Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains

Jane Yolen , Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Illustrator:  Rebecca Guay 
For ages 10 and up
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2013   ISBN: 978-1580891851

Most of us grow up being taught that certain behaviors are bad. We know that we should not lie, steal, or cheat, and that taking a life is a wicked and evil thing to do. We know that we should not be cruel to others and that we should try our best to abide by the Golden Rule. Of course, very few of us are able to be good all the time, and sometimes circumstances occur that make it impossible not to do something bad.

Throughout history certain women, the kinds of women who did not follow the rules, were labeled as villains. We are told that they were bad and that they deserved whatever came to them. To be sure, there is some truth to this. One cannot deny that Bonnie, of Bonnie and Clyde fame, did kill and rob people. Queen Mary, otherwise known as Bloody Mary, did sanction the execution of several hundred people whose only crime was to be Protestant. These women and others did what we consider bad things, but when one puts their actions into the correct context we can better understand their situations and their motivations.

In this delightful book Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple tell the stories of twenty-six women who were, and still are, considered by many to be bad. In between the biographies of these women we go behind the scenes and spend a little time with Jane and Heidi. They appear in a graphic novel style world and we join them as they do their research and as they discuss the women that they have been learning about. Jane is always reminding her daughter to consider the context, and Heidi often responds by saying that the woman they are talking about are simply bad and that is all there is to it. These interesting interludes allow us readers to see both sides of the story. Yes, Bloody Mary did order the deaths of hundreds of people, but she had a miserable life. Her mother was cast off by her father, Mary was declared illegitimate, her father treated her terribly, and she felt that she had to protect the Catholic Church from its enemies. She was shaped by the terrible experiences she had, and by the climate in the times in which she lived.

Other women whose stories are told in this book include Anne Boleyn, Catherine the Great, Lizzie Borden, Mata Hari, and Ma Barker. Readers will come to appreciate that though some of the women were indeed black-hearted creatures, many of them were labeled “bad” simply because they did not behave the women were supposed to behave. They were women who wanted to live by their own rules and have the freedoms men had. And, they did not really care that much what people thought of them.

With humorous biographies, graphic novel asides that are interesting and amusing, and splendid illustrations, this is a book that every girl should read.