I’ve been catching up with my reading lately. I have devoured a few books for adults: Kate Atkinson’s award-winning Life After Life, Matt Haig’s brilliant The Humans and Look Me in the Eye by John Robison, a non-fiction title about life with Asperger’s Syndrome. On the Junior Fiction/YA front I enjoyed Rooftoppers by new writer Katherine Rundell so much I am going to donate it to the library at my patron of reading school, Ysgol Esgob Morgan. Good books need to be shared! I have also just finished Daughters of Time, an anthology edited by eminent children’s writer Mary Hoffman and founder of The History Girls. The History Girls is a co-operative online blog aimed at focusing on women in history. Why the need for such a thing? Because Hoffman felt women get short shrift in history books. I agree. Google ‘Famous People from …..[insert name of any city] and work out the ratio of women who appear on the list compared to men. Far fewer women get a mention, not because they haven’t achieved as much, but because, by and large, their contributions to society, science, the arts etc were overlooked or ignored at the time. The History Girls’ blog seeks to redress that. In fact the blog has done so well, and gained so many followers, Templar Publishing suggested they put something in traditional print form ie: a book. Et voilà –
Daughters of Time published by Templar, cover by shuttertock.com
A few of the History Girls. L-R: Mary Hofmann, Penny Dolan, Celia Rees, Leslie Wilson Standing: Sue Purkiss, Katherine Langrish
In Daughters of Time, each of the thirteen contributors chose an exceptional woman from the past and wove a story around her, told through the eyes of a younger female character. The fact that all the contributors are tremendous writers ensured every story would captivate and they do just that, beginning with Tasca’s Secret by Katherine Roberts (on Boudicca) and ending with Leslie Wilson’s Please Can I Have a Life? (the Greenham Common Women).
The Greenham Common Women camped outside Greenham Common, a nuclear missile base, from 1981-1993 to protest against nuclear weapons
The contributors’ choices are rich and varied. Some of the authors took well- known figures; Adele Geras chose Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, and Celia Rees took suffragette Emily Davison, while Anne Rooney went for pilot and engineer Amy Johnson. Others were more obscure. To my eternal shame, I had never heard of Marie-Louise Jensen’s spy and playwright Aphra Behn, (1640-1689) or Sue Purkiss’s Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great (c 870-918).
Marie-Louise Jensen chose Aphra Behn, ‘…because she did so much to blaze the writing trail for so many women after her.’
Daughters of Time is an excellent, uplifting read. It can be read and enjoyed as straightforward fiction – I was as engaged by Catherine Johnson’s narrator in The Lad that Stands Before You as I was by her subject, nursing pioneer Mary Seacole, and loved the twist at the end. Joan Lennon’s Best After Storms made me want to reach my arms through time and give her subject, Mary Anning, a great big hug for the ridicule she suffered. Daughters of Time is a vitally important book. I was struck by how some of the themes are as relevant today as they were then. Penny Dolan’s An Unimportant Woman epitomises this.
Women’s Rights campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Dolan’s young narrator, the orphaned Anna, destined for a life of servitude, has a chance meeting with Mary Wollstonecraft. This encounter with an independent, intelligent and self-educated woman (who went on to write the ground-breaking A Vindication of the Rights of Women) changed Anna’s life. ‘Anna, make something better of yourself, not just as spinster, wife or widow,’ this daunting figure tells her as she prepares to depart. before she leaves, she presses a book into Anna’s hand. Despite this story being set in 1795, the rights of girls to be educated is still far from universal. As recently as 2012, in Pakistan, a young girl of thirteen, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head, on her way to school by the Taliban, for daring to protest about their prevention of girls from having an education. Luckily, Malala survived and her family were flown to England, where she recovered and now attends school in Birmingham, but little has changed for many others in Pakistan.
Other famous women covered in the anthology include Julian of Norwich (Katherine Langrish) Lady Jane Grey (Mary Hofmann) Elizabeth Stuart (Dianne Hofmeyr) I hopeDaughters of Time will inspire a whole new generation of young women and, equally as important, young men. This is not a book ‘for girls’, it is a book for everyone. It would make a brilliant reader for Y7-9 PSRE lessons. There is a list at the end of additional famous women readers might like to research, giving a perfect opportunity for classes to explore their own heroine. Daughters of Time edited by Mary Hoffman Audience: 11-14 year olds £7.99