Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's race for the Presidency

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's race for the Presidency

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Illustrator:  Courtney A. Martin 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008   ISBN: 978-0810971103

Belva grew up on a farm in New York State. She came from "humble beginnings" but this did not stop her from pursing her dreams. When she was thirty-nine - after she had been married, become a mother, been widowed, had married again, been to college and so much more - Belva decided that she wanted to become a lawyer. Unfortunately none of the law schools would accept her as a student. Just as she had always done, Belva worked to move the "mountain" that blocked her path.

In the end Belva did find a law school that would accept her. Though National University Law School said that it wanted women to be there, Belva and the other women in her class were not made to feel welcome. And, to make things worse, when Belva finished her studies she was not given a diploma of any kind. With determination Belva wrote to the president of the law school, who also happened to be the president of the United States. In very strong words she asked Ulysses S. Grant to give her the diploma she had earned, and this is just what he did.

Becoming the first woman to graduate from National University Law School was just the first in a long string of firsts for Belva. She also became the first woman to practice law, and she was a well respected lobbyist, public speaker, and women's rights activist. One would have thought that all this would have been enough for Belva, but it wasn't. She wanted to run for the presidency of the United States. Considering the fact that women didn't even have the vote at this time, this was not going to be an easy task.

This wonderfully written picture book with its marvelously colored, rich illustrations, tells the story of a woman whom history has, for the most part, forgotten. Young readers will see that it sometimes takes courage and determination to get what you want, and they will be able to appreciate that the rights they take for granted today had to be fought for in the late 1800's and early 1900's. At the back of the book an author's note provides readers with more information about Belva and the women's right's movement. A glossary explains what some of the political words used in the text mean such as ballot, elector, and petition.