For International Women’s Day, I’m happy to share a fairly recent picture book biography of one of my all-time heroes.
Title: Dangerous Jane
Written By: Suzanne Slade
Illustrated By: Alice Ratterree
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers/2017
Suitable for Ages: 6-10
Themes/Topics: biography; Nobel Peace Prize; Hull House; immigrants; settlement house
Jane was born beside a sparkling creek on an Illinois prairie in a friendly town called Cedarville.
Brief Synopsis: The biography of Jane Addams who founded Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, led the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women to restore peace during World War I, helped displaced persons and refugees after the war, and was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Links to Resources:
- Check out the Teacher’s Guide to find discussion questions, a timeline, vocabulary crossword puzzle, simile writing exercise, and more;
- Pair Dangerous Jane with primary sources from the era to discover more about Jane Addams;
- Check out the back matter, including a timeline, more about “Dangerous Jane”, and a select bibliography;
- Celebrate International Women’s Day in your classroom, library or home, with these resources.
Why I Like this Book:
In this cradle to almost-grave picture book biography, Slade constructs a compelling narrative to show how the losses Jane Addams suffered as a child and the poverty she saw then informed her life’s work. As Slade notes, “Jane promised herself- when she grew up, she would buy a big house to share with people in need.” Later, we learn that Addams founded Hull House in Chicago to help immigrants adapt to life in America. She then used the skills she’d honed helping “people from different countries live in peace at Hull House” to promote peace during World War I. Although her efforts were not immediately successful and although Addams was criticized for the work she undertook, ultimately “dangerous” Jane was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman to be so honored.
I think children, teachers, and parents will appreciate how Slade ties the seemingly disparate aspects of Addams’ work into a cohesive narrative and how she relates it back to Addams’ childhood. By doing so, I think she helps children realize that they, too, can make a difference. I also liked that Slade focuses not just on Addams’ well-known settlement house work, but that she extends the story to include Addams’ peace-building efforts.
Based on a William Morris color scheme and incorporating the faces evident in contemporary photographs, Ratterree’s detailed illustrations help evoke Addams’ world. Even young children will be able to follow along finding Addams, clad in green throughout the story, in each spread.
A Note about Craft:
The title of today’s perfect picture book intrigued me and caused me to pick it up. Reading the jacket flap, I learned immediately that Dangerous Jane is the biography of Jane Addams, whose work at Hull House I’d studied, and whose memoir about the same I’d read. I could think of many adjectives to describe Addams, but “dangerous” wasn’t among them. I was hooked! You’ll have to read the book to determine why this is such a perfect title – you may be as surprised as I was.
Dangerous Jane is a cradle to almost-grave biography. Writing Addams’ story in this way enables Slade, I think, to put the main events into perspective and encourages children to think that if the sickly, motherless Addams could found a movement and promote world peace, they can bring about positive change, too.
With such a long timeline, it could be difficult to follow the story. Slade provides repetition and repeats motifs which, I think, help tie the story together. Addams’ “aching heart” is one of those; asking questions, “What could she do?”, is another. Depicting Addams in a signature-green outfit, wearing her mother’s broach is a third, and I’m sure there are several I’m not highlighting here. What repetition or threads can you use to bring order to and help readers follow a decades-long story?
Visit Slade’s website to see more of the many non-fiction picture books she has written. Read a post by Slade at Picture Book Builders in which she shares why she wrote Dangerous Jane and interviews Ratterree.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!