I’m not the biggest fan of nonfiction, as I read to escape reality instead of learning more about it. I know, it’s a failing of mine. But every once in a while, I come across a nonfiction book that actually maintains my interest. This book was one of those.
Jason Porath formerly worked in animation on such movies as Megamind, The Croods, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. This book is about women of myth or history who would never make the cut to become a Disney princess. Porath took it upon himself to gather information about these women through vigorous research, tell their stories in an interesting way, and illustrate them as they might appear if they were indeed Disney princesses. The illustrations are adorable, if somewhat disturbing when you take time to look at the small details and match them with the components of the woman’s story. Not all of these women were good women. In fact, some were downright evil. But the one thing they all have in common is that they were fascinating and stood out from other women of their times.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the inclusion of so many women I had never heard of. Don’t get me wrong, there are women I have heard of, such as Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Josphine Baker, Mata Hari, Jezabel, and Elisabeth Bathory. Just in that list you can see some of the variety of women Porath included. But there were far more women whom I had never heard of, but whose stories were utterly enthralling. There are far too many to list, but some of my favorites were Hypatia, Princess Caraboo, and Olga of Kiev.
Porath had a wonderful voice to his writing. No part of this book ever felt dry, despite the fact it was educational. There was lots of sass to be found in the prose, which I loved. I could just hear Porath telling these stories at a party or something. I know that addition of personal remarks won’t appeal to all readers, but it really worked for me. Porath’s voice is what kept this book feeling fun instead of erudite.
An addition I really approved of was that of ratings on each of the stories. The stories were rated 1 through 5, with 1 being the cleanest and 5 having the most adult content. Each rating also included additional information about why the rating was given, such as violence, rape, etc. Porath also put the stories in order by rating, so all of the 1s are in the front of the book, followed by the 2s and so on. This system makes it much easier to read the more appropriate stories to kids, or to allow them to read up to a certain rating on their own. These are not fairy tales at all, but I think girls (and boys!) need to be exposed to strong women as early and as often as possible. Are these women all role model material? Assuredly not. But they were women who bucked societal norms and stood up for something, which is important for little girls to see.
All in all, this book was wonderfully fun. I think it would be a perfect gift for a preteen girl who is a precocious reader, or for a woman with an interest in women in history. But if you do gift this to a girl, be aware of the adult content further into the book. Also, I also think this would be a wonderful resource for any author wanting to include strong, powerful women in their fiction.