My favorite reading challenge this year is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit her blog to discover more wonderful nonfiction titles for kids.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero tells the inspiring and unlikely story of the tireless Mary Walker, who graduated from medical school in 1855 and earned a Medal of Honor for her service in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Walker was not deterred when the Army repeatedly turned down her offer to join and provide medical care to wounded soldiers. She persisted, working first as an unpaid volunteer at a military hospital in Washington DC, and then traveling to field hospitals. In 1863, she was finally appointed assistant surgeon and could practice her profession officially. Though she was a staunch and vocal abolitionist and supporter of the Union, she traveled back and forth from the Union to the Confederate sides, tending to the sick and wounded. (The author speculates that she was probably also a spy.) She even spent several months as a prisoner of war.
As the title and cover image make clear, Walker was also a nonconformist in matters of dress. She received quite a bit of attention for her preference for men’s suits and trousers, which made it much easier for her to get around and do her job.
This is an admirably focused and cogent narrative. The detailed end note makes it clear that Walker led a varied and interesting life, and there were many other incidents and episodes that might have made it into this book. Cheryl Harness keeps her attention on Walker’s war years and uses that story to reflect on the many ways that Walker rebelled–through her desire for education and medical training, her commitment to dress reform, her views on slavery.
Carlo Molinari’s illustrations did not work quite as well for me. On the one hand, their old-fashioned look conveys a sense of the time period: they strongly reminded me of illustrations from nineteenth-century women’s magazines. But Walker was a rebel and a nonconformist, and I’m not sure such a conventional style of illustration best suited her story.