Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter

The Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter

Bonnie Christensen
For ages 6 and up
Alfred A Knopf, 2003   ISBN: 978-0375815683

From the very beginning Elizabeth Cochran was different. The world would come to know her by the pen name she chose for herself when she was a reporter, Nellie Bly. Nellie’s earliest years were comfortable and happy ones but this all changed when her father died when Nellie was only six years old. After this Nellie came to know hardship when she had to bear living with an abusive and difficult step-father. At the age of fourteen Nellie testified at her mother’s divorce trial. This negative experience most certainly was one of the deciding factors that influenced Nellie in her future life. Nellie was determined that she was going to be her own woman, with a job that would give her the freedom to decide her own destiny.

There was a problem however with this dream. There were very few jobs open to women in the late 1880’s. By the sheer power of her personality and too, by pure luck, Nellie ended up with a job as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Nellie began to write about the miserable conditions that women had to work under. She then went to work for the New York World as an undercover or "stunt" reporter. Her first assignment was to get herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum at Blackwell’s Island. This institution had a dreadful reputation for the conditions under which it kept its patients. After ten days a lawyer would come and get Nellie released.

Much afraid but determined, Nellie went ahead with the assignment and survived the ten days in the asylum. The conditions were just as bad as Nellie had heard and because of the articles that she wrote, living conditions in the New York asylums were greatly improved.

Nellie’s next adventure was her most famous; Nellie decided that she would attempt to beat the record of Jules Verne’s famous character Phileas Fogg who went around the world in eighty days. Nellie’s editor was very doubtful that a young woman alone could pull off such a difficult scheme but Nellie was determined to try.

Accompanied by her wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations Bonnie Christensen describes Nellie Bly’s remarkable journey around the world with all the difficulties that Nellie faced. As she so wonderfully puts it "Nellie had won much more than her race against the clock" because now the American girl would no longer be looked at as that helpless little creature who could do nothing for herself.

Nellie went on to do even more for the campaign for women’s rights and to help those in need. Always a fighter and a doer she was the first woman reporter at the Eastern Front during World War I and she never gave up believing that we all have a responsibility to help one another.

Bonnie Christensen has created a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary woman, her own admiration of Nellie Bly coming through in her words and her wonderful artwork.