Away with Words: the Daring Story of Isabella Bird

This book is hot off our processing shelves, and it makes me so happy to feature it as the last new juvenile nonfic book celebrating Women’s History Month because I named one of my cats after the fearless traveler profiled within! Like my Birdy, a spirited girl who was found in a parking lot by herself as a kitten, with a leg that had been broken but had healed by itself (told you she was fierce), Isabella Bird was a force to be reckoned with, striking out on her own to see the world at a time when women were expected to remain at home. She was beset by physical ailments as a child and during times of inactivity in adulthood, and one has to wonder if depression didn’t manifest itself in her aches and pains because as soon as she was on the move again and being stimulated by her experiences, she felt so much better. Bird circled the globe throughout the last half of the 1800s – visiting places such as Australia, Japan, Egypt, India, Tibet, Turkey, Canada, and the Rocky Mountains (which, because I am a longtime fan of that beautiful region, is what drew my attention to her) – a marvelous accomplishment for a woman at the time. Her books about her adventures were bestsellers (many of which can be read for free online now!), also a noteworthy achievement for a woman then. She took great personal joy in the sights and sounds and tastes and smells she encountered in her journeys, but she also helped people she met along the way, serving as a nurse and founding orphanages and missionary hospitals in Asia. Lori Mortensen’s text is accessible but still so potent as to convey the excitement and wonder Bird must have felt in her travels. Bird really was a gifted author in her own right (I loved her book A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains and plan to read it again) and Mortensen effectively incorporates some of her delightful writing. Combined with illustrator Kristy Caldwell’s graphic novel-style artwork, this nonfiction selection rather resembles a captivating piece of adventure fiction. Put this book and a map of the globe in the hands of a young Isabella Bird in your life and encourage her to start creating her own itinerary!

My Birdy Abilene (named for Isabella Bird and the protagonist in Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest).

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