Review: No Girls Allowed

No Girls Allowed

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No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure (2008, Kids Can Press) is a collection of stories of women from history who impersonated men for whatever reason. It’s created by two women — writer Susan Hughes and illustrator Willow Dawson and aimed at intermediate readers.

Given all of the above, aren’t you as baffled as I am that I have not picked this up before?

I love the diversity of the stories here — Hatshepsut and Mu Lan were already familiar to me, but I loved Alfhild, a Viking princess who became a pirate. Even more fun was James Berry, a woman whose real name isn’t known (she could be one of two people) who originally dressed as a man to become a doctor in the early 19th century and then stuck with her male identity for the rest of her life.

The thread that runs through all of these stories is that these women felt limited in their roles as women — they couldn’t rule or fight for their country, they couldn’t travel freely. Further complicating some of their stories was the matter of race or religion — Esther Brandeau at some points tells people she’s Catholic, although she’s Jewish. Ellen Craft impersonates a white man so she and her husband can escape slavery. While it’s disappointing that these women didn’t have the freedom they desired, it’s fun seeing how they gamed the system.

Hughes’ writing is fast-paced and informative. She gives depth to history while still sharing the facts of these women’s lives. She never bogs down the stories and provides entertaining biographical sketches of each of these women. I definitely felt like I learned something and I’m pleased by the “Further Reading” page in the back because I’d definitely like to know more.

Dawson’s art is stylized and quirky and communicates these stories well. She makes good use of contrast and negative space and the thick black outlines give her characters each a distinctive look. While it’s aimed at younger readers, the art has a surprising sophistication and maturity. It’s definitely not a book that talks down to kids, either through the art or writing. It looks very cool.

Seek this one out. Buy it for your local library. Buy it for your niece or daughter. It’s a delightful testament to what comics can do, and is a pretty fun call-to-action of what women can become when they put their minds to it.

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