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BOOK REVIEW: Gloria’s Voice: The Story of Gloria Steinem—Feminist, Activist, Leader by Aura Lewis

| 20 May 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Gloria’s Voice: The Story of Gloria Steinem—Feminist, Activist, Leader by Aura Lewis

Sterling Publishing Co Inc
March 2018
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Picture Books / Early Learning

6/10

It is encouraging to see the recent increase in the number of non-fiction picture books dedicated to inspiring women and men from history. While Gloria’s Voice: The Story of Gloria Steinem—Feminist, Activist, Leader fits into this category and is well-intentioned, this unofficial biography is ultimately overly simplistic in summing up its legendary subject and Steinem’s life story. While it could be argued that author and illustrator, Aura Lewis, has produced an accessible book for readers aged four and up, the prose and pictures infantilise this inspiring leader of the feminist movement and feminism in general. It leaves a lot of room for questions and essential discussion with young readers and not necessarily in a good way.

This is Gloria. She has big dreams.
She dreams of being famous…
…and of being a hero who helps people all over the world.

Her mama had a dream once, too.
She dreamt of leaving their small town and doing something big. She dreamt of being a journalist in New York City.

But as a wife and mother Gloria’s mama has to stay home and take care of their family. That’s what women are expected to do. That’s just the way things are.

Gloria thinks this is very unfair.

Lewis is an author and illustrator who is also from Steinem’s adopted home of New York. Her watercolour illustrations are this book’s big drawcard. They are bright and vibrant and use peach and pink hues. Lewis has also put a lot of thought into the artworks, and readers will find notes describing the story behind each picture at the end. It is in these last pages that we learn Steinem’s favourite hobby is tap-dancing and that she’s a Wonder Woman fan. Lewis also depicts several notable people from Steinem’s life queuing up to purchase copies of Ms. Magazine, including close friends and her late husband.

Gloria grows up.
She feels ready to leave her small town and do something big! She dreams of going to New York City.

But first, she wants to travel like her father. So Gloria journeys across the ocean to India.

The story focuses on Steinem’s formative years, from the time she was a child learning that her mother had dreams of becoming a journalist and moving to New York, to Gloria’s own travels to India. Readers learn that Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine along with her friend, Dorothy (her co-founder’s surname, Pitman is not offered in the prose, which is disappointing). Lewis also uses an analogy that is likely to go over the heads of younger readers who have grown up knowing computers:

She becomes a journalist. She hopes to report on people and their struggles.
Yet, at the magazines she works for, Gloria is asked to write about hair, beauty products, and…stockings!

These are fun but not the kinds of issues that Gloria is passionate about. Gloria feels like a typewriter without a ribbon.

We learn that Steinem faced various obstacles head-on and that she had other big dreams. This is framed in such a way as to encourage readers to pursue their own aspirations and not give up. This is a nice message but what this book doesn’t cover is the many awards and accolades that Steinem received and worked hard for. Her life after co-founding Ms. magazine is summed up very swiftly by a few brief paragraphs in the notes at the end. There are also some references to other materials about Steinem but none of her actual books are mentioned. This is all a shame because Steinem is much more than Ms. magazine’s co-founder, she’s also a highly sought after lecturer, political activist, feminist organiser and writer, and that is not necessarily apparent here.

Gloria wants to spread the word even more about feminism and equality.
But how? She wonders.
Then Gloria has a big idea…
With the help of Dorothy and other friends, Gloria starts a new kind of magazine. It’s all about women and only women are in charge.
They call it Ms. magazine. Ms. magazine gives women a voice.

Gloria’s Voice is a basic primer for young readers and will introduce a new generation to Steinem and part of her incredible life. Lewis is also in the process of writing and illustrating another book that will sum up a hundred years of the feminist movement. Such volumes are important because they summarise and support significant chapters from history, but one also needs to ensure they find the right balance between making it appropriate for young readers and not overly simplifying someone who was at turns truly revolutionary and extraordinary.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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