cover image Steamboat!: The Story of Captain Blanche Leathers

Steamboat!: The Story of Captain Blanche Leathers

Judith Heide Gilliland, Judy Heide Gilliland. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2585-0

Gilliland's (The House of Wisdom) story flows as swiftly and assuredly as the Mississippi River on which it is set, recounting Blanche Douglas's childhood dream--and its realization--to be the first woman steamboat captain. The author introduces Blanche as an eight-year-old in 1868 as she watches the approaching vessel from the riverbank and captures the girl's infatuation: ""STEAMBOAT! Big and tall, a floating birthday cake. It looks like a celebration."" Meade (Hush!) similarly creates the backdrop for Blanche's lifelong love affair with the coveted boat in a collage spread of the girl high in a treetop with the best vantage point for spotting the steamer. The cutouts of leaves and birds inventively conjure the illusion of distance and a heightened sense of drama--as if Blanche is a player on a stage set. Though Captain Blackstone, who pilots that first steamboat, scoffs at Blanche's announcement that she wants to be a captain like him someday (""Girls don't grow up to be steamboatmen""), 26 years later, he would be among the examiners to test Blanche and pronounce her a fully fledged ""steamboatman."" Together, Gilliland and Meade convincingly expose the mysteries of the Mississippi (as an underwater graveyard of sunken boats, in its invisibility during fog and storms, etc.), and two climactic collages in midnight blue and black tones detail Blanche's triumphant test run on a moonless night. A suspenseful and inspirational historical portrait. Ages 6-9. (Mar.)