Books about women’s history

Posted: March 23rd, 2018 | Arts & Entertainment, Books, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By Jake Sexton | La Mesa Reads

The month of March is Women’s History Month, the 1/12 part of the year we can celebrate the accomplishments of 51 percent of the population. In addition, March 8 is International Women’s Day. (Before anyone gets indignant, there’s an International Men’s Day on Nov. 19.)

So the calendar is clearly demanding that we take this month’s column to talk books about historic women.

First, I’ll talk about “Rad Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History and Our Future” by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl. Schatz is speaking at our sister library in Spring Valley on March 24 at 1 p.m., go check her out if you read this in time. The book is aimed at elementary school age children, but will still enthrall teens and adults. It features biographies of famous or influential women for each letter of the alphabet, be they scholars, actors or political figures. Each woman also gets a colorful print portrait, looking like an icon ready for her own wall-sized mural.

“I Am Harriet Tubman” is the latest in the “Ordinary People Change the World” children’s series by Brad Meltzer and artist Christopher Eliopoulos. While more commonly known as a writer of political thrillers, Meltzer decided that he wanted books about his heroes and role models for his own children, and decided to fill that gap. “I Am Harriet Tubman” is filled with Eliopoulos’ cartoon-style art, reminiscent of “Calvin and Hobbes,” telling Tubman’s story of courage and sacrifice in the face of slavery, and includes real-life photos and historical timelines as supplemental information in the back.

Shirley Chisholm is a neglected political figure, as the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968 and the second woman to run for a major party nomination for president. Her autobiography, “Unbought and Unbossed,” not only tells the story of her rise from a poor immigrant family in Brooklyn to political office, but also has her incisively phrased critique of American political ills (many still relevant today), congressional dysfunction, and conclusions about democracy itself.

“Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening” is a memoir by Manal al-Sharif, who took on Saudi Arabia’s oppressive laws restricting women’s rights. Despite her early career success in the field of computer security, her will was always second to those of male family members. The Saudi government forbids women from driving, which greatly curtails their ability to work and survive. Al-Sharif challenged this restriction, by filming herself driving a car, putting the video on the internet, and encouraging other women to protest. This book is the tale of her upbringing as an ultraconservative to her status as an authority for women’s freedom.

When studying art, the vast majority of the masters discussed are men. Bridget Quinn’s “Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (In That Order)” highlights over a dozen female artists who don’t usually appear in college art history classes. Each chapter discusses the artist’s work and life story, with portraits by illustrator Lisa Congdon and reproductions of some of the artist’s significant pieces.

You can embrace your own inner artist at the La Mesa Library on April 7 at 1 p.m. with our Zentangle workshop. In honor of National Poetry month, Janet Masey will teach the Zentangle art method, and lead participants in a project combining Zentangle and found poetry. Contact the library to sign up.

— Jake Sexton is librarian at the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151, visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave., or visit online at

Leave a Comment