Tag Archives: Tara Bloyd

Suffrage Bookshelf: Crossing Stones review by Tara Bloyd

Crossing StonesCrossing Stones, by Helen Frost.  2009: Francis Foster Books.

Crossing Stones is a phenomenal book.  Coming of age during the beginning of World War One, eighteen-year-old Muriel Jorgenson examines her life, her beliefs, her hopes for the future, and the concepts of war, peace, and women’s roles in this Young Adult book.  The book is written in free verse and cupped-hand sonnets, which I at first thought would annoy me but soon grew to appreciate immensely.  (The author put a lot of thought into the structure; read her note at the end to learn more.  I almost wish I’d read the note first, as I ended up going back through the book after doing so to more consciously understand and admire.)

Caught up in the build-up to WWI, Muriel is what many would have described a “headstrong” young woman; she’s not sure that she wants to follow the prescribed roles.  Frost writes:

“My mind sets off at a gallop
down that twisty road, flashes by “Young Lady,”
hears the accusation in it – as if it’s
a crime just being young, and “Lady”
is what anyone can see I’ll never be
no matter how I try, and it’s obvious
that I’m not trying. “

(I can’t easily reproduce the poem’s format in this review … seeing it for yourself is just one of the reasons I strongly recommend reading this book!) Although it’s expected that Muriel will marry the boy next door, Frank, that’s not necessarily what she wants to do.  When Frank, like so many other young men, joins the Army at the beginning of World War I, Muriel’s feelings about love, proper roles, and war become even more conflicted.  Muriel travels to Washington, DC, to help her Aunt Vera recover from a suffrage hunger strike.

While there, Muriel joins in the picketing, helps at a settlement house, makes friends, and more.  These experiences help solidify Muriel’s feelings that there are other possibilities for her, that it’s not wrong to question and challenge the status quo (even though both her high school teacher and the Espionage Act would have her believe differently. Yet she still struggles with questions of patriotism and loyalty: is it wrong to challenge the president during a time of war?  Is it wrong to wonder, out loud, if war is the right choice?

“When someone takes it
seriously, it’s only to chastise the protesters:
unwomanly, unpatriotic, a thorn in the side of the president
when he has more important things (The War)
to think about.”

And
“Papa thinks I’m strong because
I speak up for my beliefs – but as the war
gets louder all around us, I’m becoming quieter.”

Traveling through the influenza epidemic, the previously-idyllic lives of two small town families and the larger-scale vision of Washington, DC, the women’s rights movement, the war in Europe, and more, this book covers hard topics and does so well.  It puts personalities and faces on people and events from a time about which most teenagers know rather little, and is valuable for that as well as simply for the lyrically beautiful writing.

I highly recommend Crossing Stones.  Get it.  Read it.  Enjoy it. And learn, too, a bit more about what it was like to be a woman in those very turbulent times, to believe in suffrage and in questions and in possibilities.

Tara Bloyd is the great-granddaughter of suffragist Edna Kearns. She is passionate about the suffrage movement and writes often for Suffrage Wagon News Channel about Votes for Women books for young audiences.

Suffrage News Alert and Tara Bloyd reviews “Marching with Aunt Susan”

NEWS ALERT: Two suffrage programs on UK television. One is a documentary on suffragette Emily Davison TODAY that can be viewed online. Details soon. The other show is a three-episode suffrage sitcom, “Up the Women” (see trailer) that starts this coming Thursday, May 30th. See overview and episode summaries: #1, #2, #3. And now for Suffrage Bookshelf:

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Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, by Claire Rudolph Murphy, illustrated by Stacey Schuett.  2011: Peachtree Publishers.

Review by Tara Bloyd

I thoroughly enjoyed Marching With Aunt Susan.  Based on the 1896 campaign in California, the book focuses on events in the life of an actual ten-year-old girl, Bessie Keith Pond.  In this story, Bessie’s belief in the suffrage cause is precipitated by two closely-related events: her father refuses to take her hiking with her older brothers because “strenuous exercise is not for girls,” and her mother suggests helping with a suffrage tea instead.

SUSAN B. ANTHONY,  NOT OLD AND CRABBY AT ALL

Looking at a newspaper picture of Susan B. Anthony, Bessie thinks the suffrage leader looks old and crabby; she soon learns differently, though, and is inspired by Anthony’s statement that “Women’s votes can help change the world.”  Bessie attends rallies, works in the suffrage office, visits a factory where young women work in poor conditions, marches in a parade, and more.   I found the story, told in first person, compelling.

The book tells of the long, dedicated quest for votes for women, and is all the more poignant because it concentrates on an unsuccessful aspect of the long campaign.  Bessie is lucky because her family is supportive – her aunt was a leader in both campaigns, her father buys her a new white dress when hers is destroyed by an egg splattered on it during a march and realizes over the course of the book that Bessie should be able to go hiking with the family, her mother is in a position to host teas honoring and attended by Anthony, etc.

But even from her privileged position Bessie still faces challenges: her friend’s father rules the family and won’t let her participate in marches, onlookers at the march both verbally and physically heckle participants, Bessie talks with factory girls her own age, and, of course, California’s men vote against suffrage.

REALISTIC, NOT SIMPLISTIC VIEW OF THE STRUGGLE

I appreciate that the book shows a realistic view of the struggle and how important it was to not give up even after major setbacks; Bessie’s mother is determined to learn how to ride a bike after the defeat (because “Aunt Susan says that a bicycle gives a woman freedom”). And the book ends with Bessie suggesting to her father: “Sunday there’s a rally for the next suffrage campaign.  Come march with Mama and Me.”

The richly-colored illustrations are expressive and enjoyable and definitely add to the story.  Even though it’s a picture book, Marching with Aunt Susan doesn’t talk down to readers.   The historical information in the back of the book tells quite a lot in a fairly limited space: we learn about Bessie’s life, about California’s suffrage campaign and suffrage history in general, and about Susan B. Anthony’s life and work.

The section of Further Resources for Young Readers includes book and website recommendations, and photographs and copies of various documents are both on the endpapers and scattered through the historical information.   I strongly recommend adding Marching With Aunt Susan to any suffrage library, and I think it would be an excellent introduction to the suffrage movement for any children who find stories more interesting than facts.  (Wouldn’t that be almost all of them?)

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