2011 was a great year for nonfiction of all kinds, but there seemed to be a serious (or, in some cases, not-so-serious) trend in great girl-power books. Wheels of Change by Sue Macy (see Mark’s previous review) examines the technical advance of the bicycle, which liberated women at the turn of the century. Showing how the bicycle influenced women’s freedoms, from physical health to fashion, is historically inspirational. But the real fun of this book is that the star of the show is something that most readers will have experienced themselves from a young age–it’s easy to relate to the thrill of riding a bike and the opportunities independent transportation opened for women of the past if you’re a teen still waiting for her license! No wonder Wheels of Change is a finalist for the 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction! With a fun collaged feel, beautiful historic images, and humor sprinkled throughout the research, this is a fantastic read to make readers realize how far women have come and how the embrace of new technology continues to revolutionize our lives.
And it’s easy to see how the liberation provided by the bicycle could lead women to more daring feats of adventure as the 20th century continued. Perhaps the most well-known and captivating story of a fearless female is the life and unexplained disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Amelia Lost by Candace Flemming takes on the enigmatic ending of Amelia’s story, alternating between the moment when her plane was lost over the Pacific Ocean in her solo flight around the globe and the childhood and events that led her there. An honest look at her embrace of celebrity, the training that she pursued, and the elements that slipped through the cracks (like her choice to skip radio training that could have saved her life) present a portrait that doesn’t fall victim to hero-worshop but also celebrates the bold life she lived and her determination to prove that women could do anything men could. If readers are left with lingering curiosity about her disappearance, it is a testimony to how real her story feels. The authenticity of the research is heightened by photographs, newspaper clippings, and beautiful book design.
Making a leap from Amelia’s disappearance further into the 20th century, readers are introduced to another icon, one that they are likely to be as familiar with as the bicycle: Barbie! Tonya Lee Stone’s book The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Influence on Us (a nominee for YALSA’s 2011 Excellence in Nonfiction Award) is a balanced and fascinating history of the famous doll who turned 50 in 2009. Having been around for half a century, the story of Barbie isn’t just the story of a toy, but also a chronicle of changing times. Barbie’s many careers and backgrounds helped her become one of the most widely-recognized and diverse celebrity figures of the 20th century. Learning that her creator was not only a “self-proclaimed tomboy” but also co-founder of the Mattel company may surprise some, but the story of Barbie and her appeal is full of interesting contradictions. There’s plenty of food for thought and conversations starters about body image to match the many images of vintage Barbies for a book as visually appealing as it is informative.
Which brings us to My Mom, Style Icon, a book based on the popular blog of the same name. This celebration of style through the later years of the 20th century is a compilation of reader submissions featuring their own female relatives flaunting the fashion of their times. It’s a sweet, personal, and frequently humorous celebration of trends and styles. But it’s also a clever way to reveal the lives that women led before they became mothers, something that it can be easy to forget, especially for teens developing their own personal styles. Seeing photos of real women from the sublimely stylish to the regrettably ridiculous may inspire teens to re-examine the moms in their lives, or even question if one day the Bieber-shag will be viewed in the same light as the 80s perm.
From the bicyle bloomer of the early 20th century through Amelia’s daring short hairdo, Barbie’s curves, and the polyester pantsuits our moms may have worn, 2011’s nonfiction celebrates the ways women have soared through the last 100 years in style.
— Mia Cabana, currently reading Witch and Wizard by James Patterson
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