Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains
"When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better."
—Mae West in I’m No Angel
From Jezebel to Catherine the Great, from Cleopatra to Mae West, from Mata Hari to Bonnie Parker, strong women have long been a problem for historians, storytellers, and readers. They have been called wicked, wanton, and willful. But what makes these misbehaving women "bad"?
Meet twenty-six of history’s most notorious women, each with a rotten reputation—and each with two sides to her story. Was Delilah a harlot or hero? Was Catherine the Great a great ruler, or just plain ruthless? At the end of each chapter, our authors appear in comic panels to debate each girl’s badness—Heidi as the prosecution, Jane for context.
This unique and sassy examination of famed, female historical figures will engage readers with its unusual presentation. Promote critical thinking, examine the subjective nature of history, and marvel at Rebecca Guay’s rich, stylized portraits and engaging comic panels.
Look Inside the Book:
Author & Illustrator Bios:Jane Yolen, author
Jane Yolen is the award-winning author of nearly three hundred children's books, includingSnow, Snow: Winter Poems (Boyds Mills) and The Rogues (Philomel). She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of the Americas. Jane lives in Western Massachusetts and Scotland.
Read more about Jane.
Heidi E.Y. Stemple, author
Heidi E. Y. Stemple is the author of more than a dozen children’s books, several co-authored with her mother, Jane Yolen. Recent titles include Pretty Princess Pig andNot All Princesses Dress in Pink. Heidi lives in western Massachusetts.
Read more about Heidi.
Rebecca Guay, illustrator
Acclaimed for her mastery of comics, Rebecca Guay has illustrated many books for children, including A Flight of Angels, The Last Dragon, and Goddesses. Rebecca lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Read more about Rebecca.
Awards & Honors:
- Magnolia Book Awards Winner (Grades 6-8)
- Booklist's Top Ten Biographies for Youth
- YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
Booklist, starred review
Girls gone wild! The mother-daughter team of Yolen and Stemple have rounded up some of the meanest (or perhaps just misguided) groups of gals history has known. And they have wrapped them in an attractive package that makes reading about their exploits even more enjoyable. The list begins with the biblical Delilah (sorry, Sampson), introduces Cleopatra, stops in England to say hello to Anne Boleyn and (bloody) Queen Mary, and then heads over to America to visit with Tituba, Calamity Jane, and Typhoid Mary. And that's just a few of the 26 spies, sirens, and female felons the duo takes on. Each subject gets a jauntily written page or so, prefaced by one of illustrator Guay's terrific full-page portraits and back-ended with a comic book-style page featuring the authors discussing whether the woman was exactly was she seemed. In fact, both an introduction and afterword focus on how history changes its opinion on people's actions, the way history's winners get the glory, and whether circumstances shape events more than personalities do. The thick paper, graphic novel-style typeface, and delightful artwork executed in ink and brush and dabbed with digital color will draw readers. The bibliography will lead kids to more about these gals.
Mother-daughter collaborators Yolen and Stemple, who previously partnered with Guay on The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories, revisit the lives and legendary misdeeds of 26 notorious women in this often witty chronological romp. Jezebel, Salome, Calamity Jane, Mata Hari, and many more get their own brief chapters, complete with punny subtitles ("Delilah: A Mere Snip of a Girl"). The team’s tight, droll storytelling maintains a light tone: "Always conscious of her image, Bonnie [Parker] asked one kidnapped police officer to tell everyone she did not smoke cigars.... She may have been an outlaw, but she was not a smoker!" Comics sections from Guay end each chapter, showing Yolen and Stemple debating, via Socratic repartee, the guiltiness of each femme fatale, an entertaining if slightly egregious bit of authorial intrusion. If the authors’ banter hasn’t prompted readers to question the badness of these bad girls, the conclusion directly solicits the consideration: "Would we still consider these women bad? Or would we consider them victims of bad circumstances?" An extensive bibliography and index wrap up this narrative of nefarious—or not?—women.
