Most kids wish they didn't have to go to school. But Ruby, of Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, wishes that she could. This stunning, lyrical book about how the author's grandmother became one of the first women to attend university in China is a must-read. Ruby is torn between her ambition and sense of justice (she writes a poem about how boys are treated better than girls, which my almost-five-year-old cannot stop reciting: "Alas, bad luck to be born a girl;worse luck to be born into this house where only boys are cared for.") and her adherence to tradition and the traditional Chinese value of respect (she tries to avoid explaining to her grandfather what she meant by the poem and she stays up late to finish her feminine duties like embroidery). Luckily, her grandfather is ahead of his time and rewards her hard work. The writing is lovely and the illustrations by Sophie Blackall are beautiful, realistic, and complement the text perfectly. At the end, a photograph of the author's grandmother brings home the fact that Ruby was and is a real person.
The book is a perfect jumping-off point to a discussion of women's rights and women's education, in China, here, or elsewhere. My girls were stunned to learn that neither my high school nor college accepted women until the early 1970s! As girls around the world are still deprived of an education, this book is especially important and yet introduces the subject with a light touch perfect for younger readers.
Bridges has also written a series of picture book biographies of real-life princesses, The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses, as well as The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames (what a great name!!) - of the sort who used their power, not of the sort who wore pretty dresses while they awaited their princes. I was only able to obtain one from the library (Nur Jahan of India) and found it written for a much older audience and a bit confusing. But Ruby's Wish is perfect - for children of all ages.
Do you have a favorite picture book about women's rights?