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I have to confess, that Amy March was the least favorite character in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; I saw myself in Jo, and shared her impatience with Amy’s frivolous and vain ways. Now, thanks to Jeannine Atkins’ brilliant imagining of May Alcott, the sister Louisa loosely based the character of Amy upon, I have a whole new understanding of the youngest of the Alcott sisters…and a better appreciation of the woman she really was.
Little Woman in Blue begins with Anna’s wedding; May, looking ahead and wondering about her own future, yearns to leave Concord, to travel to Europe and see for herself the great paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, and give her own artistic aspirations free reign. But, the lot of the unmarried daughter in May’s day was to tend to her family’s needs at the expense of her own freedom and inclinations to pursue a life of her own. Even so, May works hard to cultivate her love for and talent at painting, and achieves no small measure of genuine praise for her work. When Jo’s famous novel is published, however, May is stunned and distressed to read the fictional portrayal that she must have known would come to define her, to be the May Alcott the world would believe as real.
Still, she perseveres; a journey to Europe as the chaperone of a young friend finally brings her into the art world of Paris, just then exploding with the revolutionary talents of the Impressionists, and J.M.W. Turner. May, at last, finds first her artistic oeuvre, and then love.
Little Woman in Blue is such an engrossing read – Atkins has throughly researched both the intellectual scene in Concord (we get to rub elbows with Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne!) as well as the artistic scene in Paris (we meet Degas, Manet, Mary Cassat!), and the reader feels very much a part of these richly recreated scenes and conversations. May’s own struggle to create and preserve an artistic authenticity at a time when women were simply not given opportunities to do so, was especially poignant to read. I am so grateful that Jeannine was one of those people she writes about in her afterword, who did “pause to consider paintings May left behind and wonder about the woman who held the brush.” She is a most fascinating woman, indeed.
Alex Gino’s George is an incredibly brave and beautiful book. George looks like a fourth grade boy, but knows deep down that he is really a she. This is a secret George can tell nobody, not even his best friend Kelly or (especially) his otherwise loving and very “chill” mom. When it is announced that their grade will perform Charlotte’s Web, the book they have read aloud as a class and immersed themselves in heart and soul, George knows that there is only one part for him – Charlotte. But, his teacher believes that Charlotte is a girl’s part, and that is that, even though George’s audition as Charlotte was absolutely perfect. George must decide if he can trust Kelly with his secret, and find a way to share that secret with his mom…and then the school.
Alex Gino writes George’s story with all the compassion it deserves. As an educator, I have read statistics which paint a terribly sad picture of what children like George must endure: 82% of transgender youth report that they feel unsafe at school, and that these children are more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide. Books such as George allow us insight, they foster a culture of kindness, and they allow for conversations.
Here’s a link to a news story about the publication of the book, and what the author hopes for its readers :