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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Borrowed Names, written by Jeannine Atkins. Henry Holt, 2010. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Her mother finds new doctors,
giving them her sister's or dead
mother's name - Dr. Bronya
Dluski, Madame Sklodowska -
so reporters can't find her.
Irene asks, "How can you take
their names?

They're just borrowed names.
I need privacy."

Three famous women, born in the same year, going forward to make a life that inspires their daughters, and anyone else who reads of their passion and independence at a time when most women did not make a name for themselves. In poetic form, Jeannine Atkins tells her audience about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker and Marie Curie. She does so with skill, admiration and following much research. In each case, both mother and daughter have a voice. The author moves from one point of view to the other with dexterity and seamlessness.

While they are similar in nature...all being self-reliant, driven, and more interested in their own work than with their daughters, their careers and their motivations are very different. Laura Ingalls Wilder is a farm woman and a writer. Madam C.J. Walker is the daughter of former slaves and an empire builder. Marie Curie is an acclaimed scientist and a Nobel Prize winner. Mrs. Wilder loves her home and cannot leave it to make the trip to visit her pregnant daughter. Madam C.J. Walker has known dreadful times, and lives in fear that her business will not support her for as long as she might need it to do so. Marie Curie works endlessly to make important scientific discoveries, often not noticing the two daughters who so desperately need her love and attention. 
The author introduces each of these amazing women and their daughters in a series of factual and brilliant poems. Their feelings are laid bare in short scenes that impart much about their life and times. There are powerful emotions, vivid scene building and memorable characters. We come away from the reading informed and filled with insights about their relationships to each other and to the times in which they lived.  
Of this work, Jeannine Atkins says: "

Poetry gave me a way to work with facts and still let myself be surprised. I tried to show common places where readers could find sturdy bridges to lives different from their own. I hope readers will meet people who seem both wonderfully new and vividly familiar. And I hope those of you who are writing poetry won’t ever lose faith in the power of small words and the pauses between them."
I learned much about the women who come to life through Jeannine Atkins' wondrous poetry. The reading left me wanting to know more...and isn't that 'a good thing'? Today's the perfect time to tell you about these mothers and's a wish for a blessed and happy Mother's Day to every mother reading this post!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the lovely review of Borrowed Names. And, with one grown daughter, I relate to your "addiction." It's lovely to go to the children's department in our local library and have librarians ask how my daughter is doing, while checking out a stack of books.

    Hope your mother's day was wonderful!