Board Book Review: Little Trailblazer

The 41st board book in our collection ultimately underwhelms.

This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.
Little Simon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction board book, 24 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Reader: 4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

A board book about ten empowering women’s lives.

This Little Trailblazer cover resized
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.

This has been one of the most difficult board books for me to review.  For many I have a fairly strong opinion, or at least one of our children does, so there is a bit of a guideline.  If this was one of our first board books, I might have liked it better.  But this is our 41st board book, and the general reaction of our family has been indifference.

Most of this book focuses on ten different women from history: Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Coco Chanel, Rosa Parks, Maria Tallchief, Wilma Rudolph, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruby Bridges, Maya Lin, and Malala Yousafzai.  A two page spread in the beginning shows all of them gathered together.

The final two pages have brief single-sentence bios of twelve more women plus an empty spot for “YOU!”  The women featured here are Joan of Arc, Elizabeth Cady Standon, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Blackwell, Juliette Gordon Low, Nellie Bly, Bessie Coleman, Frida Kahlo, Lucille Ball, Ella Fitzgerald, Indira Gandhi, and Hilary Clinton.

The main pages have a standard set up.  On the left hand side is the historical figure’s portrait above a name ribbon and four short rhyming lines about their life.  On the right side is an action scene of the figure doing something and a prose sentence or two about their life.

This Little Trailblazer 13-14 resized
Pages 13 and 14 of This Little Trailblazer are meant to depict Wilma Rudolph.

The art is generally acceptable.  I couldn’t figure out why the eyes were portrayed so differently for various people.  Also, I have never seen Wilma Rudolph portrayed with bright red lipstick before and it felt uncomfortably close to stereotypical images.  I also wondered if the illustrator confused her with Florence Joyner, who is known for her style as well as her speed and has worn bright lipstick colors.

The text has some problems.  First let’s address the language.  For example, on the Rosa Parks pages, it says

“Rosa Park’s bravery helped change an unfair rule that African Americans could not sit by Caucasians on the  bus.” (page 10)

Let’s unpack that a bit.  On the surface, this might seem okay.  Kids are learning about Rosa Parks, and it says that segregation is unfair.  Only Holub doesn’t use the words discrimination or segregation, but kids are supposed to know Caucasian?  (Which in itself is problematically used as a substitution for white, but I won’t get into that here.)  If we turn the page, Maria Tallchief is mentioned as a Native American, but her nation, Osage, is not given.

Ruby Bridges is a figure I often have problems with in these types of books because she’s always shown as a child while others are shown as adults.  But the text on her pages is also potentially problematic since she “helped change things so kids of all colors now learn together.”  While kids using board books don’t necessarily have to learn about the history of redlining and school segregation yet, they can see that schools in many areas are still de facto segregated.

This Little Trailblazer 17-18 resized
Pages 17 and 18 of This Little Trailblazer depict a young Ruby Bridges, although all other women are shown as adults.

In short, it’s pretty clear that this book is written specifically for white children, whether it was intended that way or not.  Beyond the specific language used, the attempts to fit each figure’s life into a specific rhyme scheme, and then using the captions to try to make up for it, lead to awkward text that doesn’t adequately convey the main point to young readers.

If we didn’t own a lot of better board books, we’d probably still use this one.  But in comparison with, say, Vashti Harrison’s Dream Big, Little One, this book will always get left behind on the shelf.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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