Fantastically Great Women by Kate Pankhurst

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

For most of her life, children’s author and illustrator Kate Pankhurst had no idea she was distantly related to Emmeline Pankhurst, and a cousin of the suffragette’s direct descendants.

It seems that she, like her forebear, has the drive and determination to record the contribution women have made in game-changing discoveries and achievements which have been of benefit to our present-day society.

Kate Pankhurst has created a series of books to encourage young children to do their best as she says, ‘no dream is too big if you just believe in yourself’. She has produced several 26x26cm hard covered books with beautiful illustrations to promote some of the women who dared to dream big.

These books include Great Women Who Changed the World, Great Women Who Worked Wonders, Great Women Who Made History, and Great Women Who Saved the Planet for readers 5+; and Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories and Fantastically Great Women Artists and Their Stories for readers aged 7+. Activity books are also available for the books aimed at the 5+ group.

All of these books are colourful with cartoon-like characters providing much of the information. More information is presented, often along timelines, in brief paragraphs for ease of reading. A double page spread is allocated to the woman promoted with the background colours changing for each double page. While most pages are presented horizontally, variety has been added with some shown vertically.

The dust jacket which accompanies this hard covered book can be folded out to become a poster.

In her latest book, Fantastically Great Women: True Stories of Ambition, Adventure and Bravery, she highlights the great endeavours of sixty women. There is a six-page introduction which summarises just some of the extraordinary women who have transformed people’s expectations of what women can do, with a challenge to the reader – ‘How will you change the world?’ (13)

The book highlights a wide range of activities from women across the globe, where women have shown that they are just as capable as men in areas of science, medicine, car racing, mountain climbing, endurance activities, undercover-work, human rights and leadership. ‘The women in this book achieved outstanding things…while facing challenges along the way…and standing up for what is right’. All this was done in the climate that ‘a woman would not be good at a job, just because she was a woman’ (79).

Some of these women, like Hatshepsut, married to pharaoh Tuthmosis II, on his death decided that ‘If I act like a king and looked like a king, I will be a king’ (70). Other women over the years have taken a similar attitude as in the case of Sayyida al-Harra in Morocco in 1492, Doctor James Barry in 1789, Qui Jin from China in 1875 and, I suppose one could say, Boudicca during the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE.

Some of the names are very familiar but there are many names in this publication which will be new to most readers.

There are several pages which provide a timeline through history of the contributions women have made as well as a glossary of Fantastically Great Words. The book also has its own ribbon-bookmark.

This latest publication from Kate Pankhurst traces the lives of outstanding women who have made a major impact on society from 1500BCE, through the various centuries right through until the 21st century. The pioneering work of these women has helped transform people’s understanding in the natural world, medicine, science, technology and into space.

Kate Pankhurst’s books provide a wealth of information with colour and humour. Even though these books are presented as reading for children, there is much in them that would be interesting and maybe new to an adult reader.

This English author has produced an internationally successful career in creating and illustrating this series of books. Her books provide an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about issues such as gender equality and how, although there has been a move towards gender equality, there are still many differences and challenges for young girls, in particular, to prepare to face in their life ahead.

As well as creating her own books, Kate Pankhurst has illustrated for other successful authors and worked with children and teachers to promote the contribution women have made to society over the years, as she ignites a love for reading through her contributions.

Fantastically Great Women: True Stories of Ambition, Adventure and Bravery

(2021)

by Kate Pankhurst

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-1-5266-2360-7

$39.99; 165 pp

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