Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy

Motor GirlsNational Geographic, 2017

Beyond the occasional “Hey look at that cool old car!” I never thought much about the history of cars—that is until I received a review copy of Motor Girls. This gorgeous book about the rise of the automobile industry and its relation to women and women’s rights is filled with primary source material, fabulous period photographs and advertisements, and information that makes a long ago blossoming of technology relevant to today.

Motor Girls relates the way women took to driving from the very first, starting with socialites and actresses and moving on into the middle class. Cars allowed women to get out of the home more, and so women’s driving was controversial. Roads were rough and trips of any great length required skills at tire changing and repairs—skills many women proved themselves amply capable of. World War I allowed even more women to learn to drive as they supported the war effort, sometimes under dangerous conditions. In addition, public cross country drives became an important part of the women’s suffrage movement.

Interesting facts, anecdotes, and historical figures abound in this book. Sidebars include manners for motorists, fashion tips, race accounts, and many mini biographies.

An utterly delightful read, Motor Girls not only contains interesting historical content, but a message of women’s resistance that is very relevant today. Young readers may easily dip into sections or sidebars or read cover to cover. I’d recommend this for classroom, school, and home libraries, and for anyone who needs a feminist boost.

Want to Read Wednesday

I review a fair number of books, aiming for one middle grade or young adult book review a week. I also read reviews others write and keep my Goodreads Want to Read list well populated. I’m always interested in the books that are getting some buzz, even if I don’t have the time to read them just yet, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the books that make it onto my Want to Read list each week.

Here’s my list for this past week:


Five Elements: The Emerald Tablet by Dan Jolley

Magic is good. I’d love to read a new middle grade book that portrays elemental magic well. Plus, a great new series is reading for today and for the future, too.

The tip off came from: Ugh, I’ve lost track of this one…will update if I find it.



Grudging: Birth of Saints Book One by Michelle Hauck

This is an adult historical fantasy. Witches, chivalry, medieval world… might certainly appeal to young adult readers and it’s another series.

The tip off came from: A writing contest on Michelle’s page:


one-for-sorrow One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

A ghost story set during the influenza epidemic of 1918. My grandfather nearly died in boot camp of the Spanish influenza and his condition after left him ineligeable to serve in the military, so I’m curious. Plus ghosts!

The tip off came from:



Scythe by Neal Shusterman

The review got me on this one: reluctant reader eating it up, important and complex moral questions, compelling main characters. Young Adult. Plus, series!

The tip-off came from: The Winged Pen Blog


march-against-fearThe March Against Fear by Ann Bausum

Important from a historical perspective and relevant to today. Definitely looking forward to cracking this one open and deepening my understanding of the relationship between the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement. Young Adult.

The tip-off came from: Teen Librarian Toolbox

Which books caught your attention this week? Leave a comment below.

Want to connect on Goodreads? Sarah Monsma on Goodreads


Stay Where You Are and then Leave by John Boyne

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

Henry Holt, 2013.

Just before his party on Alfie’s fifth birthday, war is declared. As suddenly as that, Alfie’s comfortable life in London is turned upside down. Alfie’s dad joins up the following day. Dad sends letters from his training camp and also from the trenches. In the years that follow, Alfie learns to check the casualty lists in the paper every day and never sees his dad’s number there. Even so, Alfie’s relief is halfhearted because Dad’s letters have stopped coming and Alfie’s mum has become evasive about Dad’s whereabouts. Alfie vows he won’t stop until he finds some answers. But life in war is very different than normal life, and the answers Alfie does find simply lead to more questions.

Stay Where You Are and then Leave is the story of one family’s struggle through World War I. Like many of the soldiers in the Great War, Alfie’s father returns home from years of horror in the trenches suffering from shellshock, a condition that doctors were still struggling to understand and treat and a condition that most of the public did not even know existed. Today post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is a more well-known, though still often misunderstood, condition.

I loved this book for its clear representation of a time not so distant in years but remote in world view. Boyne did a masterful job of conveying the era’s vastly different roles of children and parents as well as the relations of citizens with the government in times of war. This book presents harsh facts about life during this time in history alongside views of strong community and loving family. Reading it is a wonderful way to immerse oneself in another time.

My reading of Stay Where You Are and then Leave was greatly enhanced by having read Kathryn Atwood’s Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics. School and classroom libraries would benefit from adding both these books to their collections.

Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn J. Atwood

WomenHeroesWWI_cover Chicago Review Press, 2014.

They came seeking adventure, resisting their country’s occupation, because they were do-gooders or impassioned supporters of their nations. Many had to talk their way into service for a government not their own in order to be a part of the war effort. No one thought the war would last more than a few months, and few thought that the work they did would demand the level of courage and sacrifice that were ultimately required of them. In Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics Kathryn Atwood brings these long-forgotten women and their feats of bravery alive again.

Atwood has produced a book that’s a wonderful introduction to the history of the Great War, including the events and attitudes leading up to it as well as the bridges from the Great War to World War II. She includes just enough general history interspersed with the biographies to help readers understand the causes and the challenges of the war and the worldview of the period. In each individual biography Atwood helps readers get to know the women themselves, their personalities, their motivations, their courage, and their resourcefulness in the face of extreme danger. Each account reads easily and engagingly with enough excitement and adventure to draw even somewhat reluctant readers along. The focus on social history rather than military history will appeal to readers who are turned off by the dates-and-battles approach to war history.

I’d recommend this book to young adult and adult readers with an interest in history and World War I. Librarians and teachers will want to add this text to their collection both as reading material for students interested in nonfiction and as material to support research projects. This accessible history will help students understand both the war and the culture of the times. Readers can read the whole book through or dip into one biography or another as it suits them. Sidebars within each chapter provide additional background information that is necessary to understand the history or circumstances of each hero. In addition, Atwood has provided sources at the end of each chapter to help students with further research.

I received a review copy of this book after the author and I corresponded briefly about events of World War II, a war I’m far more familiar with from my own research. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and learned a lot about a period and conflict I knew little about. I am happy I can recommend it highly. My teen-aged daughter often complains about the battles-and-dates method of teaching history found most in high schools today. I find it encouraging that a resource of this quality is available to help students more interested in social history learn about World War I. Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics is a must have for middle and high school social studies classrooms and libraries, for homeschooling families, and for history buffs.