________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 13 . . . . February 26, 1999

Women in Profile Series.

New York, NY: Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd. (Distributed in Canada by Crabtree Publishing Company), 1998.
48 pp., $19.16 (cloth), $9.86 (paper).

Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4

This is a collection of six titles focussing on women who have made names for themselves in fields where women have typically been excluded or not welcomed. They are Explorers, Political Leaders, Scientists, Writers, Nobel Prize Winners and Musicians. There is once more book, Writers, which is not reviewed here.

      Each book outlines the lives of six prominent women in each field, with more than 10 others described more briefly at the end of the book. Six pages are devoted to each woman, with her life being divided up between Early Years, Developing Skills and Accomplishments. Backgrounders, Quick Notes and Key Events list supplemental information, and full colour photographs decorate the pages, as do quotes that reflect the subject's philosophy of life or the opinions of other notable people. There is an introduction, a glossary of terms explaining words that are printed in bold type throughout the text, a Suggested Reading list and an index, all found at the end of the book.

      The books are written in a simple style to explain complicated information to a younger reader:

In 1936, Rachel joined the United States Bureau of Fisheries. The bureau did not usually hire women, but Rachel had top marks in the entrance exam. She was the second woman scientist ever to work at the bureau. She produced the bulletins that the bureau published. Rachel's work was so outstanding that she was eventually made editor-in-chief. (Scientists, p. 14)

      However, the need to explain something simply should not prevent the authors from being complete and accurate. The perception of most readers is that these women have been highlighted because they have made positive contributions to their fields or to society. The promotional material accompanying the series "celebrates twentieth-century women who have made significant achievements..." The expectation of young women looking for role models is that women add a more humane face to leadership, science or other fields, that women are somehow "better" or "different" than men. The profiles of many of these women leave out or gloss over important information that would inform malleable minds that many of these women are not positive role models but are as no different that men engaged in the same activities and should be identified as such. Either the authors want to keep information from the intended audience, or they do not believe that children are capable of understanding difficult concepts. Reality proves that perception to be wrong on a daily basis. Children living in countries where corruption reigns, where military dictatorships or fascism exists understand these concepts. Children who have never experienced many of these terrible things may need more explanation to understand how bad people can actually be to each other, but they are capable of understanding it. Adults are often shocked at the lack of knowledge young people display about current events, politics and history. If the young readers should be able to understand words such as "suffragette," "racism" and "pacifist," then they should also be able to understand such terms as "economic domination," "cronyism", "imperialism" and others. Books such as Political Leaders and Explorers leave out important information that might discredit many of these women as role models or provide a properly explained framework for the reader to interpret the information.

      If the publishers of this series want to be helpful to young impressionable readers, it would be better if they presented more thorough biographies. There are many women whose feminine side may have made them better at their skill, better leaders and whose work has benefited the people in their country or humanity in general. Those women should be celebrated. But there are many women who are not distinguished by anything except their gender. If their contribution has been negative, that should be stated, and not confused with those women who deserve recognition. Teachers, teacher-librarians and parents should examine each book in the series on its own merit.

Scientists Scientists.
Carlotta Hacker.
ISBN 0-7787-0006-2 (cloth), 0-7787-0028-3 (paper).

Subject Headings:
Women scientists-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Women in science-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.


Scientists outlines the contributions of Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Rachel Carson, Dian Fossey, Mary Leakey, Margaret Mead and Chien-shiung Wu, whose fields of study ranged from archaeology to primatology to physicist. The text outlines the influences their families had on the development of their ideas, how their skills advanced (sometimes in an atmosphere of male domination or resentment). A few of these women did not receive honour for their work that many thought they were due, and the suggestion is that their gender worked against them being recognized.



Leslie Strudwick.
ISBN 0-7787-009-7 (cloth), ISBN 0-7787-0031-3 (paper).

Subject Heading:
Women musicians-Biography-Juvenile literature.


Musicians presents many contemporary artists, including some Canadian women of note. The women profiled are Liona Boyd (guitar), Midori (violin), Vanessa-Mae (violin), Mary O'Hara (Irish harp), Mary Lou Williams (jazz piano) and Ethel Smyth (composer). Included in the "More Women in Profile" section is cellist Ofra Harnoy and fiddler Natalie MacMaster. Several of these women displayed their talents as young children and developed them with the encouragement of their families. This book presents a well-rounded array of talents, from Ethel Smyth, whose gender probably held her back from being published and recognized as she should have been in her lifetime, to Mary Lou Williams whose jazz piano skills took her to the top in the '20's and '30's, and young violinist Vanessa-Mae whose full range of talent is yet unknown.


Nobel prize Winners

Nobel Prize Winners.
Carlotta Hacker.
ISBN 0-7787-0007-0 (cloth), ISBN 0-7787-0029-1 (paper).

