cover image Keep Climbing, Girls

Keep Climbing, Girls

Beah E. Richards, , illus. by R. Gregory Christie. . S&S, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-4169-0264-5

With good humor and love, this poem by the late African-American actress Richards suggests a strategy for girls who believe that boys "have the upper hand." The author asserts that "the only way to make a bid/ for a girl's equality/ is to climb right up to the toppermost bough/ of the very tallest tree." Christie's (Only Passing Through ) boldly brushed gouache spreads show the nimble girl in pigtails and a yellow dress, seated high up in a nest of branches, while a concerned Miss Nettie yells from below. First, the woman warns the young heroine of physical harm, then threatens the loss of beauty. "You're... going to have a tomboy's scars." Christie zooms in on the girl at her perch, depicting her reactions to Miss Nettie's cries. Triumphant, calculating, sure of herself, she's a portrait of self-confidence. Miss Nettie's threats bring more scandalized-looking women to her porch, but the girl keeps climbing ("a little girl victorious/ can't hide her childish glee,/ to see Miss Nettie so put out/ that she, a girl, could climb a tree"). Scolded by Miss Nettie that night, the girl bows her head, but the next morning, her thoughtful sideways look at another tree proves she's not cowed: "The moral is: Keep climbing, girls,/ and let no one prevent you!" Sometimes girls have to buck strangers in the battle to succeed; just as often, this tale hints, they have to rebel against those who love them most. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)