There’s an adage that says a rising tide lifts all boats. These three picture books introduce women who improved not only the lives of those around them but also the lives of generations to come.
Fatima al-Fihri was born around 800 A.D. in what is now Tunisia, but her spirit leaps across the centuries and jumps off the page from the very first sentence of M.O. Yuksel’s lyrical recounting of her life. “Fatima craved knowledge like desert flowers crave rain,” she writes.
As readers will learn in One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University, al-Fihri was tutored at home, since only boys attended school. That didn’t stop al-Fihri from dreaming of creating a school where everyone was welcome. “She stood tall, determined, and strong, carrying her wish inside her.” This sentiment captures al-Fihri’s drive and becomes the book’s refrain. Drawing on a scant historical record, Yuksel crafts a fully realized portrait of the woman credited with founding the University of al-Qarawiyyin, one of the oldest continuously operating institutions of higher education in the world.
Mariam Quraishi’s stellar illustrations evoke al-Fihri’s vibrant world, from the lively, loud souq filled with vendors, shoppers and workers to the sweltering sun that shines down on the builders as they turn al-Fihri’s dream into a reality. Greens, purples, reds and yellows pop against a sandy-colored desert background. A dark blue night sky is particularly striking on a spread in which war forces young al-Fihri and her family to flee Tunisia for the safety of Morocco. Years later, as a now-grown al-Fihri hunches over architectural plans and carefully chooses mosaic tiles, Quraishi frames the scene from overhead, an unusual but effective choice.
Yuksel skillfully portrays the role that al-Fihri’s Muslim faith, with its value of charity, played in shaping her dream. “Fatima knew the best way to help her community was to build a school where students, especially the poor and the refugees, could live and study for free.” The book’s back matter includes a detailed timeline of notable events in the history of al-Qarawiyyin University as well as a discussion of the school’s ongoing mission, all of which offer fodder for lively conversations about education through the centuries.
One Wish is an eye-opening account about a little-known woman’s amazing wish for education for all.
Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight
In 2002, a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress renamed Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, a law that prohibits federally funded educational organization from discriminating on the basis of sex. Title IX is now officially known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
Jen Bryant and Toshiki Nakamura exuberantly bring the story of Mink and her many accomplishments to life in Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX. After becoming the first woman of color elected to Congress, Mink co-sponsored a bill that would require schools to treat men and women equally.
Bryant excels at giving a sense of the broad sweep of history that Mink witnessed throughout her life. She grew up in Hawaii amid the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the campaign for Hawaii to achieve statehood and more. She also faced numerous obstacles, including frequent discrimination because of her gender and her Japanese heritage.
Bryant roots Mink’s determination in two lessons Mink learned as a child: one based on the Japanese proverb that serves as the book’s title and one derived from the tradition of the Daruma doll. Nakamura’s energetic illustrations show young Mink learning to paint one of the Daruma doll’s eyes to signify setting a new goal, then painting the other eye after achieving her goal. Nakamura, who has worked for Netflix Animation and DreamWorks TV, has a lively and approachable style, whether he’s portraying Mink frolicking through fields of sugarcane, joining her family as they listen to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside radio chats or rallying support for civil rights as she forcefully addresses the 1960 Democratic National Convention.
Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight transforms Mink’s life of political achievement into a rousing quest for justice and equality. Her story of nonstop perseverance will resonate with young readers and inspire them to continue working to reach their own goals.
“Who decides who gets the condo and who gets the cardboard box?” is a question Kip Tiernan asked the world. Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women is the informative story of Tiernan’s life as an advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
Author Christine McDonnell, who has taught English to immigrants at Rosie’s Place, adeptly conveys the narrative arc of Tiernan’s life. She explains how Tiernan was raised during the Great Depression by her grandmother, who always shared food with anyone who knocked on her door and even donated her son’s shoes to a man who needed them. “In her grandmother’s kitchen, Kip learned to be generous and to care about others,” McDonnell writes.
As an adult in the late 1960s, Tiernan sold her advertising business and began working at Warwick House, a charitable organization. In 1974, she opened Rosie’s Place in Boston after seeing women disguise themselves as men to try to obtain food and temporary housing, since shelters didn’t accept women.
Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s atmospheric illustrations draw readers into Tiernan’s surroundings with immediacy and emotion. Shades of gray dominate early scenes of hungry people huddling in the snow, thankfully breathing in the steam from bowls of Tiernan’s grandmother’s soup. Tiernan’s pale pink dress and attentive gaze provides a contrast to the dreariness and adds a splash of color and hope.
Readers who linger over Tentler-Krylov’s attention to detail will be richly rewarded. Granny’s old-fashioned kitchen brims with all sorts of gadgets, and the Depression-era fashions parading down the sidewalks outside her house are a visual feast. As Tiernan’s dedication to uplifting the lives of others grows, so does the amount of color within the book’s spreads, whether it’s through orange carrots and green vegetables on a nourishing plate or the bright stripes and floral prints worn by the women at Rosie’s Place.
Extensive back matter rounds out the book. McDonnell offers a brief but focused exploration of past and present causes of homelessness and a number of inspiring quotations from Tiernan herself, some of which are included on a memorial to Tiernan unveiled in Boston’s Copley Square in 2018. Sanctuary would sit comfortably on a shelf alongside titles such as Diane O’Neill and Brizida Magro’s Saturday at the Food Pantry and Jillian Tamaki’s Our Little Kitchen.
This thoughtful book conveys a powerful, important message: “When you listen to others, you show respect; you learn who they are and what they need.”