Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? the story of Elizabeth Blackwell

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? the story of Elizabeth Blackwell
by Tanya Lee Stone; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Christy Ottaviano Books, New York, 2013
ISBN 978-0-8050-9048-2
Picture book, biography
40 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Dewey: 610
Orbis Pictus Award, recommended book, 2014
Interest level: K-5
Reading level: 4.5
5 out of 5 stars


This is a wonderful picture book biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America. The story begins by informing the reader that there was a time when women were not allowed to be doctors. Many young readers will not be aware of this, and this somewhat shocking revelation makes a good hook as we then learn about Elizabeth Blackwell, from when she was a tough young girl up through her graduation from medical college.

The author includes some interesting details that helps readers get to know Blackwell. She was “a girl who tried sleeping on the hard floor with no covers, just to toughen herself up,” and “blood made her queasy.” It was when she was visiting a sick friend that she started to think about female doctors. The friend commented that “she would have much preferred being examined by a woman. She urged Elizabeth to consider becoming a doctor.”

Priceman’s gouache and india ink illustrations are colorful and flowing, and create a sense of movement that perfectly matches the text and the personality of Blackwell. Untitled

As Blackwell receives twenty-eight rejection letters from medical schools, Priceman has created an overwhelmed Blackwell surrounded by swirling letters and a series of “no’s.” Untitled

You turn the page, and there is one solid “Yes!” and the image of a figure carrying a suitcase halfway off the page. The juxtaposition of those two scenes brings the feelings of Blackwell to life.

The combination of an intriguing main character, engaging illustrations, and solid text that reads well would make this an excellent read-aloud opportunity. It would fit with children as young as kindergarten up through high school, if they were studying women’s rights.

The author has included a note at the back that fills in information around the main story. We learn of Blackwell’s infancy, as well as what happened after medical school. A source list is included.

The Library of Congress has a collection of Elizabeth Blackwell’s papers. You can view a handwritten letter from 1851 written by Blackwell concerning women’s rights.
Library of Congress: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awmss5/blackwell.html

The author’s website has a Teacher’s Guide and CCSS Connections publication available for download.
Teacher’s Guide: http://tanyastone.com/assets/files/Blackwell%20Reader%20Guide.pdf
CCSS Connections: http://tanyastone.com/assets/files/Blackwell%20Reader%20Guide.pdf

School Library Journal has teaching ideas for the book. This article includes an extensive list of online resources for more information about Elizabeth Blackwell.
The Classroom Bookshelf: http://www.theclassroombookshelf.com/2013/05/who-says-women-cant-be-doctors-the-story-of-elizabeth-blackwell/

Seeds of Change; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Jen Cullerton Johnson; illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Lee & Low Books, New York, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60060-367-9
Description: 40 p. : col. ill. ; 26 cm.
Dewey: 333.72
Subject: Narrative nonfiction; biography; Kenya; conservation; environment; women’s rights
Interest Level: 3-6; Reading Level: 4.8
Lexile measure: 820
Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustrations; YHBA nominee
4 out of 5 stars
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Summary from the publisher: “A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman – and first environnmentalist – to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for planting trees in her native Kenya. Detailed narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of women’s rights and the environment and engagingly capture the people, clothing and landscape of Kenya.”

Evaluation: This biography not only tells the story of Wangari Maathai, but also provides information about the culture of the Kikuyu people. The text flows chronologically and reads like narrative fiction. Children will be interested to learn that most women are not sent to school and that big corporations at one time were destroying the Kenyan landscape.

The scratchboard and oil illustrations are visually captivating and match the tone and style of the text. They invoke images of a green and colorful country. The illustration style resembles quilts and will keep the read-aloud listeners engaged.

The author’s sources are listed in the back of the book, along with a brief update on Maathai and the Green Belt Movement. I recommend this book for both independent reading as well as read-alouds.