable donations, mentoring women in business, or advocating for human and animal rights, for instance. The book shows that these leaders may be ambitious, independent risk-takers, but that doesn’t preclude them from being kind and compassionate.
“The Women’s Hall of Fame” books are a pleasure to look at, hold, and read, and Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is no exception. It stimulates visual and tactile senses with bright-coloured, glossy covers, smooth pages, and photographs and sidebars that provide temporary diversions from the primary content. In fact, there are 22 black-and-white photographs in addition to the portraits that kick-start the chapters, not to mention the 56 sidebars, an amount that surpasses the record of 46 previously set by Bryant in Dazzling Women Designers. These sidebars introduce inspirational quotations, references to other notable entrepreneurial women—such as the “Damsels of Direct Marketing,” responsible for Tupperware, Mary Kay cosmetics, Pampered Chef, and Tomboy Tools (p. 12)—and tidbits of information tangential to the narrative, all of which further contextualize the 10 biographies. Framing the photos and sidebars are decorative elements carried over from the covers; these curlicues, light bulbs, and stars, along with hatched lines that provide the illusion of three-dimensionality, appear hand-drawn. They suffice, but lack the pizzazz of similar ornamentation in sister books, perhaps because one is hard-pressed to locate symbols that suggest entrepreneurship in the way that, say, compasses and maps denote exploration in Extraordinary Women Explorers.
Yet, if the book’s flourishes seem ho-hum and its table of contents disproportionately large, the exemplary text of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs eclipses these details. Bryant writes crisply and cleanly; a mere 13 sentence fragments surface here versus 64 in another recent title. Furthermore, the author considerately converts Shaver’s salary into contemporary figures (p. 27), British pounds to dollars, and miles to kilometres (pp. 36-37); includes the Chinese characters for Chen’s original name (p. 69) and pronunciations for foreign proper names (p. 31 & p. 81); and relates the unfamiliar to the familiar, such as when she describes the population of Mwanza, Tanzania, as larger than Montreal’s (p. 83). In addition, those who consult the glossary will find terms like “CEO,” “Shareholder,” and “Start-up Money,” among the 20 entries conveniently defined there. Bryant’s clear, coherent, and conversational style will facilitate readers’ comprehension, just as it did in Amazing Women Athletes and Dazzling Women Designers.
Along with the “Glossary”, sections entitled “Sources” (curtailed from the redundant “Sources and Resources” of earlier books in the series), “Acknowledgements,” and “Photo Credits” comprise the back matter. Websites make up the majority of sources listed, though a few videos and print materials appear in the mix. These selections anticipate that the first impulse of most readers on a quest for more information will be to search the Internet. Finally, like some, but not all, of the previous books in the series, Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs contains an endpaper with the tag line, “More from the Women’s Hall of Fame Series.” It depicts the covers of other titles in the series, a valuable tool for readers who want to learn more about women’s contributions to other disciplines. As the series expands, Second Story Press should include such a list at the end of every book.
Every new “Women’s Hall of Fame” title brings with it the thrill of discovering a new group of women around the world who have excelled in a particular vocation. As a 2013 video by The Representation Project counsels, “Women and girls deserve better representation in the media and in our larger culture” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NswJ4kO9uHc). With its “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series”, Second Story Press seeks to cultivate in young readers a deeper awareness of and appreciation for women leaders. School and public libraries should acquire the affordable series as part of their collections as a way to perpetuate positive representations.
Julie Chychota lives and works in Ottawa, ON, facilitating communication for persons with hearing disabilities by capturing speech as text on her laptop.
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