The world is at times a frightening and disenchanting place. Right now, particularly, we need books that inspire and celebrate humanity, that show us the power of perseverance and fortitude, that encourage us to stand up for what we believe in and fulfil our dreams. More importantly, we need books that tell us you’re never too young or too old to make a difference. Rad Girls Can – a collaboration between author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl – focuses on the former, showcasing fifty stories of bold, brave and brilliant young women who achieved incredible things before the age of twenty.
Following the success of their previous story collections, Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z, the authors acknowledged readers’ requests for a book specifically about girls. Dedicated to “all the rad kids”, the result is a compilation of diverse stories that traverse the worlds of art, entertainment, sport, theatre, activism, politics, business, fashion, astronomy, literature and beyond. They span decades and centuries, going as far back as China’s Tang dynasty in 598 CE, as well as applauding present day trailblazers.
Some of the stories will be familiar to older readers: that of Anne Frank and Malala Yusafzai, years apart in eras, yet both wise beyond their young years. No matter how many times you hear Frank’s story, each recounting brings a fresh wave of devastation at the horrors of the holocaust, and yet Schatz focuses in on the diarist’s achievements, letting her perceptiveness and courage linger on in our thoughts when her segment ends. It’s the same with Malala and the myriad lesser known activists who come under the ‘Make Change’ category; fierce and determined eco warriors, human rights campaigners and gender equality champions.
Amongst the inspirational sporting heroes and entertainment icons featured are the likes of Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, and Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who became a Olympic swimmer. Their stories are fascinating, made all the more poignant because they triumphed against the odds at such a young age. Book lovers will enjoy the stories of teenager Marley Dias, an advocate for diversity in children’s literature, and Mary Shelley, the author who gave us the dark and gruesome Frankenstein, whilst music fans will delight in the tales of blues and folk master Elizabeth Cotten and pop singer-songwriter-producer Lorde.
History plays a huge part in Rad Girls Can – after all, history is what inspires girls to be bold, brave and brilliant to this day. From Maria Mitchell, the first female astronomer in America, to Ruby Bridges, the first African American student to be integrated into an all-white school, these stories resonate whether you’re ten, twenty or fifty. And for every rad girl, there’s ten more just waiting to be discovered, as the additional list of inspirational girls at the end of the book can attest to.
None of these stories would be the same without Miriam Klein Stahl’s vibrant paper-cut illustrations, which bring the young women to life in bold, black and white, graphic novel form. It makes Rad Girls Can not just a joy to read or an insightful testament to girl power, but also a book that can take pride of place on any shelf.