Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution. Written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Illustrated by Matt Faulkner. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008. 40 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6-10. ISBN: 9780689858086.
Men weren’t the only ones who committed acts of civil disobedience and acts of war before and during our Revolutionary war with Britain. In this densely packed book, we hear about one woman after another who took action against the British. When the British put a tax on fabric, women stopped buying British fabric and made their own. When the Army needed money to pay soldiers, Esther de Berdt Reed, along with 36 other women, created the first national organization of women to do the first organized fundraising by women.
There were also individual acts of civil disobedience. Elizabeth Burgin helped 200 American prisoners escape from a prison ship. “Mom” Rinker sat on a cliff above American soldiers and knit. Inside her ball of yarn were secret notes which fell to the soldiers below.
This book serves a very useful purpose: it shows girls that women were just as much a part of the revolution that started our country as men were. It provides a positive mirror for girls. It also tells boys that girls were also involved in the Revolutionary war.
There’s a huge amount of information in this book. It’s presented in four different ways. Each two-page spread has a box with that spread’s installment of an ongoing narrative. Each two-page spread has one or two ovals that tell about a specific woman. In the drawings on each spread, the characters drawn speak. And finally, across the bottom of each page, there is a timeline in very fine print. Throughout are Matt Faulkner’s wonderful but busy illustrations. I am a pretty linear thinker so I find it rather hard to absorb all the information presented. For me, Independent Dames would be best dipped into from time to time. Kids whose minds work in different ways may be comfortable reading the book straight through.
At the back of the book there are four pages of additional women, including a section for women such as Betsy Ross about whom myths have developed.
Finally, there’s an author’s note and an illustrators note, followed by a very thorough bibliography and list of web resources.
Clearly Laurie Halse Anderson learned a remarkable amount about women in the revolution. I suspect the hard part in writing this book was deciding what not to include. I’m not sure Laurie Halse Anderson went as far as she could have in making those decisions.
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