Aimed at readers eight and up, Women Icons of the West provides a brief glimpse into the lives of five very different women who stepped outside the roles society cast them in, to blaze their own trails in the American West of the late 1800's.
In her introduction, Danneberg lists two main reasons for studying these women. First, they are positive role models, as each woman overcame hardships and persevered in her chosen path. Second, Danneberg points out that to truly understand history, one must study the people who lived during each particular time period. The book is not only valuable as a learning tool, it is an enjoyable read as well. Danneberg focuses on Isabella Bird, an Englishwoman who flouted convention to trek through Colorado on horseback and eventually climbed Long's Peak; Clara Brown, a freed slave who successfully ran a laundry business in Denver while searching for her lost daughter; Margaret Brown, later known as the "Unsinkable Molly Brown," who began life in poverty and ended up not only rich but generous and adventurous as well; Nellie Cashman, an independent woman who counted goldminers and desperadoes as her friends; and Sarah Winnemucca, a Northern Paiute Indian who lived through the destruction of her tribe's essential way of life and went on to travel the country, giving speeches on the plight of her people.
Women Icons of the West is a work of creative nonfiction. Danneberg says, "Although the facts, places, dates, and events are all accurate, the means to capture them is fictional narrative." She does not present each story as a single first-person narrative; rather, she also brings observations and opinions from the people around each woman so that we are able to see each one from an outsider's perspective. This adds insight to the work, especially for young readers who may not fully understand the attitudes of the people of the time towards, say, a single woman traveling through what would normally be considered a man's world, or a freed slave during the period immediately following the Civil War.
The book also has many old photographs and drawings of both the women and the areas in which they lived. I found myself wishing there were more, as they added so much to the narrative. In addition, Danneberg provides many interesting and useful sidebars containing information on people in the stories as well as many cultural and historical facts that add depth to the stories. One thing that added value to the book for me as a homeschooling mother was the bibliography at the end of each section. This would make it easy for one to follow up and read more about each woman and the historical setting in which she lived.
Women Icons of the West is a wonderful book for introducing young readers to the American West of the late 1800's, as well as to five women who dared to do the unexpected and who each, as Danneberg says, did her part to "forge the American frontier."
Julie Danneberg lives is a middle school teacher in Denver, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two children. She has written numerous children's picture books, as well as the two previous books in this series. Her works are most often set in Colorado and the Western United States. Visit her website.
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