Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About The Women and Girls of The American Revolution
By Laurie Halse Anderson; illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; $16.99
40 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0689858086
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
The story of the American Revolution may seem like it’s pretty ingrained in our collective memory; but veteran children’s and young adult book writer Laurie Halse Anderson’s Independent Dames takes readers on a rip-roaring trip through American history as lived by our founding mothers.
Independent Dames retells the story of the American Revolution framed by the achievements of the women of the day. Anderson recounts stories of women who followed their husbands to the battlefields, washing and mending clothes, providing medical assistance as best they could, cooking for the troops, and even picking up the rifles of their fallen husbands, brothers, and friends in the fight against the British. Some women were spies, others took over important roles from the men who left for the battlefield, like printers and blacksmiths. Others melted down any kind of pewter they could get their hands on to make bullets, while other collected money and provided other resources. When British soldiers marched their way into colonial homes and demanded room and board, mothers and daughters uncovered secrets and passed them on to the rebel Americans.
What makes Anderson’s book even more interesting is the sheer number of real life stories she includes. In one instance, Nancy Hart fed the British soldiers and provided them with enough whiskey to get them drunk — then she swiped one of their rifles and held them at gunpoint while her daughter ran for help. In another, young Susan Boudinot (age 9) takes the tea she was served at the New Jersey governor’s mansion and tosses it out the window. "Mom" Rinker would knit while sitting at the top of a cliff, letting the notes she collected from American spies roll out of the balls of yarn she was working with and over the cliff to the American soldiers below.
Anderson’s writing is never dry or dull; her work is lively and informative, making it all sound exciting and yes, dangerous. A timeline included at the bottom of every page provides factual information about the war, along with vivid details about the realities of war. In addition, there is a detailed appendix where even more women who were active in the American revolution are profiled, along with legends like Molly Pitcher. Anderson also briefly profiles several loyalists, African Americans, and Native Americans, plus offers readers an extensive bibliography for further research. Matt Faulkner’s line drawing and watercolor artwork has an old-fashioned feel to it with a modern sensibility. Captions are smart and funny, matching Anderson’s work perfectly.
Independent Dames is one of those great books that is informative and genuinely entertaining at the same time. Whether you are looking for something for March’s Women’s History Month or something different in a picture book, Independent Dames is thick with everyday heroes, moms, sisters, grandmas, and friends, and highly recommended.