Women’s History Month Readfest Ideas

To kick off Women’s History Month, let’s journey through a list of women authors with stories featuring women or girls. These titles–fiction and nonfiction–feature stereotype-busting women characters facing, among other challenges, racism, war and writer’s block. Check them out at the library!

Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart

The sixth installment of the smart, top-notch Kopp Sisters series follows the adventures of the Kopp Sisters as they head overseas to help in the World War I effort, each in her own personal inimitable adventure. They are separated for the first time, and the sisters write to each other with their news. This is a smart, light-hearted series based on the sisters’ true story. Early in the 20th century, Constance Kopp was named one of the first female deputies in the nation. The sisters lived what was considered at that time to be an unconventional life. The three lived alone on a farm in New Jersey, and despite Constance working as a deputy sheriff, it was frowned on to not have any males around to provide and protect. Occasionally the trio piled into the horse and buggy for a day to visit their brother and his wife, and I wonder if he will show up in the series, at some point. The seventh book, Miss Kopp Investigates, arrives on library shelves this year. 

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

A cast of characters make up the community of ‘Conjure Women,’ and Miss Rue, a healer and midwife like her mother, is its center. Because the story’s structure is deftly threaded forward, past and during, you can pluck from this absorbing read the connection of secrets and fallible humans, which plays out in different eras of the Civil War. Miss Rue cares for a community of freedmen, some closer to her than others. She has cared for many people in her life, including a strange kinship she has with a baby who had a difficult birth. When she is accused of witchcraft, she says she just “knows things.” While she is privy to secrets about the plantation owner’s daughter, she knows exposure of her own secrets is a very real possibility. 

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Markham, a British adventurer, covers growing up in Kenya in the early 1900s and beyond. In 1936, Markham became the first woman to cross the Atlantic east-to-west solo, and the first person to make it from England to North America non-stop from east to west. In 2004, this memoir, first released in 1942, landed in the number eight spot out of 100 best adventure books by National Geographic. I gobbled up this aviation pioneer’s memoir like it was a gastronomic garden party. She may have had lauded careers as a bush pilot and a racehorse trainer; however, readers are fortunate that it is because she was also such a talented writer, her compelling adventure stories have endured.

Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty MacDonald

Betty MacDonald spent a good chunk of her younger and teen years in the Roosevelt District of Seattle. In her four primo memoirs, details from this madcap family portrait occasionally come bubbling out, and it’s crackling good fun to read. Descriptions of antics and arguments the close-knit family experience attest to their ability to think beyond bleakness. I suppose that’s why the buoyant Anybody Can Do Anything was a surprising delight to read. Betty and her sister, Mary, were job hunting in Seattle during the depression of the 1930s. From what I knew, I expected a glum read. It was not. The family was far from depressed, especially Mary. She saw the economic situation as a personal incentive. Mary’s fearless outlook triumphs and leads Betty into one zany job after another. A groove-restoring read.

The Egg and I, MacDonald’s best-known memoir, was also a successful movie. It was based on the four years she and her husband spent deep in the Olympic Peninsula raising chickens on their remote farm. Alas, the marriage ended. Could it have been that the farm had no running water or electricity, but plenty of endless work starting with the rooster’s crow at 4am, year after year? While she didn’t answer that question in the book, her take on the experiences make for a light-hearted, witty read. Readers bought one million copies in the year after it was published. It was then made into a popular 1947 movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Betty’s neighbors down the road a bit from the poultry farm, Ma & Pa Kettle, had audiences guffawing so hard, they got their own movies. 

In another excellent read, The Plague and I, MacDonald writes about the nine months she had tuberculosis. It is very contagious. During that time, she stayed in a Seattle sanatorium waiting to be healthy again. 

More absorbing reads by women starring compelling women:

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. “Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile. This decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.” –Kirkus Reviews

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict. Check out Benedict’s other under-celebrated women in history. The Only Woman in the Room, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, and others.

How to Order the Universe by Maraia Josae Ferrada. A traveling salesman and his daughter traverse Chile.

Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

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