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December 30, 2012
The Mining Journal

When no one believed in them, these seven people triumphed against great odds, influencing generations to come. They possessed grit, vim, and vigor. Ignoring the naysayers each found a way to follow their passions and fulfill their dreams from designing architectural wonders, to achieving swimming's greatest feat. From building the world's first helicopter, writing the first modern picture book, and prompting England's largest social reform, their achievements are many and great. Check out these great biographies in the Peter White Public Library Juvenile Collection.

A champion of England's less fortunate, including orphans and the poor, Charles Dickens arguably set societal reforms in motion through the twenty novels he penned in the mid to late 19th century. In Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, author Andrea Warren shows Dickens' disdain for how society viewed and refused to help poor and orphaned children. Along with his writings, Dickens helped raise money for the working poor and helped close schools that offered little education and treated children cruelly. He pointed out the gaping distance between the rich and poor and encouraged Englanders to consider it an injustice.

The Snowbaby by Katherine Kirkpatrick depicts the adventurous birth and life of Marie Ahnighito Peary, daughter of famed arctic explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary. From her birth in 1893 in the far north of Greenland, to the many trips she made to the Arctic, she was loved by the Arctic's native Inuit, who affectionately called her "Snowbaby." As her father voyaged further and further north, trying to become the first man to reach the North Pole, Marie experienced a culture untouched the by the outside, appreciating the food, clothes, toys and language of her new Inuit friends. In a childhood unlike any other, she saw seals, whales, and many other arctic animals. As an adult she felt forever connected to the people and places she journeyed as a little girl, the snowy north.

After breaking 20 U.S and world records in swimming in the 1920s, 19-year-old Getrude Ederle was ready to take on swimming's biggest challenge, the 20 miles across the English Channel. America's Champion Swimmer by David Adler tells her story. After a failed attempt in 1925, Ederle swam the channel a second time, determined to be the first woman to do it. Her "can-do" attitude inspired women around the world to pursue their dreams, regardless of critics' rebukes.

Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis tells the tale of renowned California architect Julia Morgan. When the prestigious school of architecture, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, refused to give her the entrance exam, the young Morgan, fresh from the school of engineering at the University of California, moved to Paris anyway. She spent the months leading up to her acceptance at Ecole studying the buildings in Paris and surrounding France. It inspired many of her designs in San Francisco, including William Randolph Hearst's mansion, La Casa Grande.

It's a mode of transportation younger than some of your great-grandparents, yet it's hard to imagine a world without helicopters. Helicopter Man: Igor Sikorsky and His Amazing Invention by Edwin Wyckoff shows how a young toymaker with an inventive spirit came to invent a three-engine plane, a plane that could land on water, and finally the helicopter. Wyckoff outlines Sikorsky's many attempts and failures to build a flying, hovering machine. Along the way he made many key discoveries that helped with the helicopter, general aviation and in multiple instances the war effort in both World Wars I and II.

Full of wonder, but afraid to speak, To Go Singing Through the World: the Childhood of Pablo Neruda by Deborah Ray tells the story of Chile's great poet, Pablo Neruda. Raised in a time when Chile was the Wild West of South America, Neruda was intrigued by the native Indians the Mapuche, displaced by Spanish conquistadors and now other Chileans hungry to bring new civilization to the tip of the continent. Neruda kept his thoughts to himself; the fear of his stuttering getting the better of him. Only when a poet turned teacher discovered his gift with words did Neruda start on a path of explaining the world with eloquence and beauty.

Faced with helping to raise her six siblings and support her mother after her father's death, quitting school and giving up her drawing dreams might have been the story of Wanda Gag. But in Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Ray, "drawing fits" poured out of Gag in her adolescence, on cards sold in shops, then to magazines in Minnesota. Soon the first generation German-American began to win competitions with her drawings, which included stories she made up for her young siblings. After art school in Minneapolis, Gag won a scholarship to study at the famous Art Students League in New York City. In 1928 Wanda wrote and illustrated her first book. Titled "Millions of Cats," it is now considered to be the first modern picture book.

- Jenifer Kilpela

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