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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lives of Extraordinary Women, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2000. $15.99 ages 12 and up

"Isabella's financing of Columbus's voyages to the New World became her greatest historical achievement, but at the time it was a real gamble. The prospect of unexplored lands full of heathens to convert appealed to her. And if the trips resulted in a new route to the Orient, she wanted Spain to get the credit."

It's always wonderful to find a book that has some tidbits of historical information about a person (or persons); writing  just enough to encourage the reader to search further to find out more. In this book about influential women throughout history Kathleen Krull has done just that...again!

There are twenty brief biographies here, and they are similar in style and content to the other books that she has written. Each of these biographies comprises five pages, and the author has managed to include a great deal of information about these remarkable women. There are sometimes amusing and sometimes astonishing tidbits concerning their lives and their times.

"With utter disregard for society's standards, Catherine had some twelve to twenty companions, usually intellectual younger men, each relationship lasting from two to twelve years. She enjoyed educating the men politically, and gave each one a palace when she she was ready to move on. She refused to remarry, and had three sons with different fathers. A doting grandmother, she took full charge of her grandsons' education." (Catherine the Great)

She pulls no punches in telling their stories, unpleasant or not. Readable and entertaining, while also informing her audience concerning cultural and political history, Katherine Krull adds another excellent volume to her ever-expanding bibliography. Kathryn Hewitt creates artwork that expands the appeal of this series. The oversized heads are covered with apt headgear and the figures are dressed to show their personalities with artifacts that are relatable. Colors are strong, spot pictures add interest and complement the information presented.

Their date of birth and death are recorded, as well as two short lines of description prior to reading the short biography. An Ever After section following each story chronicles further accomplishments and tributes. We are fully aware when we finish reading that these women were strong and powerful in their own right, and that their contributions are lasting.

"Each of these extraordinary women triumphed (some at a very young age) over attitudes and conditions that couldn't have been more adverse. Many of the women who are today's beloved heroines were once candidates for "Most Hated Woman on Earth" - and were spat upon, jailed, even murdered. Their electrifying personalities can seem larger than life - but are they really so different from us? What were they like as human beings? What might their neighbors have noticed?"

It feels like a labor of love.

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