Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Isabella' encourages little girls to dream big

A combination of good role models, opportunity and constant encouragement can inspire our daughters to think outside of the girl box. 
They might balk at the notion of flying to the moon or becoming a fighter pilot, but that can change once they see other little girls who made their dreams of becoming an astronaut, scientist or fighter pilot come true. Among the inspirational tools available to parents this Christmas is Jennifer Fosberry's "My Name Is Not Isabella" ($16.99, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). It’s a picture book about a child who takes a trip through history pretending to be several brilliant women whose choices in life helped to change and enrich our world. I love the story. Isabella's imagination turns an ordinary day into an extraordinary adventure as she takes on the roles of Annie the sharpshooter, Rosa the activist, Sally the astronaut and others. Fosberry, who is a mother of three and science geek turned children's author, does a marvelous job in telling the story and it is Mike Litwin's brilliant and humorous illustrations that won me over. I particularly enjoyed the way he drew in a bottle of maple syrup to serve as Annie Oakley's gun.

Litwin's illustrations make "My Name Is Not Isabella" a buoy in the sea of new picture books.

Fosberry begins her story by saying that, "This book belongs to -- the sweetest, kindest, smartest, bravest, fastest, toughest, greatest girl that ever was." Then readers see Isabella, a spunky little girl with purple hair and starry eyes wearing a concocted ensemble that includes a yellow shirt, pink plaid skirt and green and black tights. She could be any little girl you know.

Isabella's antics are funny and your daughter will laugh, but moms are likely to cry when they read the surprise. One of the role models is Isabella's mom, who not only encourages but engages and enhances the imagination of her children. There will always be a need for heartwarming tales about princesses, fairies and mermaids, but the soul needs to know little girls like Isabella to make it strong.

Don't worry if you don't know your history. An additional section at the back of the book (a cheat sheet, if you will) titled, "Women Who Changed the World," references the achievements of the famous women Isabella imagines herself to be.

Women who change our lives

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
First lady Michelle Obama and children look for Santa during the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse across from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010.

Other than those that we call mother, sister, aunt or doctor, there are many women who have ventured outside of the girl box, and by doing so changed the way that we live. Below are a few examples (in no particular order). Is your heroine among them?

Mother Theresa, Missionaries of Charity founder
Louisa May Alcott, author
Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady, human rights activist
Anne Frank, diarist
Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister
Oprah Winfrey, businesswoman and TV talk show host 
Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, fighter pilot
Helen Keller, author and activist
Diana, Princess of Whales, royal and humanitarian
Halle Berry, actress
Ellen Degeneres, comedienne
Barbara Walters, TV newswoman
Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist
Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic snowboarder
Danica Patrick, racecar driver
J.K. Rowling, author
Katie Couric, journalist
Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, former first lady, former U.S. Senator
Betty White, actress
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's democracy movement
Audrey Hepburn, actress
Jennifer Granholm, former governor and attorney general of Michigan
Laura Ingalls Wilder, author
Amelia Earhart, iconic aviator
Anna-Lou "Annie" Leibovitz, photographer
Georgia O'Keefe, artist
Coco Chanel, designer
Julia Child, chef, writer
Deena Kastor, Olympic marathoner
Nancy Pelosi, first female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Raven Simone, actress
Laura Bush, activist
Mia Hamm, Olympic soccer player
Sarah E. Goode, businesswoman and inventor
Renee Fleming, opera singer
Lucille Ball, comedienne, actress, film and television executive
Kathryn Bigelow, Academy award-winning director
Harriet Tubman, abolitionist
Rachel Ray, chef
Jennifer Hudson, actress
Sue Hendrickson, paleontologist

'Alexander' will encourage little boys to dream big
The next inspiring book by Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin, "My Name Is Not Alexander: Just How Big Can a Little Boy Dream?" ($16.99, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) is scheduled for release March 1, 2011.

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