Monday, February 13, 2023

A TAKE-CHARGE GIRL Blazes Her Way To Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin. A REVIEW, 2 INTERVIEWS, and a GIVEAWAY

 From the moment the reader opens this book, she will know that Jeanette Rankin was a hard worker. As a teenager, Jeannette was someone who was as quick to help a hurt horse as she was to help her mother care for her six younger siblings. 

She was a "take-charge" girl.


Jeannette grew up in Montana, but in 1907 when she was 27 years old, she visited San Francisco. When she saw the destitute conditions of the residents in the tenements of Telegraph Hill, she pitched in to help the children. 

That's when she got her first big idea: she would become a social worker and help improve the lives of children and their families.

But, she soon realized that social work alone was not enough to change the lives of suffering families. She wondered, who had the power to improve health care, living conditions, and social services for the poor? Then she realized--it was the lawmakers.  But they were all men and didn't care about these issues.

In 1910, Jeannette threw herself into the suffragette movement and spent four years giving speeches all across the country. Along with other like-minded women she printed leaflets and organized meetings.

In 1914 Jeannette wrote to every (male!) voter asking them to support a woman's right to vote. After they won Jeannette had her next BIG idea. 

She decided to run for Congress.

She and her siblings sent postcards to every woman in the state. Jeannette Rankin clubs were formed. She vowed to improve labor, and housing conditions and to improve health care.

After a day of fretting and worrying, Jeannette found out she had won. She was the first Congresswoman in the United States!

On April 12, 1917, Jeannette strode into the Capitol to take her seat in the House of Representatives. 


There are seven pages of back matter which teachers and librarians will love. These include a not-so-positive poem that appeared in the NY Times shortly after Jeannette won her congressional seat, a timeline of her life, and a bibliography.



Author Gretchen Woelfle is not new to writing about trailblazing women. She has written several other historical books as well as an award-winning middle-grade biography about Jeannette Rankin. 

Carol: Can you tell us a little about your research journey? What were some of the highlights?

GretchenJeannette Rankin lived a long life: from 1880-1973. A TAKE CHARGE GIRL covers just a slice of that life, her childhood through to April 2, 1917, her first day in Congress. 

My research began conventionally, reading biographies and histories of women’s suffrage. Then I ordered the Jeannette Rankin Papers from the Schlesinger Library, at the Radcliffe Institute. They arrived on microfilm at my local library and I spent days browsing through Rankin’s newspaper clippings, official and personal letters, speeches, and articles which gave me anecdotes and quotes to add to the narrative. Photos online from the Library of Congress, the Montana Historical Society, and the University of Montana showed the times, places, and fashions that Rankin favored. 

But best of all were transcripts of hours of interviews she gave in 1972 as part of the Suffragists Oral History Project at the University of California, Berkeley. I read dozens of stories in her own words, describing her Montana childhood, her years in New York studying social work, her four years traveling the country giving thousands of suffrage speeches, enduring insults and abuse from men, befriending other progressive women, feuding with a few women’s suffrage leaders, and collaborating with her brother and four sisters.

I wrote a middle-grade biography, Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer, published in 2007 by Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek which covered her whole life.  That book was well-received, winning several awards, and appearing on Best Books lists. But eventually, it went out of print and Jeannette Rankin faded from bookstores and library shelves. 

I didn’t like that one bit! So I asked Carolyn Yoder, my Calkins Creek editor if she’d consider a picture book biography of Rankin. You see the result. 

Carol: That is fascinating! I never heard of an author being able to do that before. What challenges did you face distilling down your middle-grade biography to a picture book?

Gretchen: This format meant focusing on just one period of her life and one of her passions. I bypassed her lifelong commitment to pacifism, feeling that was too complex a subject for younger readers. Instead, I created a narrative arc that began with her caring for her younger siblings, moving to her social work with disadvantaged women and children, to political action to give women a voice in choosing leaders to pass social welfare laws and to become one of those leaders in Congress.

