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Book Review: Once Upon a Time in Birmingham - Women who dared to dream


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In our Me Too moment, with women stepping forward to control the narrative, the children's non-fiction marketplace is being slowly overtaken by feminist tomes like Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women who dared to dream.

The collection revolves around women from the Birmingham area, spotlighting their achievements and contributions to society. It includes 30 inspirational ladies who've made an impact, each featuring an illustration and biographical information about their lives. 

Images courtesy of The Emma Press

The list of women ranges from gold-medal winning Olympian Denise Lewis to the inspiring Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 after speaking up for girls around the globe. It's a wonderul mix of role models, moving from historical to contemporary from one page to the next, and a delightfully diverse one at that. 

Some particular favourites were Constance Naden, whose scientific and poetic legacy in Edgbaston has led to an award for English scholars at the University of Birmingham, and PC Andrea Reynolds, who helped to found the first Black Police Association. The examples of inspirational women range across disciplines, with the book featuring artists, activists and scientists alike, marking it apart from many of the other anthologies on the market, who tend to spotlight a particular aspect of female history (or HERstory).

Another aspect of the collection to be admired is its process of creation. The list of 30 women to include was chosen by a group of young women from a Birmingham based creative writing group, and all of the illustrators picked for the project are also based in Birmingham. And the art! If the Emma Press were to sell posters of the art featured in the book I'd be first in line, as it's a gorgeous range of prints, with varying artistic styles and influences.

Overall, I'd thoroughly recommend Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women who dared to dream as a present this Christmas, especially to the young people in your life. It's important for us to have people to look up to, whatever our aspirations, and I'm glad that this book exists, especially for the young people of the West Midlands.

Many of the women featured in the book faced adversity to get where they ended up, be it prejudice as a result of social class, race or just gender. This book, and the others like it, has the potential to inspire the next generation to follow their dreams, no matter how hard the journey is to get there. If they can do it, so can you.

Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women who dared to dream can be purchased from The Emma Press' website, and is stocked by Waterstones' Birmingham branch.

If you enjoyed this, check out more of our Christmas gift ideas here: books for politically minded friends, and for history nerds.

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