Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives (2011), by Marthe Jocelyn

This review was first published in BookBird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 50.1 (2012): 74.

Scribbling Women

The list of women Marthe Jocelyn includes in Scribbling Women spans both history and the globe, from Sen Shogagon in 10th-century Japan to Victorian Mary Kinsley in West Africa, from Inuit Ada Blackmore in early 20th-century Alaska to North Vietnamese Dang Thuy Tram, a doctor in the jungles of the Vietnam War.  Each of the eleven women in this volume tells a unique story of adventure and strength, and Jocelyn’s research and editorial work brings this information alive for the younger reader, aged about 10 through 14.  Some of the works of these women have been published, and so will be available in their full complexity for readers to engage with later in life; some, however, Jocelyn has brought out of dusty archives and into our lives.
Each biography is introduced by an image of the subject, and concluded with a segue into the next, linking these women’s stories across time and geography.  The biographer’s own voice tells the stories, but also lets these women speak for themselves, both in the often-difficult language of the poorly educated (“honred madam with grat plusher I take up my penn to a Quaint you…” [16]) and in transliteration for the young reader.  Gloss is provided regarding historical incidents, situations, and items that the young reader might not understand. While some complexities are necessarily lost in the simplification process, the picture of history that Jocelyn paints is sufficiently accurate and always fascinating.
The narrator interjects questions regarding the motivations of these women, asking the reader to consider these other women’s lives more fully from their perspectives: “Why didn’t she go? Would the passage have cost more money than she could put together? Was she afraid of repeating that long, perilous journey?” (23). The answer is invariably that we cannot know, but we can conjecture; the reader is thus left thinking deeply of the lives of these women so different from our own.


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