I showed her actions expanding from the personal, to the public, then to the political, driven by her unflinching determination to take charge of her own life, and blaze a trail for others to follow. That is the heart of the story I chose to tell.


Rebecca Gibbon lives in the U.K. but that doesn't prevent her from illustrating subjects from American history and culture.

Carol: Can you tell us about your choice of palette and favorite materials?

RebeccaTo be honest, I don’t actually think about the palette, I’m drawn to different tones of blue and shades of red. I actually used a lot of sepia brown ink, which is quite appropriate as all the photographs from that time period I used for research were in sepia.

I use a combination of acrylic inks, colored pencils, and gouache. The inks are so versatile and a little goes a long way. They can be used neat, like acrylic paint, giving a bright, intense coverage or watered down for more of a loose, watercolor effect. I also like using my fingers & thumbs to make unusual marks, so I look quite a mess after a day in the studio!

Carol: Please tell us about your research process. Is it hard being in Britain and illustrating an American story?

Gretchen: I love the thrill of delving into history when researching a new book, it takes me on a journey and I learn so much from it. I have many books on Edwardian fashion, the History of women’s rights, and old advertising books from the 1900s that I have amassed from past projects. I looked at vintage postcards of Montana & California, magazines, and advertising snippets and I use Pinterest as a scrapbook, trawling through images to find room interiors, fashion, hairstyles, pastimes, anything, and everything. I become completely immersed in that world and become so familiar with the subject, that by the time It’s been sent to the publisher, I feel like I’ve lost a friend, as I’ve spent months drawing and painting them. 

Before the internet, researching a project was trickier & more laborious, as information was harder to find. But so much information is available online, it makes things so much easier. Being British, there were some aspects of American History I had no idea about, such as how many stars and stripes there were on the USA flag in 1910…. But now I know!

My intention is to bring unsung, amazing, and groundbreaking women alive… I hope that I’ve achieved that! 


This past week, Gretchen has been on a blog tour with her publisher, Astra Publishing. I'm happy to have been part of this tour and to offer a copy of A TAKE-CHARGE GIRL. If you want to win this book, please leave me a comment by February 16 along with your name and email address. If you are an educator or librarian, please include that information and your name goes in twice--including homeschool parents. (U.S. addresses only).


As a book reviewer and blogger, I find it interesting to see how others take a different approach to reviewing the same book. Here are three other blog posts highlighting A TAKE CHARGE GIRL.

Picture Book Builders

Behind the Scenes with Beth Anderson (A look at how Gretchen came up with the title)

Nerdy Books (An Illustrious Collaboration)


Joyce said...

Women did get important things accomplished in the past and continue to do so today. Thanks for showcasing HERstory, which could illuminate the ways to act in Congress to individuals today.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joyce. Your comment starts the giveaway list!

Danielle H. said...

Before seeing this book featured on blogs, I had never heard of this important woman in our history, but this isn't surprising since the "history" books were written by men. I loved learning more about her life by reading this post--she is inspirational.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Danielle. I'll add your name to the list!

Julia Lyon said...

I love reading books about inspiring, strong American women in history. I'm really looking forward to reading this! said...

Thank you for this interesting interview and review. Bibliographies for kids is an important asset to community and school libraries and home bookshelves.

Carol Baldwin said...

Agreed, Antoinette. thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for commenting, Julie. Your name is on the giveaway list.

Glee Dunbar said...

I'm doing a little dance about this book since I am a social worker too!! I love reading about trailblazers, especially women. Thank you so much for sharing.

Carol Baldwin said...

I thought you would be excited about this book, Glee! Your name goes in the hat!

Connie Porter Saunders said...

Thanks for sharing this book. My granddaughter will soon be 9, and she is beginning to enjoy biographies. Please enter my name. Thank you!

Carol Baldwin said...

You got in just in time, Connie! I'll add your name.

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