About the Holiday
Calling all gals, pals, and woman-identifying people! This month is dedicated to YOU and all the women throughout history who have worked to make things fair. Women throughout history have often been treated as less than men, especially women of color. This concept is called gender inequality, and a whole lot of wonderful ladies across the world have been working to change it. In 1987 the National Women’s History Project petitioned to have the US Congress officially designate March as Women’s History Month. From that point on, organizations and communities have celebrated and recognized the month-long holiday by uplifting the stories of role-model women throughout US history. To celebrate Women’s History Month, read about some of the achievements of women in various fields of study, learn about (and from) stories of activism, and spend some quality time with the women and girls who matter most in your life. To learn more about Women’s History Month, visit: https://womenshistorymonth.gov/
Thank to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Send a Girl! for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
Reviewed by Dorothy Levine
Send a Girl! The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY
Written by Jessica M. Rinker | Illustrated by Meg Hunt
As a girl growing up in the 1950’s, Brenda Berkman dealt with a lot of adults telling her what she could and couldn’t do. Brenda loved to play sports and spend time outside. But many of her favorite activities were ones that people considered “boy’s games.” When Brenda tried to join a baseball team, the coach said he wouldn’t send a girl to play a boy’s game. But, did Brenda let this stop her? Nope! Brenda was determined to keep doing the things she liked to do, so she made her own all-girls football team with friends instead.
As Brenda grew older, people’s views on what boys and girls could do began to expand. Brenda had moved to New York and studied to become a lawyer but realized that she yearned for a career that was more active. In 1977 the New York City Fire Department announced that they would finally allow women to take the exam to become firefighters. This was exciting news! Brenda didn’t think that this would ever be a possibility for her because “In the past, every firefighter in the city had to be a man. In fact, they’d only ever been called firemen!”
Brenda knew she wanted to do something that would involve helping people, using her mind to strategize, being active, and getting outdoors. Becoming a firefighter seemed like the perfect fit. Becoming a firefighter proved to be a tough journey for Brenda. Even though the fire department now allowed women to apply, many people did not support this decision. “They said, ‘Don’t send a girl to do a man’s job!’ They didn’t think women were courageous enough, smart enough, or strong enough.” Brenda knew she was going to have to work really hard to prove these people wrong. She passed the written test and began to train for the fitness test.
When Brenda took her physical exam, she found that the men in charge were not looking for the strengths firefighters need to do their jobs. None of the women who took the test passed, and Brenda knew this was no coincidence. It wasn’t that the women weren’t strong enough, but rather the people in charge of the firefighters’ test didn’t want women to pass. Brenda realized that she could use her background in law to fight against this injustice. After four long years of working to prove her case in court, Brenda won, and the test was restructured to better match the skills that people need to have as firefighters.
In 1982 Brenda Berkman and forty others became the first female firefighters to join the New York City Fire Department. In Brenda’s new job, “She hauled hoses! Climbed ladders! Broke through walls! Fighting fires was exciting and gritty, loud and dirty, and sometimes dark and dangerous.” But her fight against people’s bias and discrimination was far from over. Many people still didn’t think that women were tough enough for the job, even after they had proved they were. “They said, ‘I want to be saved by fireMEN!’”
And, some of the men already on the New York City Fire Department agreed. They were mean and made the job as difficult as possible for Brenda and the other women firefighters. Sometimes they would pull pranks on the women in their departments that were incredibly cruel and dangerous. “Firefighters need to depend on one another. Brenda wasn’t sure she could depend on all her fellow firefighters. Sometimes it was lonely. Often, she felt invisible.” To combat against this, Brenda formed a group called United Women Firefighters, where women could come and talk about these issues and support each other.
With this new group, strong friends, and time, things got slowly better for Brenda. People began to change their opinions on firefighting only being for men. Brenda continued to excel as a firefighter, and eventually became a captain of her department. She continued to fight fires—and discrimination—throughout her life, and she proved that firefighting is something you can “send a girl” for. Now there are people of all genders across the nation who fight fires every day and save lives.
An Author’s Note at the end details the importance of learning stories like Brenda’s and provides more information on the history of firefighting and Brenda’s accomplishments. A list of websites where readers can learn more about women firefighters and other influential women is also included.
In this inspiring story of overcoming norms and gender discrimination, Jessica Rinker eloquently recounts Brenda Berkman’s stirring biography. Readers of all ages will rejoice in the perseverance that Berkman exhibited throughout her career. Rinker’s repetition of Brenda’s firefighting tasks takes on an exciting, triumphant tone and echoes the thrill Brenda felt while fighting fires despite all of the hardship she faced. Rinker’s straightforward writing discusses difficult themes of women’s inequality, bullying, and discrimination in an easily digestible manner for young readers.
Illustrator Meg Hunt provides a diverse cast of characters to make the story come alive. Her multimedia images match the bustling, busy nature of New York City and provide an immersive view into city living. Readers are transported into the story to fight fires right alongside Brenda with intricate, realistic, and colorfully designed spreads. They watch the protagonist age throughout the story with determination and power. The first image of Brenda valiantly hauling a firehose to a window of billowing smoke in an NYC apartment is mirrored near the end. Readers follow Brenda in a full circle—working tirelessly to become a firefighter, shining at her job, and then extending her joy for firefighting to the next generation of young women on the final spread.
Book lovers of all types will be inspired by Brenda Berkman’s story and how she shaped the history of fighting fires, both literal and metaphorical. An honest, informative and empowering book. The sentiment and lessons in Send a Girl! are of utmost importance for young girls, and really all young readers to hear.
Ages 4 – 8
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601745
Discover more about Jessica M. Rinker and her books on her website.
To learn more about Meg Hunt, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Women’s History Month Activities
Women’s History Month Word Search
Find the names of fifteen inspirational women in this printable word search puzzle.
Mint-Tin Book Report
Create a mint-tin book report of Brenda Berkman’s story in Send a Girl! or of another book highlighting an important women’s biography. You can find more about this clever idea from Melissa at Teacher Thrive.
- printable template
- mint tin
- glue stick
- markers or pencils
Cut out the pages from the printable template and fold along the creases. Glue the “conflict” and “rising action” pieces together using the extra rectangle of paper. Write down the most important facts or highlights from each part of the story and decorate. Fold up the pages accordion style and stick into a mint tin. Use the blank parts to decorate the top and inside of the lid. Then you’ll have a portable, cute book report to carry around wherever you please!
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