Reviewed by Ben Harris
In this gorgeously illustrated non-fiction book from long-time illustration-storytelling team Mick Manning and Brita Granström, young readers are introduced to the stories of some incredible women who blazed a trail in their fields but who have not necessarily found the credit they deserve.
Recently, there has been a huge influx of children’s books focused on undeservedly side-lined names in the fields of history, exploration, science, art – the list goes on! – but what makes a book stand out in an overcrowded market? What makes a particular text worth investing in?
Women Who Led the Way certainly ticks many boxes. Primarily, it fits perfectly into the notoriously difficult phase of books for lower Key Stage 2 readers. Not only a ‘Cinderella’ field in terms of reading development, this age-group category struggles with decent non-fiction too: there are so many information books published these days but the majority are often more suited to older readers.
The generous picture-book quality here helps make a natural bridge between information books and reading for pleasure. Each subject has a double page spread to herself (sometimes with a ‘related’ explorer added) and it is the pictures that definitely draw delighted attention. The text on each page is limited to a potted biography in the form of a personal narrative, each figure telling their own story. (Manning and Granström used a similar technique in Taff in the WAAF and Tail-End Charlie.) Although the voices are not written particularly distinctively, the concept is an apposite one: here, the women are finally able to tell their own stories. Information is generally restricted to the basic reasons for their memorialisation though this again makes it an appropriate text for younger readers. Layout is uniform and dispenses with captions, maps, diagrams and other details which may make the reading process overly fussy for the intended audience. Vocabulary (and font too, I notice) is kept crystal clear throughout.
Diversity has clearly been a conscious driver in the choice of subjects included: Mae Jemison and Bessie Coleman find their rightful place but so also do Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman and Junko Tabei, amongst others. And while white women’s stories form the bulk of the book (and their inclusion is, of course, absolutely right), the fact that Women of Colour are in a minority here still raises important questions around equality.
Women Who Led the Way, tells these important stories with such engaging appeal and will provide a particularly good introduction to further reading on the topic in later year groups (Kari Herbert’s We Are Explorers and We Are Artists are natural follow-up reads for the child later on). A super addition to any classroom or school library.