• Happy birthday Ilene Cooper (The Golden Rule) and B. G. Hennessey (Because of You).
  • It’s the birth date of Jack Kent (1920–1985), There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon.
  • In 1804 a formal ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri, transfers ownership of the Louisiana Purchase land from France to the United States. Read The Louisiana Purchase by Peter and Connie Roop, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport.
  • In 1922 Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and tried for “sedition” by the British Raj in India, then sentenced to six years. He served only two. Read Gandhi by Demi.
  • It’s Middle Name Pride Day. Read The Girl with 500 Middle Names by Margaret Peterson Haddix, illustrated by Janet Hamlin.

March has been designated Women’s History month. Fortunately, in the last two decades we have been given scores of books that promote the role of women in history. For some great suggestions you can consult the Amelia Bloomer list compiled by the American Library Association.

Today I’d like to focus on one of the exceptional books in this area, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Independent Dames. Anderson is one of those writers who may already have created several classic books. Her young adult novel Speak has found a devoted audience. Her historical fiction for ten- to fourteen-year-olds, Fever 1793 and Chains, has been brought into the curriculum across the country. And her picture book for six- to ten-year-olds, Independent Dames, published in 2008 and illustrated by Matt Faulkner, presents a stirring portrait of the women who made America possible.

Beginning with the scene of a school play about the Founding Fathers, Anderson declares that if we look only at them we are missing half of the story. Then she begins with small vignettes of some of our heroines. Sybil Ludington rode longer than Paul Revere and didn’t get caught! The Daughters of Liberty make an appearance, along with nine-year-old Susan Boudinot who protested at a tea party of the Royal Governor. Writers (Phyllis Wheatley), soldiers (Deborah Sampson), spies, scouts, nurses, and the wives of the patriots all get their due via a small fact and portrait.

Having written myself about the women of the Civil War (I’ll Pass for Your Comrade), I can’t help but appreciate how brilliantly Anderson has overcome one of the great problems of women’s history. In many cases, we know very little about each person because comprehensive records were not kept about women. Because Anderson uses only one or two arresting facts for each woman, she keeps the text lively and encourages young readers to find out more.

At the bottom of each picture Anderson includes a timeline of events and defines some of the terms, making the book even more information rich. At the end of the forty-page book, she adds material on other women and a great bibliography. This short text lends itself to all kinds of activities or acts simply as a supplement for more traditional texts. Anderson’s research is thorough and her understanding of young readers, as always, is profound. When I conducted an informal poll of school librarians and teachers, Independent Dames emerged as their favorite book for Women’s History Month. Writing with passion and humor, Laurie Halse Anderson is on a mission to set the record straight. And she does!

Here’s a page from Independent Dames:


Originally posted March 10, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: History, Revolutionary War, Women
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Independent Dames


  1. I’m buying this book for my son’s elementary school. I love Laurie. This is a must have. Thanks for featuring it here!

  2. Kris Remenar says:

    This is one of my favorite non-fiction books on the Revolutionary War – great topic, great writing, and the art is amazing!

  3. Erin says:

    Having been a faithful history student for many years, focusing on women’s history, I always enjoy books which celebrate women’s history. The major figures like Susan B Anthony are always interesting to learn about, but women’s history is so much more than the women discussed in textbooks. I love books which tell stories about women whose names may not be recognizable, but who nonetheless made significant contributions to this country. Also, I am a HUGE fan of Laurie Halse Anderson fan (been 3 times to see her!) so this book is a natural draw for me. I also enjoyed Anderson’s book “Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving.”

  4. Donna says:

    I just discovered this blog and absolutely love it. I am certainly going to add “Independant Dames” to our library at school. Have you read “Calvin Can’t Fly” ? It is a super book with tons of discussion possibilities. One of my favorites.

  5. Anita says:

    Donna: Glad you like the blog. I’ll check out Calvin Can’t Fly; thanks for the recommendation.

  6. G. Perry says:

    I love the title of this book. I missed it last time around, so I’ll have to read it now.

    I encouraged my daughter to be an independent person from the start. It succeeded so well, I sometimes wonder if I overdid it. Grin..

  7. Allison Cole says:

    I am so thrilled with the idea of this book and I can’t wait to go out and find it! I read “Speak” when it first came out (I was about 14 and it was incredibly influential). I’m always so happy to find that books like this exist and have already been published– Laurie Halse Anderson is such a talent and it’s exciting to think of her continuing influence with such important books as these.

  8. How nice to have INDEPENDENT DAMES as the book on my birthday!

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