Book Review: Ladies First

This is the story of 40 women who were the first at something in America. Each portrait is just a couple pages long, yet in those portraits we get enough of the women to appreciate their determination, strength, and importance.

The historical range is from the very beginning of the American experience—colonial times—to today. Familiar faces such as Sacagawea and Helen Keller are here. Others not so well-known are featured as well. Among those are Madam C.J. Walker, the first African-American self-made millionaire; Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Shirley Muldowney, the first female member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Muldowney is one of a handful of women profiled who are still alive. Also examined are Susan Butcher, the first man or woman to win three Iditarod races in a row; Lynn Hill, who achieved a rock climbing feat no man had yet done; and Victoria Murden, who rowed by herself across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

It's not just athletics and political causes, however. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor, is here, as is Antonia Novello, the first female U.S. Surgeon General, and Kathleen McGrath, the first woman to command a U.S. Navy warship.

Artists are represented as well, among them Pearl S. Buck, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature; renowned architect Julia Morgan; and the epitome of grace, dancer Martha Graham.

These are clearly extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. Yet they faced nearly insurmountable challenges with grit and grace, making their marks on the history of America.

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Marco Polo is one of the most famous names in all of history. A Venetian boy who had no parents became a world-famous traveler and a favorite of the most powerful man in the world.

This book, by Nick McCarty, traces the life and adventures of Marco Polo in entertaining and educational fashion. The prose flows well and encourages the reader to keep reading.

The highlights of the book, though, are the images. This is a National Geographic book, and that means that the editors have a huge library of famous and wonderful illustrations to draw from. Old-time maps, engravings, famous paintings, and other lush images dot the pages, illustrating the story in a compelling way.

Fitting sidebars accompany the general narrative, including a detailed examination of Kublai Khan and the Mongol Empire. It is this Kublai Khan that Marco Polo meets and ends up serving, for a total of 17 years. The book has a few interesting tidbits as well, including that the great Kublai had his own Pony Express a full 600 hundred years before the U.S. did.

One of the main points in any Marco Polo discussion is the debate over whether he really saw all of what he wrote about. The author tackles that issue head-on, presenting both sides and letting the reader make up his or her own mind.

Many students know a few things about Marco Polo. After reading this book, they will know a whole lot more.

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