Review: Reaching for the Stars: Poems About Extraordinary Women and Girls

reaching for the stars.jpgThe Premise: Reaching for the Stars is a collection of poems by Liz Brownlee, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan, with each poem focusing on a different remarkable woman or girl. It is lovely.

Thoughts: obviously, with my stringent feminist ideals and commitment to buying ever book on the subject so i can one day force them on my daughter, I loved this book. The poems are aimed at younger readers (I’m going to teach them next year with 11 or 12 year olds, which I think is about right), so the language is accessible and there’s nothing particularly upsetting; even a poem about Malala is cleverly written in such a way to provoke discussion but not nightmares.

I loved the range of subjects covered here; like the recent Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli, Reaching for the Stars gives its reader impressive women from all walks of life, from Marie Curie and the suffragettes to the Black Mamba Squad (a team of women in South Africa tasked with protecting rhinos from poachers) and Tallulah Bryan, a 9 year old girl who was inspired to help homeless people in her home city of Leicester. It’s wonderful to see real-life heroics set alongside world-changing achievements; it’s a brilliant way to make the collection even more relatable to younger readers.

I am the very model of a modern girl from planet Earth,
photos documenting all the seconds I have lived, since birth
I’ve been inoculated for diseases that will paralyse
though burdened by my allergies I wheeze lots when I exercise
I’m tested till I’m dizzy in a manner most fanatical
so my maths is mathematical and writing is grammatical
with aid of a mnemonic I’ve recited all the elements
debated on philosophy to elevate my eloquence

I know that I can be most anything I have ambition for
but I’ve not any notion yet just what I have a mission for
(from I Am the Very Model of a Modern Girl from Planet Earth)

The last few poems are particularly lovely, moving away from specific female role models and into more universal comment on the state of being a girl in the 21st century; the poem quoted above is a great example of the clever simplicity of the collection, and I find it all very inspirational, even as a boring old 34 year old. The last poem, poignantly for any feminist in 2017, is titled Pillory Hillary and it’s a subtly brutal indictment of the insults lobbed at women in power. It’s easy to read these poems and compliment the intention and style, but the power mustn’t be overlooked; Liz Brownlee, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan have done something really important here.

In Conclusion: obviously, I adored this book. I’ve already bought another copy for a friend and her daughter and fully anticipate investing in at least a dozen more as little (and grown up) girls’ birthdays come around. It’s brief but hard-hitting and completely brilliant. Please buy it. Now.