No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom, and Adventure, by Susan Hughes

This is a collection of short stories about women who stepped out of their prescribed roles to do great things. The tales are told simply and elegantly with a minimum of commentary. The black and white pictures emphasize these stories without distracting from them. The graphic novel opens with Hatshepsut, who acts as regent for her young nephew, the official Pharaoh of Egypt, around 1500 BE, and eventually transforms her public image until she convinces the people she’s a man. The next story is about Mu Lan, who disguises herself as a man to fight in the Khan’s army in her father’s place and eventually becomes a general. The book also describes the life of Alfhild, the ninth century princess who became a pirate with a crew of other disguised women; Esther Brandeau, a Jewish woman who disguises herself as a Catholic boy to escape to New France, where her secrets are ultimately discovered; and James Barry, who became a doctor and whose real name is still unknown – she wasn’t discovered until after she died. The final tales are about Ellen Craft, a slave who disguised herself as a white man to escape to the north with her husband, and Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who joined the Union Army during the American Civil War. These seven brave women risked everything to reach their goals. It is a great exploration of women’s history through the ages.

While I personally enjoy the historical information about these women, the adaptation is stilted at times and the illustrations are somewhat unimpressive. It is a good introduction, but girls who enjoy the histories will want to explore the topic further.

Why I recommend this graphic novel:
Although the adaptation is not ideal, it is unusual to find such a good non-fiction graphic novel. The true stories are inspiring. This would be an excellent way to teach history and the way women have struggled to overcome oppression. I would love to see this in a history classroom or even as part of a social studies or women’s studies class in middle school or high school. These women are strong and courageous and independent. They take charge of their own destinies. They are excellent role models and engaging historical characters, and this is a good introduction to them.

Hughes, Susan. No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom, and Adventure. Illus. by Willow Dawson. Kids Can Press, Ltd., 2008. Gr. 3-5.

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