Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World- Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid (Katie Mazeika)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World- Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid by Katie Mazeika.

Growing up in Australia, Annette loved to sing and dance, but an illness in childhood weakened her legs to the point of requiring apparatus in order to walk. Hoping to help her regain her love of movement, her parents took her swimming, where she was not only able to strengthen her legs, but to develop a new passion for movement through water. Whether competing in races or performing “ornamental swimming,” a style of underwater ballet she would go on to develop over her entire life, Annette broke records, raised eyebrows, fought unfair laws, inspired fashion trends, and changed the world of swimming, especially for women, forever.

A fascinating story of a lesser-known feminist icon. Not only a groundbreaking disabled female athlete and artist, Annette Kellerman also reinvented swimming fashion for women, which was cumbersome and even dangerously restrictive at the time. Her story and the breadth of her achievements are truly interesting to learn, and Mazeika does a wonderful job in getting all the noteworthy elements of Kellerman’s life story to shine equally while leaving a final product balanced, well-paced, and occasionally exhilarating. The art is also well done, managing to convey aquatic grace and endurance, as well as Kellerman’s determination and talent. One greatly-appreciated page is one that includes swimmer in hijab while explaining that women should be able to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable while swimming; it’s a small but important note on inclusively and body autonomy. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I both enjoyed it – overall, a wonderful look at a disabled, female pioneer and the impact of her life’s work. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughn, Computer Scientist (Andi Diehn)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughn, Computer Scientist, written by Andi Diehn and illustrated by Katie Mazeika, a lovely portrait of the mathematician and computer expert.

Dorothy grew up in a time when it was unusual for any woman to go to college, much less an African-American woman; yet this never stopped Dorothy, who believed in the power of her intellect and the value of hard work. After graduating, she taught math in segregated school, but worried that her meager salary would not be able to provide for her children to attend college one day as she did. So when NASA (then Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory) advertised a need for human computers – people, mostly women, who solved complex mathematical equations for the mostly male engineers – Dorothy applied, and was hired. Through her dedication and work, Dorothy rose to a supervisory role and fought to end the segregation of the computer workforce at Langley. When the first mechanical computer was installed at NASA, Dorothy saw the future of her and her subordinates’ career, and taught herself, then others, how to read and write computer code, keeping their knowledge base up to date with the tech and becoming a computer expert in the process.

Inspiring. Vaughn, who was one of the women profiled in the Hidden Figures book and movie, was known for her phenomenal intellect, but also her forward thinking and dedication to her employees, and this book does a nice job of introducing those elements of her story. It’s not as in depth as some of the other recent materials about the NASA computers are, but it does focus specifically on Vaughn and her achievements, which sets it apart. The illustrations are colorful, if a little flat in the energy and expressions of the characters. There are some great materials in the backmatter, however, including a few inspiring quotes from Dorothy and her contemporaries of the time. The length is fine for even little bookworms, and JJ enjoyed it. So while this one has a few weak areas, there’s still a lot to love – primarily, the story of a brilliant and brave black female pioneer in STEM – and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)