Brief, breezy profiles of women who committed crimes, from Delilah to Catherine the Great to gangster moll Virginia Hill, with comic-strip commentary from the authors.
With a conversational style, the mother-daughter team of Yolen and Stemple recap the crimes and misdeeds of 26 women and a few girls in this jaunty collective biography. After each two-to-four-page biographical sketch and accompanying illustration of the woman, a one-page comic strip shows the authors arguing about the woman's guilt. The comic-strip Stemple typically comes down on the side of "guilty" or, in the case of Cleopatra marrying her brother, "icky." Yolen tends toward moral relativism, suggesting the women acted according to the norms of their times or that they were driven to crime by circumstances such as poverty or lack of women's rights. Thus, strip-teasing Salome, who may have been only 10, was manipulated by her mother into asking for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Outlaw Belle Starr was "a good Southern girl raised during difficult times." While the comic strips grow repetitive, the narrative portraits, arranged chronologically, offer intriguing facts--and in some cases, speculation--about an array of colorful figures, many of whom won't be known to readers.
Entertaining and eye-opening.
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
Mother/daughter team Yolen and Stemple ponder the question of just what makes a bad girl bad. Bad press? Bad breaks? Bad boyfriends? Bad, bad nature? The misdeeds of two dozen notorious dames from throughout history are the fodder for these brief, breezy prose bios, each of which is followed by a one-page dialogue between the authors, rendered in comic-book format. Yolen and Stemple make an honest effort to lay out the life stories in as neutral terms as possible, saving their analysis of what went wrong for the interlude pieces, intergenerational conversations that are set in a place or during an occasion that hearkens to the subject's story. They chat about Anne Boleyn's affairs while enjoying tea near the Tower of London, discuss Countess Bathory's blood-soaked quest for youth during pedicures and brow waxing at a day spa, debate the Wild West felonies of Belle Starr while shopping for boots (yes, Heidi, definitely the over-the-knee lace-ups with studded heels!). Yolen tends to favor the more broad-minded, charitable view of the ladies' motivations, while Stemple generally takes a more censorious stand. Readers may find themselves aligning with one of the authors, but they won't be able to easily dismiss the opposing argument offhand. Guay's comics are key to developing the intellectual workout offered by the authors' conversations, and her glamorous full-page portraits of the bad girls opening each chapter capture the mystique that keeps the women in the spotlight over decades, or even millennia. An index is included, and short bibliographies are appended for each chapter, with enough material readily accessible online to guide teens who want to know more.
School Library Journal
Who's bad? That's the question that Yolen and Stemple debate as they take an entertaining tour through the lives of some of history's most notorious women. Arranged chronologically from Delilah to mob courier Virginia Hill, this deck of 26 dicey dames includes royalty (Bloody Mary, Catherine of Russia), women of the Wild West (Belle Starr, Calamity Jane), and out-and-out criminals (Moll Cutpurse, Bonnie Parker). Guay gives a lush, period-appropriate poster-style portrait at the beginning of each two- to eight-page chapter, which contains a rough outline of each lady's supposed crimes along with the "aggravating or mitigating" circumstances that may influence readers' opinions of her guilt. The authors make the point that evolving attitudes and standards can make reassessment an interesting and fruitful exercise, even if, as in most of the cases here, no definitive conclusions are reached. Yolen and Stemple speak directly to readers and appear bickering delightfully as they model good discussion behavior (and shoes!) in a page of comics at the end of each chapter. Their enthusiasm for their subjects is contagious, abetted by playful language that makes Bad Girls a snap-crackling read. Alliteration, rhyme, short sentences, and a conversational tone combine with sometimes-challenging vocabulary to make this book quick but by no means dumbed-down. A hearty bibliography will give a girl a leg up on the further reading that she is sure to want to do. Feminist, intelligent, and open-ended, this book respects its readers as much as it does its subjects.
ISBN: 978-1-60734-538-1 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-585-5 PDF
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Page count: 172
6 x 9
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