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Programs - 2002

Penny Colman: Showcasing the Invisible

by Kaye West-Anderson, Ph.D.
California State University, Long Beach

I am Kaye West-Anderson from California State University, Long Beach. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the IRA Literacy and Social Responsibility SIG and also serve as the Network Coordinator for the IRA Children’s Literature and Reading SIG.

It is my pleasure to say a few words today about our keynote speaker, Penny Colman. We are very indebted to Scholastic Press for sponsoring her visit with us. Penny Colman should be right at home today among those in IRA who are concerned about social responsibility and literacy, for the entire body of her work could fall under that rubric.

Her life is full and adventurous. She lived in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Kentucky before her family settled in Pennsylvania. Her mother was an artist and her dad was a psychiatrist in a state mental hospital, so she and her family lived on the grounds of that institution. Fairly early in her life she was exposed to the profession of journalism when a writer came to the hospital and then published a story in Redbook Magazine about her family called “The Strangest Place to Find a Happy Family.”

After two years of college, she hitchhiked through Europe. In the four years after she returned, she completed college, got married, went to grad school, and had three children, including a set of twins! Continuing her busy lifestyle, besides her roles as mother and minister’s wife, for many years she served as a “volunteer, on-and-off writer, consultant, project manager, and art gallery owner.” In particular she served as the executive director of an anti-poverty agency, a member of the New Jersey Task Force on Hunger and editor of its report to the New Jersey Legislature, the president of parent organizations, and a member of a school board.

Now she is a full-time writer and photographer who is also a member of the faculty at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.

I prepared for you a handout describing her books which are appropriate for children and young adults –– though the nonfiction titles are for people of all ages. Besides these, for young folks she has written articles and for adults she has written newspaper articles, newsletters, video scripts, a one-act play, numerous nonfiction books, articles, and essays. Her wide range of topics include parenting, spiritual discipline, teaching, and literacy, among many others.

The handout also includes the URL for her fascinating website which highlights her work and also provides information about her life, questions and answers, activities related to her books (you can tell she’s a teacher), and even complete texts for some of her articles, speeches, and essays.

In a ten year period, she wrote ten books about women’s history, a subject often invisible. She says that when she “discovered the truth about women’s indispensable contributions to American history,” she wanted women to know that what they do DOES matter; that “we are all makers of history... We become empowered when we learn the stories of real women overcoming odds and obstacles to do what they needed and wanted to do in life.”
Researching diaries, journals, and other primary sources to find the stories of real women told in their own voices, Penny Colman skillfully weaves their voices as well as fascinating and carefully selected real photographs into her books.

Her books illuminate the stories of many social pioneers who stepped beyond the footsteps of their mothers, who had a vision of ways they could make a difference in the historical times in which they lived, and who had the courage and determination to pursue their goals. She brings to life an awareness of specific individuals to whom we are indebted for improving the quality of the fabric of our lives today and demonstrates that is it women who were often the social pioneers, leading the way to make reforms in labor practices, the treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill, and in a wide variety of business practices which have impacted not only the business community but also the realms of law, politics, and the home.

Her books have won many awards, and I have the pleasure of telling you about one more which I’m sure Penny herself does not know yet! The book that she will speak on today, which posits some of her others in an historical timeline, GIRLS: A History of Growing Up Female in America has been selected as one of the Los Angeles’ 100 Best Books published in the year 2000, joining Rosie the Riveter on the 1995 list.

Now in its 6th year, the development of this annual list is a partnership between the Los Angeles’ Unified School District Library Services and the International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group. In January I had the pleasure of editing the article announcing the winners in preparation for publication in The Dragon Lode. The issue has just gone to press, and the list is being announced at this convention. It is included in your handout.

This book was selected out of 6,794 books and screened in a long and elaborate process where books are shared with children, analyzed for their reader appeal, their alignment with curriculum frameworks and the state and national academic standards for students, and for qualities of excellence. The 100 books represent a balanced library acquisition program, with books ranging for students prekindergarten through the 12th grade, including some fiction and every area of non-fiction in the Dewey Decimal library classification system. Girls is one of the 9 books selected for the 300s, the social sciences section. The books on this list represent the top 1.5% of books published in 2000!

Penny, we congratulate you for this honor, and we thank you for showcasing the invisible history of females in America! Your work and your life serve as outstanding role models for us all.

Visit Penny's Website
Note: Handout is a pdf file which requires Adobe Acrobat.

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Kaye West, Ph.D., Webmaster
Date Modified: September 11, 2003 - Feedback

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