Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
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Inspiring bios of female artists and scientists worldwide.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Info on the many disciplines spotlighted -- e.g., astronomy/eclipses, computer programming/COBOL, Surrealism/Abstract Expressionism, anthropology, African diaspora, dance/Dunham Technique/Ballet Folklórico de México, the Manhattan Project/subatomic particles, alkaloids' role in chemotherapy, ethnomusicology/Nueva Canción, astronomy/spiral galaxies/Newton's theory of gravitation/dark matter. Back matter includes suggestions for further reading and research, plus glossary with terms from "aboriginal" to "virus."

Positive Messages

Women from all cultures, backgrounds can be scientists, artists. If you have vision for something, it might not be accepted or acknowledged right away; just keep working. Science and the arts have much in common; both are creative, require critical thinking and inventiveness. Artistic skills like drawing can be put to use in sciences like engineering and architecture, and technical skills can come to play in art.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the women profiled are positive role models. They come from many countries, continents, cultures, and represent many races.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison is a follow-up book to her Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. This book broadens the focus so that it's international and includes women of all races throughout history. All are scientists or in the arts. There are 35 full bios, in which each subject gets a full-page of text and a facing-page portrait, and 18 shorter, snack-size bios at the end. Though the book profiles some familiar names, Harrison goes far afield to surprise readers with names that will be new. The book is a great choice to inspire girls and stretch their cultural horizons.

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What's the story?

LITTLE DREAMERS: VISIONARY WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD opens with a short biography of Fatima Al-Firhri, who in the ninth century funded and oversaw construction of a large mosque in what is now Morocco. It functioned as "a madrassa -- a place for study" and became "a model for future universities." The second bio is of Wang Zhenyi, an 18th-century astronomer, poet, and mathematician in China, and underscores the idea that science and poetry are interconnected. As these choices demonstrate, the book's reach is wide. Though there are a few names kids may be familiar with, for instance Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and adults may recognize a few more, like French scientist Marie Curie and American author Toni Morrison, many are totally fresh and can introduce readers not only to the women but also to different cultures.

Is it any good?

This inspiring bedside book of bios of women in the arts and sciences is inclusive of many races and cultures. Because each bio is contained on one page, Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World is like a yummy box of chocolates: Kids can sample in different sittings. The language is clear and accessible, with some unfamiliar terms in bold explained in a glossary. Author Vashti Harrison, a filmmaker, includes avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren and Hollywood costumer Edith Head and, interestingly, also spotlights women directly associated with kids' books. By including eminent editor Ursula Nordstrom and illustrator Gyo Fujikawa, she teaches kids about the history of their own literature.

Each bio is accompanied by an illustration in Harrison's signature style. The hair, skin color, and dress of the women change, but the faces are all uniformly round, with the same upturned smile and arched eyebrows, and the women's eyes are all downcast -- even art collector Peggy Guggenheim, behind chic sunglasses! This choice does seem somewhat at odds with the message. Shouldn't the gaze of daring, visionary women be direct, not demure? Still, the art's cute and may help attract readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about all the many examples of careers in Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World. Were there any you didn't know about? Which ones sound interesting?

  • Which careers in the book do you think are most closely related? Can you find women in the book from different parts of the world doing similar work?

  • What kind of work would you like to do? Can you draw a picture of yourself in the style of the portraits in the book? What symbols or pictures would you include in the background to represent the work?

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