Subject Headings:
Nobel prizes-Juvenile literature.
Women-Biography-Juvenile literature.


The introduction to this book talks about the origin of the Nobel Prize. There were few women prize winners in the early days of the Nobel Prize, because there were few women scientists, and because the work or contribution of many women in science has been undervalued or ignored. That situation has improved in recent years, and this book highlights the awards given to women in areas of science, writing and in the struggle for peace. They are Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician), Marie Curie (physicist), Nadine Gordimer (writer), Barbara McClintock (geneticist), Toni Morrison (writer) and Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams (peace activists).

      Barbara McClintock is one woman whose work was done at a time when women were well not accepted in scientific circles. In 1931, Barbara had to give up her position as instructor. Cornell (University) did not give permanent teaching jobs to women, and it was not going to start with Barbara. Although Barbara was one of the leading scientists in her field, she could not get full-time work to continue her research.

      Nobel Prize Winners provides a broad overview of women active on many fronts who have achieved the highest level of recognition.



Carlotta Hacker.
ISBN 0-7787-0004-6 (cloth), ISBN 0-7787-0028-3 (paper).

Subject Heading:
Women explorers-Biography-Juvenile literature.


Explorers gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of women who have explored the depths of Africa and the heights of space. From 19th century explorer Isabella Bird Bishop to modern day explorer Freya Stark, and aviatrix Amelia Earhart and Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, women have pursued their sense of adventure and curiosity. Many defied contemporary conventions which did not accept women travelling unaccompanied by a European male. Their method of travel was often as difficult as those made by the hardiest of men, and all made contributions to the store of knowledge and understanding of the world, and contributed to the breaking down of gender barriers, at least in Western countries. The book touches on the issue of colonialism, the resentment the colonized peoples felt toward the colonizers and the condescending attitude of the colonizers. But the author could develop this topic in a more thorough manner to give students an accurate historical understanding of the objectives of the colonizing countries and the consequences of their actions on the world. This information would be found most suitably in the "Backgrounder" notes, as is the information on "foreign devils."


Political leaders

Political Leaders.
Janice Parker.
ISBN 0-7787-0008-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-7789-0030-5 (paper).

Subject Headings:
Women presidents-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Women prime ministers-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Women heads of state-Biography-Juvenile literature.


The women leaders profiled in this book are Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi, Eva Peron, Golda Meir and Corazon Aquino. All of these women, except for Peron, have served as the head of state in their respective countries. The book deals with their early experiences, how and why they rose to power, and what they did in power. What the book does not deal with forthrightly is the controversy that surrounded each of them in office and which made them no different than many male leaders.

      For example, Margaret Thatcher is described as being "tough." Margaret Thatcher was the woman who caused thousands of people to lose their jobs in the coal industry, slashed the national health plan, refused to acknowledge the rights of Irish prisoners - leading to the death of 10 men by starvation, led her country to a good old-fashioned British imperialist-type war in the Falkland Islands, and who, today, serves tea to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The book does not mention the economic or social impact of Margaret Thatcher's policies on the British people. It has been documented. Is she an example the author thinks young women should follow?

      Eva Peron was the First Lady of Argentina. She is commonly known to have been a prostitute and someone who milked the countries coffers when she married dictator Juan Peron. She developed a cult following due to her willingness, not her humanity. Her philanthropy was a good cover for her expensive taste. Her most recent claim to fame is that a musical was made about her. Does that make Eva Peron a woman who should be heralded?

      Indira Gandhi was the first woman to lead India. She perpetuated the system of corruption, cronyism and nepotism that plagued Indian politics. In the name of beautifying the country, she razed slums, displacing hundreds of thousands of people to live on the streets. Her social policy included rounding up men and forcibly sterilizing them to control population growth. She incited the flames of religious strife for years to come with the invasion of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. She concentrated power in her own hands and declared martial law. She trained her son to take over from her and to be as brutal and corrupt as she was to stay in power. Are these accomplishments the author wants girls to aspire to?

      Using her father's name to gain popular support, Benazir Bhutto came to power on the promise to rid Pakistan of corruption. She is now accused of using her position as Prime Minister to amass a fortune, give her friends and family favourable positions, and of being involved in the killing of her own brother, a political rival. The book does not mention these exemplary activities.

      Corazon Aquino and Golda Meir are also not without controversy attached to their names. Aquino was brought to power because the US government supported her - Ferdinand Marcos had lost all credibility, and, once in power, she was a disappointment to the Filipino people. Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel when there were great tensions with Arab countries, and her decisions were not always popular.

      If it is to be informative, a biography of political figures has to deal with the whole gamut of issues. Presenting these women as examples, without full disclosure of information, does a disservice to impressionable young readers.

Not recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian at Niakwa Place School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364