Send a Girl – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Send a Girl, The True Story of How Women Joined FDNY

Author: Jessica M. Rinker

Illustrator: Meg Hunt

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, March 2021

Ages: 5-8

40 pages. 

Genre: biography

Themes: firefighters, women, girls, equality, sexism, discrimination, New York City, FNDY, Brenda Berkman, feminism

Opening:

Brenda Berkman was a New York City firefighter. Wherever her officer sent her, Brenda went.

Synopsis:

“Brenda Berkman worked where she was hated so other women could work where they belong.” Gloria Steinem

Prior to 1977, women were not even allowed to apply to take the entry exam to become a New York City Firefighter. When no women passed New York City’s newly revised firefighter test, Brenda Berkman was the only person to challenge the job-relatedness of that test and took the City and the FDNY to court. When she won her sex discrimination lawsuit in 1982, the City was forced to give a job-related test that Brenda and 40 other women passed to become FDNY firefighters. Berkman founded the United Women Firefighters while still in training school to give women firefighters a voice and to help train and prepare women to be firefighters. Brenda went on to serve in the FDNY for 25 years, reaching the position of Captain, and was a first responder during the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Send a Girl! is Brenda Berkman’s inspiring story.

Why I like this book:

I am super thrilled to see this biography published. TBH, about 18 months ago I said to an editor friend of mine that I thought our mutual friend, Brenda Berkman, would make a great subject for a picture book. My editor friend said I was too late and a biography was in the works! And I think Jessica and Meg have done a superb job in creating this inspiring picture book. In a succinct and child-friendly way, Jessica Rinker tells of the discrimination Brenda faced in her childhood and then as an adult as she pursued activities and jobs that had traditionally been for boys/men. Brenda’s determination and grit are seen from an early age, in whatever she chose to pursue. It was moving to read how even after she won her court case against FDNY for their sexist tests, she and her fellow female colleagues continued to face sexism in and outside the workplace, at times even endangering their lives. Brenda never shied away from standing up for equal rights and her actions paved the way for many women to follow. Her courage, wisdom, ambition and perseverance shine through these pages.

This picture book does not dilute the problems that women like Brenda face when they try to break into a male-dominated field. The author did a stellar job of showing Brenda breaking down the barriers that women faced in an easy-to-understand way. The illustrations are bold and colorful and add to the gumption and audacity Brenda showed. Brenda Berkman is a strong and compassionate woman who continues to be active in girls and women’s rights, and for many issues of equity and justice. She has always walked the talk, and this book will inspire many children (and adults).

I can’t be sure, but I think this scene represents Brenda’s 9/11 sheroism, alongside so many colleagues in NYC

Resources/Activities:
The back matter includes: more about Brenda Berkman, a bibliography, an author’s note, and websites for further reading. The book can lead to great discussions about discrimination and equality with older students. Younger students could paint pictures of them in whatever occupation they desire to be!

Educational copies of a film about Brenda and the women firefighters of New York can be found at PBS.

Also, I think it would be great to know that Brenda is also an artist, which she has had time to focus on more since here retirement. Check out her website: https://www.brendaberkmanartworks.com

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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8 Responses to Send a Girl – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. The wife of one of my friends is a firefighter. She told me that in addition to her heavy clothing and gear of around 75lbs, she had to lift and carry someone out of a window and down a ladder that weighed 200lbs. As amazing as that is, I’ll stick to writing for children. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  2. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Thanks for featuring this book, Joanna! It sounds great! I still find it amazing how desperate some men are to hold on to a “manly” professions, in line with the book, “The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football,” about sexism in sports. I also can’t help but find a parallel between this and an article I just read in Smithsonian about how many Greek monsters are women. Such a deep-rooted fear.

  3. What grit and determination! I am so glad that Brenda Berkman’s story will reach girls far and wide. Is there a author’s note that says what was on the FDNY exam that made it so hard to pass — even for some men? Am curious. We need a lot of stories like this in in classrooms/school libraries.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I have already returned the library book, and I can’t remember if those details are in the author’s note. The illustrations convey a lot though.

  4. Joanna, thank you for featuring this book! I just saw something about it today and now I am really excited about finding it.

  5. I am looking forward to reading this book. Because in rural areas, there are plenty of women volunteers on the fire squad and EMS crews. One friend joined volunteer fire squad after retiring – she helps handle hoses and direct traffic (these are important jobs!)

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