Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives

Marthe Jocelyn
For ages 12 and up
Tundra Books, 2011   ISBN: 978-0887769528

For hundreds of years, women have used the written word to connect with friends and family members, to capture their thoughts, to share their lives with others, and to share ideas that they cared about. Often many of these “scribblings” disappeared, and we have no idea what the women said. However, sometimes their words were preserved on purpose or by accident, and we can now read these women’s writings many years after they died.

For this book, Marthe Jocelyn has written about eleven women from around the world who wrote letters, journals, or books that we are still able to read today. She begins by looking at the life and writings of Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting who served in the imperial court of Japan in the tenth century. Sei wrote what is called The Pillow Book, which is a kind of journal filled with a collection of lists, gossip, poetry, observations, complaints, and descriptions. Her writings capture her keen intelligence and her often caustic wit. Thanks to Sei we have a better understanding what it was like to live in the imperial court of Japan so long ago.

Similarly, the letters that Margaret Catchpole wrote show us what life in the penal colony in Sydney, Australia, was like in the early 1800’s. Margaret stole a horse, and for this crime, she was transported to Australia where she spent the rest of her life. Though she was not educated, she wrote letters to a friend back in England, describing her new life and the trials that she had to bear. Margaret’s personality comes through in her letters, and one can almost hear her voice as one reads the phonetically spelled words she wrote.

Isabella Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management had a profound effect on the lives of women living in Britain in the 19th century. Her comprehensive book contains 2,751 entries, which includes recipes, household tips, information about food, household management advice and much more. Isabella’s goal was to create a work that women would be able be able to use so that their homes were efficiently run, economical, and homey. She changed the way cook books were written, and helped countless women tolearn the complicated business of running a household.

Readers who are interested in the stories of women from history will be fascinated by this book, as will readers who like to read about writers and the impact their writings have. Marthe Jocelyn tells the stories of women who scribbled in books and on pieces of paper long ago, and also not so long ago. Some of the women were famous like Isabella Beeton, Nellie Bly and Mary Kingsley, while others lived quiet more domestic lives. She shows us that these “scribblings” are truly precious, and that we have much to learn from them.

Packed with interesting details about the times that the eleven women lived in, and with numerous quotes from their writings throughout, this is a book that will inspire both young and adult readers.