A Take-Charge Girl Blazes a Trail to Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin

By Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon. Calkins Creek, 2023. 40 pages. $18.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 7–10.

This is an inspiring story of a woman who dreamt of a just, peaceful United States and worked to make those dreams a reality. Jeannette Rankin was born in the territory of Montana, and she demonstrated her grit from an early age. In roles expected of a girl in the late 1800s—like cooking and sewing for her siblings—to unexpected actions, such as acting as an emergency veterinarian to an injured wild horse, Jeannette acted decisively to do what was needed.

As her world grew beyond the borders of rural Montana, Jeannette seemed to notice everything: from the mountain snails she studied in her college biology classes to fashion (where she developed a love for fancy hats) to children. After a short stint as a teacher, Jeannette traveled to San Francisco, Calif., where she witnessed women and children living in poverty. She jumped into action by working to improve lives through the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center. Yet she envisioned making a greater impact.

Jeannette moved to New York City to become a social worker. She soon realized that only legislation could create the change she envisioned. She traveled around the country working for women’s suffrage. She returned to Montana as it voted to approve women’s right to vote in 1914. Jeannette’s dreams continued to grow. Not only could she vote, she could run for office. In 1916, she was elected to Congress as the first woman representative in U.S. history.

It is only in the author’s note at the end of the book that her pacifist ideals are discussed. Her tenure in Congress was short, as she voted to abstain from World War I. She returned to Congress in 1940 and remained steadfast to pacifism during WWII. She even came out of retirement to protest the war in Vietnam in 1968, at the age of 87.

This book paints a vivid picture of a woman whose dreams grew as she realized her power. The message for young readers is positive and clear: continually search for truth and to live with integrity. Whether the young readers of this book choose to take on local, national, or global issues, they will certainly be inspired to let their dreams grow without limits.

As a group read-aloud, this book could be followed by a discussion of dreams among the participants. Just as Jeannette did, young people could envision the steps from smaller goals to larger goals, creating the greatest possible impact. Early elementary children will enjoy the story and the lovely illustrations, while upper elementary children will recognize connections to social studies, politics, and modern-day activism.

Karen Clark, a convinced Friend, is a member of Little Falls Meeting in Fallston, Md., and a fifth-grade teacher at Friends School of Baltimore. She has taught in independent schools for 22 years, educating preschool through middle school students.

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