Funny Girl Week: Bios of Hilarious Women
At long last it’s almost here. Tomorrow is the book birthday and release date of my anthology FUNNY GIRL: FUNNIEST. STORIES. EVER. published by Viking Press (Penguin Random House). To celebrate, I was wracking on brain on how to celebrate properly. Then it came to me: Let’s do an entire week celebrating funny women and children’s literature together! And to kick things all off, I decided to start with the shortest post I could think of:
Children’s Biographies of Funny Women.
Of which there are four.
Now I’d been wanting to do this piece for quite some time. Our biographies for kids celebrate women in all their aspects right? Their bravery. Their pride. Their strength. Their . . . humor?
Ahhhh . . . nope. Not so much.
For whatever reason (maybe it’s the authors, maybe it’s the publishers, maybe it’s both, maybe it’s neither) folks don’t publish biographies of funny women all that often. Now let’s define our terms a little. What precisely do I mean when I say “funny women”. After all, lots of great women have been droll. Even laugh out loud funny. So how many books make a special point to highlight their hilarity? The answer is few. Very few. Almost none, but there are some exceptions, and here are three women that are near and dear to my heart:
#1: I Am Lucille Ball by Brad Meltzer, ill. Christopher Eliopoulos
Part of the “Ordinary People Change the World” series, I’m going to confess to you that as a librarian these books drive me nuts. Where the heck am I supposed to catalog them? They’re so chock full of fake dialogue that I feel weird putting them in nonfiction, but clearly patrons would complain if I put them in the picture books. Where do they go? That’s the librarian side of me. The parental side? I adore these books. First off, cover both the usual biographical subjects (Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, etc.) as well as some unexpected names (Jim Henson). But Lucille is the standout amongst them. Nowhere else can I find evidence of a really fun biography for kids of a female comedian. The book also makes a strong case for Lucy’s historical importance in general. You can BET I have my daughter read this book. And when he’s old enough, I’ll have my son read it too.
#2: Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, ill. Marjorie Priceman
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, ill. Christian Robinson
Two very different books that came out two different years about the same subject. And what a subject she was! While the Powell book looks closely at Powell’s social activism, Winter’s plays with language in different forms in an attempt to categorize the woman’s life. But in both cases, the book is super fun partly because its subject had a sense of humor.
#3: What to Do About Alice: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! by Barbara Kerley, ill. Edwin Fotheringham
It even has a fun cover. You basically get on this list if your biography includes “increasingly outrageous hijinks” as Kirkus described this book to have. SLJ said it was a book that could change the mind of anyone who thought that all historical figures were boring. I don’t know to what degree it places her humor in the context of her life, but you do get the sense of a girl trapped in the conventions of the time while also busting out of them.
I think it’s important that for Ms. Baker, both bios show how much of a cut-up Josephine was in life. But as with the Lucy bio (and, to a certain extent, the Alice), I also love how they place the subject’s humor in the context of the world in which they lived and how much it’s changed (or hasn’t changed) today. All these books make it infinitely clear that funny women are important women. And that’s a message I want my kids to receive.
And that’s all I can come up with, but KNOW that there must be more. If you can think of any other bios to add to this list (good ones, y’all) please tell me. I’m talking biographies for children between the ages of 0-12 that specifically highlight the fact that the female subject was funny. Pranks, jokes, moments of levity, you name it. If it’s in the book, mention it now or forever hold your peace.
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network