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What I'm Reading: Women's History Month

In honor of Women's History month, here are two new picture book biographies to add to your reading list.

Cover of One Wish

One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University

by M. O. Yuksel

illustrated by Mariam Quraishi

Harper (HarperCollins Children's Books), 2022

One Wish shares the life of Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman born around 800 CE in Tunisia. Her family fled to Fez, Morocco when Fatima was a child, and she spent the rest of her life there. Fatima had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge from the time she was young, and she dreamed of starting a university of her own. This dream came to fruition in 859 CE with the founding of the University of al-Qarawiyyin, now the oldest existing and continually operating university in the world.

That accomplishment alone makes al-Fihri a worthy subject of a picture book biography, but M. O. Yuksel's writing transcends the facts and makes this an illuminating and inspiring story. I loved the lyrical language, the repetition of certain phrases ("she stood tall, determined, and strong") and the way in which she naturally weaves teachings of Islam into the narrative.

"Fatima's faith taught her that charity--sadaqah jariyah--was like planting a single seed from which thousands of wildflowers continuously bloomed." -- M. O. Yuksel

Quraishi's soft, colorful illustrations bring the text to life. The back matter is excellent and provides helpful additional information about al-Fihri's life and the university. My only request would have been for a pronunciation guide for the name of the university and a few of the Islamic terms! I'll definitely be searching for that before sharing this terrific book with students.


Cover of Breaking Through the Clouds

Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

by Sandra Nickel

illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia

Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), 2022

Breaking Through the Clouds is the fascinating story of pioneering meteorologist Joanne Simpson, who, up until this book, was unknown to me. Simpson grew up fascinated by clouds, and cumulus clouds in particular. First, through an opportunity afforded for World War II, and later, through her own sheer stubbornness, she studied clouds, determining that cumulus clouds had energy. This work earned her a doctorate in meteorology--the first awarded to a woman in the world! Simpson continued her groundbreaking work and paved the way for other up-and-coming women in meteorology.

"You don't just sit there and all of a sudden a light bulb flashes over your head and you say, 'Aha!' What you have to learn to be is...stubborn." -- Joanne Simpson

Nickel tells Simpson's story in straightforward, accessible text and Garcia's brightly colored illustrations are a perfect complement. Thorough back matter includes a quote from Simpson, an Author's Note, photographs of Simpson at work, a timeline, and a selected bibliography. The end pages are decorated with various types of clouds, providing an additional opportunity for learning. I'm looking forward to adding this biography to my third grade students' study of weather!

What women are you reading about this March? Any new books to recommend?


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