Tundra Books, 2018
“Here is Mary. She’s a dreamer.” So begins this glorious elementary-level biography of Mary Shelley. Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is a delightful book that tells the story of Mary Shelley in a way that’s relatable for young people, emphasizing Mary’s youth, her difficult relationship with her family, and how receptive she is to the world around her. Linda Bailey’s prose is lilting, spacious: it makes room for readers and invites us to join the story. “How could a girl like [Mary] come up with such a story?” she asks rhetorically. “But you may know.”
Júlia Sardà‘s illustration style perfectly suits the story of the dreamy, sometimes troubled Mary Shelley and her creative spirit. The pictures are dark and broody, full of spooky shapes and gothic imagery. The backgrounds are muted greys, browns, and black, while bright but intense images appear in the foreground. The whole package is very appealing and apt.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein makes a fine complement to Bloom (Kyo Maclear’s 2018 book about Modernist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli), which also profiles a creative and “difficult” young woman. Both books reassure kids — especially girls — that it’s OK to see the world in ways that others don’t. As we move through a turbulent period in our culture, books like these offer a poised and forthright strategy for helping readers to develop confidence, resilience, and determination and to meet the future with strength and security.
Timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Shelley’s novel, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an outstanding example of the thoughtful, beautiful nonfiction picture books being published today. It is sure to inspire would-be writers and other imaginative minds. I heartily recommend this book for any library, public or personal — adult readers will enjoy it, too!
This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2018.
by Angela Hovak Johnston
Inhabit Media, 2017
Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines describes the process a group of women in the Canadian Arctic followed to revive the tradition of women’s tattoos. Historically, Inuit women wore tattoos on their hands, arms, and faces to represent a range of personal and social messages. After contact with European missionaries, women stopped being tattooed and the cultural knowledge of traditional tattooing was nearly lost. Thanks to Angela Hovak Johnson, however, the practice is being reclaimed with striking results.
This resolutely woman-positive project turns on its photography. The photos present both the tattooing process and a portfolio of an emerging generation of tattooed women, from teens to elders. The editorial photography is clear and straightforward, accompanied by explanatory text and the women’s individual stories of their tattoos’ meanings. The portrait photography captures the women in strong poses as they display their tattoos, often in northern landscapes. For non-Inuit readers, the book offers a powerful (and sometimes playful) way to understand elements of Inuit culture. For Inuit readers, the book represents the pride and resilience of women and culture.
I would underscore, however, the book’s stern warning that these tattoos, no matter how appealing they may be for non-Inuit women and men, are the cultural property of Inuit women, who are struggling to retain and reclaim their traditional knowledge and practices. Non-Inuit should emphatically not consider seeking similar tattoos but rather learn to appreciate the beauty and significance of these tattoos for the women who wear them today.
Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines is a glorious book that documents important work of cultural reclamation. It belongs in libraries across Canada, and I hope it will find a broad audience. It is a proud declaration of women’s strength and beauty and a profound testament to cultural recovery.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, June 2018.
Happy new year! I cannot believe how fast the Fall 2017 academic term went by. So fast that I didn’t even get to share this article I wrote for T8N magazine. It’s about the gap between what men earn and what women earn, an issue that continues to be relevant (and has been topical since I was a young, young feminist). If you’re interested, here’s the link. Enjoy!
Earlier this year I was invited to write an article for T8N magazine about girls, women, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and it’s such an important topic. If you’re interested in reading it, here’s the link.