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Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains

3.6 3
by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Rebecca Guay (Illustrator)

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From Jezebel to Catherine the Great, from Cleopatra to Mae West, from Mata Hari to Bonnie Parker, strong women have been a problem for historians, storytellers, and readers. Strong females smack of the unfeminine. They have been called wicked, wanton, and willful. Sometimes that is a just designation, but just as often it is not. "Well-behaved women seldom make


From Jezebel to Catherine the Great, from Cleopatra to Mae West, from Mata Hari to Bonnie Parker, strong women have been a problem for historians, storytellers, and readers. Strong females smack of the unfeminine. They have been called wicked, wanton, and willful. Sometimes that is a just designation, but just as often it is not. "Well-behaved women seldom make history," is the frequently quoted statement by historian and feminist Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. But what makes these misbehaving women "bad"? Are we idolizing the wicked or salvaging the strong?

In BAD GIRLS, readers meet twenty-six of history’s most notorious women, each with a rotten reputation. But authors Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple remind us that there are two sides to every story. Was Delilah a harlot or hero? Was Catherine the Great a great ruler, or just plain ruthless? At the end of each chapter, Yolen and Stemple appear as themselves in comic panels as they debate each girl’s badness—Heidi as the prosecution, Jane for context.

This unique and sassy examination of famed, female historical figures will engage readers with its unusual presentation of the subject matter. Heidi and Jane’s strong arguments for the innocence and guilt of each bad girl promotes the practice of critical thinking as well as the idea that history is subjective. Rebecca Guay’s detailed illustrations provide a rich, stylized portrait of each woman, while the inclusion of comic panels will resonate with fans of graphic novels.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mother-daughter collaborators Yolen and Stemple, who previously partnered with Guay on The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories, revisit the lives and legendary misdeeds of 26 notorious women in this often witty chronological romp. Jezebel, Salome, Calamity Jane, Mata Hari, and many more get their own brief chapters, complete with punny subtitles (“Delilah: A Mere Snip of a Girl”). The team’s tight, droll storytelling maintains a light tone: “Always conscious of her image, Bonnie asked one kidnapped police officer to tell everyone she did not smoke cigars.... She may have been an outlaw, but she was not a smoker!” Comics sections from Guay end each chapter, showing Yolen and Stemple debating, via Socratic repartee, the guiltiness of each femme fatale, an entertaining if slightly egregious bit of authorial intrusion. If the authors’ banter hasn’t prompted readers to question the badness of these bad girls, the conclusion directly solicits the consideration: “Would we still consider these women bad? Or would we consider them victims of bad circumstances?” An extensive bibliography and index wrap up this narrative of nefarious—or not?—women. Ages 10–13. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Miranda McClain
Catherine the Great, Lizzie Borden, Mata Hari, and Typhoid Mary join together with other notorious women in this collection of biographies not for the faint of heart. Mother-daughter authorial team Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple have created a fascinating array of stories about the ladies who may be deliberately left out of many history books due to their less-than-pristine track records. From mass murderer Countess Bathory to lady pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read, Yolen and Stemple question whether these bad girls were as bad as some say, or simply misunderstood. In between each chapter, a comic strip illustrates the authors as they delve into their historical research and debate the innocence (or lack thereof) of each featured woman. These strips add an anecdotal humor that lightens the dark tone of this interesting history book. At the end, a commentary questions how wicked these anti-heroines might seem if they had lived in today's society rather than their own and asks readers to question the possible motives of history's bad girls. An in-depth bibliography points interested readers in the right direction for further study of each historical figure. Reviewer: Miranda McClain
Kirkus Reviews
Brief, breezy profiles of women who committed crimes, from Delilah to Catherine the Great to gangster moll Virginia Hill, with comic-strip commentary from the authors. With a conversational style, the mother-daughter team of Yolen and Stemple recap the crimes and misdeeds of 26 women and a few girls in this jaunty collective biography. After each two-to-four–page biographical sketch and accompanying illustration of the woman, a one-page comic strip shows the authors arguing about the woman's guilt. The comic-strip Stemple typically comes down on the side of "guilty" or, in the case of Cleopatra marrying her brother, "icky." Yolen tends toward moral relativism, suggesting the women acted according to the norms of their times or that they were driven to crime by circumstances such as poverty or lack of women's rights. Thus, strip-teasing Salome, who may have been only 10, was manipulated by her mother into asking for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Outlaw Belle Starr was "a good Southern girl raised during difficult times." While the comic strips grow repetitive, the narrative portraits, arranged chronologically, offer intriguing facts--and in some cases, speculation--about an array of colorful figures, many of whom won't be known to readers. Entertaining and eye-opening. (bibliography, index) (Collective biography. 12-15)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Who's bad? That's the question that Yolen and Stemple debate as they take an entertaining tour through the lives of some of history's most notorious women. Arranged chronologically from Delilah to mob courier Virginia Hill, this deck of 26 dicey dames includes royalty (Bloody Mary, Catherine of Russia), women of the Wild West (Belle Starr, Calamity Jane), and out-and-out criminals (Moll Cutpurse, Bonnie Parker). Guay gives a lush, period-appropriate poster-style portrait at the beginning of each two- to eight-page chapter, which contains a rough outline of each lady's supposed crimes along with the "aggravating or mitigating" circumstances that may influence readers' opinions of her guilt. The authors make the point that evolving attitudes and standards can make reassessment an interesting and fruitful exercise, even if, as in most of the cases here, no definitive conclusions are reached. Yolen and Stemple speak directly to readers and appear bickering delightfully as they model good discussion behavior (and shoes!) in a page of comics at the end of each chapter. Their enthusiasm for their subjects is contagious, abetted by playful language that makes Bad Girls a snap-crackling read. Alliteration, rhyme, short sentences, and a conversational tone combine with sometimes-challenging vocabulary to make this book quick but by no means dumbed-down. A hearty bibliography will give a girl a leg up on the further reading that she is sure to want to do. Feminist, intelligent, and open-ended, this book respects its readers as much as it does its subjects.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
800L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 13 Years

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Meet the Author

Jane Yolen is the award-winning author of nearly three hundred children's books, including SEA QUEENS; LAST LAUGHS; SNOW, SNOW: WINTER POEMS (Boyds Mills), and THE ROGUES (Philomel). She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of the Americas. Jane lives in Western Massachusetts and Scotland. Heidi E. Y. Stemple is the author of more than a dozen children’s books, several co-authored with her mother, Jane Yolen. Recent titles include PRETTY PRINCESS PIG and NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK. Heidi lives in western Massachusetts.

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Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book I've ever read, and its illustrations are beautiful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is hilarious! I totally agree.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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