Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Rebecca Guay.
I first heard about this on the Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History blog, and the teen librarian was kind enough to buy it for me. The basic premise is just so fun – the book gives brief prose biographies of famous “bad girls” from history, from Delilah and Jezebel to the women of crime who inspired Chicago. Following the bio is a one-page comic panel discussion between the authors – the famed Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple – about whether the woman in question was a truly bad girl or just misunderstood by history. Each biography is preceded by a full-page portrait by Guay, which are breathtakingly beautiful and beg to be made into posters. The bios are told in zippy modern language – just enough to whet the appetite, with enough resources for a full school report listed in the back. I ended up being frustrated by what I’d thought would be my favorite part of the book, the mother-daughter debates. I still think the idea has potential, but unfortunately, they always take the same positions – Jane says that the women are misunderstood, and Heidi, with a criminal justice background, says that they are bad. I would really have liked to see some more nuanced discussion, with the two agreeing about a person one way or the other at least some of the time. Another slight but understandable disappointment is that the book covers only women from classical history and the West, with the single dubious exception of the Russian Madame Popova. On the one hand, I’d’ve liked to see a little more diversity; on the other, if the subject is famous bad girls, it’s much harder to dig for women whose notoriety hasn’t spread to us. In short, I ended up not loving this quite as much as I’d hoped I would, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s good light reading (um, considering the number of murderesses covered) for teens and up, both for fun and as preliminary research for biography projects.
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