Title: Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains
Authors: Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Rebecca Guay
Copyright Date: 2013
Age Range: 14 to 17
Lexile Reading Level: 800L
It’s said that well-behaved women seldom make history. For those who want to learn more about the “ill-behaved” women of history they should turn to Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Their book explores famous and not-so famous bad girls like Delilah, Cleopatra, Lizzie Borden, and Bonnie Parker. The book is more or less organized in chronological order, but can be read at any point. Each chapter is dedicated to one woman, explaining who she is and what makes her infamous. Every chapter ends with a short, one-page comic of the two authors as themselves talking about the woman in that particular chapter. Heidi E. Y. Stemple often critiques the woman the chapter was about while Jane Yolen comes to her defense. This additional conversation brings up some interesting points about women in history – are they really as bad as we believe them to be or does millennia of sexism play a role?
While the book can be read from more or less any point, rather than from start to finish, the comics in the back of each chapter have a semblance of order with the two authors talking about writing the book Bad Girls, doing research for the book, and going to bookstores for signings.
Every chapter has an illustration of the woman about to be discussed. The chapters are named after each woman with a birthdate and, if possible, a date of death. There are 26 women talked about in the book including witches, pirates, bank robbers, queens, and mistresses.
Yolen and Stemple also include a rich bibliography of books, articles, and websites from which they pulled information for their book. The final chapter, the conclusion, discusses modern times and changing gender roles as well as women’s rights. The authors ask how these “bad girls” of history would have been treated today.
Would we still consider these women bad? Or would we consider them victims of bad circumstances? As our world changes, so does our definition of bad. Especially when it comes to half the world’s population – the half that happens to be female. (p. 145)
With short, easy to absorb chapters, a funny and witty comic style, Bad Girls is both informative and charming. A great book for history buffs or those interested in women’s studies.
Bad Girls is a fun read. There were several historical figures I had never heard of before and a few I had. I really liked the layout of the book. I thought it made for light reading, but provided just enough information about each woman to get you interested in learning more. This is definitely a great book to start out with if you are planning a project or paper on one of the women mentioned in the book. A shortcoming of the book would be that it’s pretty focused on the West and white women. There are a few women of color in the book, but it would be nice to see some follow-up books by Yolen and Stemple that expand beyond the white Euro-centric nature of the first book. I can see this book being used in history classes to sort of showcase how sometimes our textbooks leave out women, but also to discuss how sexism affects women’s role in both society and history.
– 2013 YA nonfiction Cybils Award nomination
– Quick Picks nomination
“Girls gone wild! The mother-daughter team of Yolen and Stemple have rounded up some of the meanest (or perhaps just misguided) group of gals history has known. And they’ve wrapped them in an attractive package that makes reading about them even more enjoyable.” —Booklist (starred review)
Why Read This Book?
Bad Girls can be read just for fun. The short chapters and comics make it an enjoyable and quick read. It can also be read for a history class or part of research for a project since the book provides a varied bibliography for each woman represented in the book. It makes for a great jumping on point that can lead to further research. The book is also great for starting discussion about sexism – both the sexism faced by women in history and the sexism of documenting history that has often left women out.
If You Liked This, You’ll Also Like
– Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs
This book looks at the forgotten women of science, technology, and other similar fields. It explores great women like rocket scientist Mary Sherman Morgan who helped fuel the first US satellite into orbit, chemist Alice Ball who found a treatment for leprosy, and inventor Huang Daopo who revolutionized textile production in China way before the cotton gin was invented. The book also includes interviews with women of today who are in STEM careers. You can also find a guide on the different women-centric technology and science organizations in operation today.
– Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen
This book looks at a wide variety of women throughout history from the first female professional writer Aphra Behn to activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth to computer programmers Ada Lovelace. There are artists, actresses, spies, scientists, daredevils, and more explored in the book. It also looks at the many accomplishments of women and how those accomplishments affected society.