February 2004

Veronica Bond

21st Century Fox

Girlwonder

For anyone wondering what women have done, when they've done it, and exactly who has done it, Girlwonder provides an excellent index of exactly this type of information. A collection of female-centered tidbits, this mini-encyclopedia of feminist knowledge is laid out plainly, simple enough for any girl of any age to comprehend. Although the sections don't go quite as in depth as one might wish -- the book alone would not be sufficient material for an eighth grade American History paper -- they are accurate and provide a solid starting point for anyone wishing to know the full scope of women's achievements.

Girlwonder is filled mainly with lists of women's names and their achievements. The book opens with a calendar citing something a woman has done for each day of the year. Among the other lists are turning points in the female timeline, such as the establishment of NOW and the ERA, and the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850; and women who were printed on postage stamps for making a significant contribution to American history. These included Queen Isabella of Spain, Mary Cassatt, Dorothy Parker, and other artists, athletes, scientists, and political figures. A section of the book provides notable places to visit such as female-centered museums like the Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota, as well as women literally placed on pedestals like Eleanor Roosevelt and Gertrude Stein in New York. Although some of these lists seem a bit gratuitous, such as the list of girl-named cities, everything contained in them is at least kind of cool to know.

Perhaps most interesting to us Booksluts, is the chapter on significant female contributions to the literary world. Among these are Harriet Beecher Stowe and her internationally bestselling novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the first about slavery, and Toni Morrison who is credited as the first American women to win the Nobel Prize for literature. All female Nobel Prize winners for literature are later listed, as well as Pulitzer Prize winners for both poetry and fiction. Notable female fictional characters, such as Alice of the Lewis Carroll books and Ramona Quimby of the Beverly Cleary series, are offered up, and famous initialed authors are revealed. Employed as a tactic to disguise an author's gender, Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series, and Susan Eloise Hinton, author of The Outsiders, used only their first initials with their last names to gain entrance to the publishing world.

The section on body and mind provides a nice, if brief, explanation of the growing and changing female body, accompanied by descriptions of different cultural rites of passage. Because discussion of menstruation is taboo in many American families, Girlwonder describes other cultural celebrations of girls' first periods and, thus, entrances into womanhood and encourages changing this taboo in American society. Also described are several of the downsides of having a female body -- Chinese foot binding and the American obsession with body weight are listed as some of the ways notions of female beauty can actually be harmful to both the mind and body. The book goes on to encourage healthy eating, regular exercise, stress-relieving activities, and getting to know the details of one's own body.

Girlwonder fills out the remainder of its pages with sections on famous athletes, infamous romances, and the cyclical phases of the fashion world, singling out numerous women as points of inspiration throughout. It is amazing to learn just how much women have contributed to the growth of American society and how many of them it has taken to arrive at our present state, yet it is saddening to realize that most of these women will continue to go unrecognized by many. In effort to halt that process, Girlwonder is a succinct and useful first step to introducing girls to the achievements of their gender. For a more comprehensive view of historical females, one would be required to go elsewhere, but to ignite interest in the abilities and accomplishments of women throughout time, Girlwonder certainly meets its goal.

Girlwonder by Holly Hartman
Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN: 0618319395
234 pages