Searching for a book to read for Women's History Month? I offer several suggestions from books I've read during the past 12 months. The first three are well-researched fiction.
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
I have coal mining ancestors who lived in both Pennsylvania and England so it's no wonder I gravitated to this book. It is part of the Dear America series for young readers. I knew that the author had also written a non-fiction book about coal mining and I imagined this was a fictional extension of her research.
When the story opens in 1896, Anetka, 13, is living in Poland with her grandmother because her mother was dead and her father had gone to America and was working in a coal mine in Lattimer, PA. Anetka anticipates his return but instead he sends tickets purchased by another man with the idea that Anetka will marry the man when she arrives in America. Anetka’s grandmother remains in Poland and gives her ticket to Leon, a young man who is an annoyance to Anetka. It was easy to imagine a young Polish woman’s voice as I read. The Lattimer Massacre occurred in 1897 and is incorporated into the story.
There are more than a few differences between Anetka and my coal mining ancestors (country of origin, type of coal mined, location in the U.S., etc.) but there was enough in the story for me to gain more insight into the lives of miners and their families.
by Christina Baker Kline
Seventeen-year-old Molly is about to be emancipated from foster care. It is arranged for her to give volunteer hours to Vivian, 91, who rode an orphan train as a child. As they interact we learn about both of their lives. I thought it was interesting and well-written. You can learn more about the story line here.
I like this quote: “. . . The people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”
These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories
by Nancy E. Turner
I was disinclined to read this book -- for some reason the title put me off -- but after hearing the third recommendation I borrowed it and began.
It is loosely based on the life of the author's great-grandmother. As the book opens in 1881, Sarah is about 16. She and her family are traveling through the Arizona Territories headed elsewhere. Think wagon trains, camp fires, Indians, etc. By the time I finished the book I'd learned that there were sequels and had already reserved them at my local library. (Never judge a book by its title.)
by Emma Brockes
Several times Emma’s mother said to her, “One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.” Her mother died without telling her and Emma sets off to learn about her mother’s childhood in South Africa and her immigration to England by tracking down all of her aunts and uncles and traveling back to South Africa. Excellent sleuthing for those who know living relatives.
Emma said, “I think about it [her mother’s childhood to adult experience] afterward, what I am doing and why. The stronger reaction, I think, would be to walk away, to honor the firewall my mother put between her past and my present and to carry on with my life. But I can’t.... While she was alive, it was none of my business. Now, unless I make it my business, it will follow her into oblivion.”
Recommended the Second Time
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
by Jill Lepore
I can't say enough good things about this book. You may have no interest in Jane Franklin, the nearly-forgotten sister of Benjamin Franklin, but I encourage you to read this book anyway. Besides being wonderfully readable, Lepore is an excellent example of seeking out and finding information when it seems there's nothing to find. Read it as a guide for writing about your own female ancestor for whom you have very little information. Read it. Previous post about this book is here.
by Steve Luxenberg
Luxenburg's mother had always claimed to be an only child. It wasn't until after his mother died that he learned that she had a sister who had been kept hidden for decades. Read it for the story, all the while learning ways to search for an invisible female ancestor. (Surely you have one hidden somewhere behind a brick wall?) An earlier post about this book is here.
Happy reading to you.