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Friday, April 19, 2013

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? Written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Back in the 1830s, there were lots of things girls couldn't be. Girls were only supposed to become wives and mothers. Or maybe teachers, or seamstresses. Being a doctor was definitely not an option. What do you think changed all that? Or should I say...WHO?"

Tanya Lee Stone is a gifted writer indeed. This book about the first woman doctor in the United States attests to that, and follows other notable works concerning female astronauts, black paratroopers, Amelia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald and even Barbie.

It was not 'proper' in the mid nineteenth century for women to want more than they already had. Elizabeth Blackwell did not fit that mold. She was a tiny girl with a big will:

"This was a girl who had once carried her brother over her head until he backed down from their fight. A girl who tried sleeping on the hard floor with no covers, just to toughen herself up."

There wasn't much she wasn't willing to try. When just one person told her that she was smart enough and determined enough to change the world, Elizabeth believed her. Mary Donaldson encouraged Elizabeth to become a doctor, knowing that other women would appreciate being cared for by one of their own gender. Belief in someone is a powerful thing.

There were many obstacles to face, not the least of which was the fact that no woman had ever wanted to enrol in medical school up until this time. Many of her friends gave reasons for her not to pursue such nonsense. Some even laughed at her. You can imagine Elizabeth's response...she was even more determined to prove them wrong. Her family was always supportive.

Elizabeth applied to medical schools:

"Twenty-eight NOs in all. In different ways, the letters all said the same thing. Women cannot be doctors. They should not be doctors."

Did it deter her? It did not. Her story is uplifting, told wittily and with spunk by this accomplished writer. Add Marjorie Priceman's glorious artwork to the mix, and you have a wonderful addition to your picture book biography list. Ms. Priceman uses brightly colored gouache to bring energy and spirit to this appealing story. Her expressive depictions of Elizabeth help readers understand how a woman such as Elizabeth would defy the odds and lead the way for other capable, caring women to follow in her footsteps.

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