Friday, December 30, 2016

Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman's Land Army of America by Erin Hagar, illustrated by Jen Hill

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of America's entry into World War I. And, with most of the men now working in munitions factories, or enlisting and fighting, the country's farm crops were on the verge of being ruined without anyone to care for them.  And so it was the Women's Land Army to the rescue.

Using a typical woman as her protagonist, Erin Hager presents the story of the Women's Land Army or farmerettes as they were called. Helen Stevens is a young college student living in New York City when she sees a poster in a store window and decides to join the Women's Land Army much to the puzzlement of her family. But Helen wanted to do more than knit socks and roll bandages, so before long, she is off to the experimental Women's Agricultural Camp in Bedford, NY.

After Helen and her fellow farmerettes are issued some very oversized overalls to work in, they spend their days learning how to plow, how to whitewash a barn, how to fence in a chicken coop under the watchful eye of Ida Ogilvie, the camp director. But now matter how much the women learn about farming, no matter how hard they work, no farmers are willing to hire them.

Finally, Ida decides to take three women, including Helen, to a farmer who is in desperate need of help, but still unwilling to hire women to do what needs doing. Ida strikes a deal with him - one day of free labor to prove they are capable workers, and if he is satisfied, he will hire them for pay the next day. Totally satisfied with what the women do, the farmer, nevertheless, tries to get another free day, but the farmerettes stick to the bargain Ida made for them. Helen tells him "If you want us back tomorrow, it'll be two dollars a day for each of us." And the farmers response, OK, but bring two more girls.

I found this to be such an interesting picture book for older readers about a big part of women's work in WWI that isn't really all that well known. If you read the author's note at the back on the book, you will find that Ida Ogilvie was a professor who really was the director of the Women's Agricultural Camp in Bedford, NY, and that most, if not all, of the first volunteers were students from Barnard College in NYC, and Helen Stevens the protagonist was based on the experiences of the real Helen Stevens.

Hager tells the story of the farmerettes in clear language which is supported by Jen Hill's gouache illustrations. I thought the illustrations were also very much in keeping with the many recruiting posters for the Women's Land Army, like this one, similar to the one that drew Helen's attention:

Be sure to look at the front and back endpapers for more posters and photographs of the Barnard women at work.

Besides the Author's Note, back matter also includes a section to Learn More section and a Bibliography.

There is an interesting article from about the Farmerettes, which readers can find HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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