Women Heroes of WWI (Atwood) – Review

Women Heroes of WWI
When most people think of World War I, (if they even know what it is) the first things that come to mind are trenches and the famous picture of the Archduke and his wife moments before their (accidentally-on-purpose) assassination. Unfortunately, no ones thinks about a young French teen who gave food and information to British soldiers, a young nurse helping gas victims, or female soldiers. As a major (WWII) history buff, I believe history should be taught with people, not boring dates and facts in history books. After all, the entire war wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the men and women during that time, and studying people’s stories bring life to history, and allow it to be presented in the interesting way it is.
I became a huge fan of Kathryn Atwood when I read her first book, Women Heroes of World War II, and was also impressed with the WWII memoir she edited, Code Name Pauline. Although WWII remains my primary area of interest, I decided to give WWI a try and was quite happy I did. I can now officially say I know 16 amazing women from the time period!

Part of the “Women of Action” series written for teens and young adults, Women Heroes of World War I is a collection of 16 short biographies about women from World War I.  The biographies are divided into four parts; Resisters and Spies, Medical Personnel, Soldiers, and Journalists. The women featured are: Edith Cavell, Louise Thuliez, Emilienne Moreau, Gabrielle Petit, Marthe Cnockaert, Louise de Bettignies, Elsie Inglis, Olive King, Helene Gleichen, Shirley Millard, Maria Bochkareva, Flora Sandes, Marina Yurlova, Ecaterina Teodoroiu, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Madeleine Zabriskie Doty.
Very few books are both interesting and factual. But, Atwood, a great storyteller and historian, manages to do just this by drawing stories from key sources. Each woman is well-researched, and instead of just boring facts about the person’s life, includes stories about the person, which makes each story more personable, instead of just another great random person in a history textbook. There is nothing graphic, making this most ideal for teens but appropriate for mostly anyone. A lot of background information is included for each part, making the book a lot more understandable and easily read, without complicated jargon. The writing is simple, making it more interesting.
Pictures are included for every single woman, so we can easily associate a face (and living person) with the name and story. One of the main things I enjoyed about Women Heroes of World War II, was additional resources after each story, the series’ biggest perk. This allows me to look more into the women I found most interesting. (My favorite stories were the resisters and spies, of course! I’ll definitely have to check out some of the additional resources listed)
Although WWI isn’t nearly as interesting in WWII, that doesn’t mean WWI’s brave heroines should go overlooked. I can’t say I enjoyed this one as well as I did Atwood’s earlier works, but that’s simply because Irena Sendler and Diet Eman (and a lot of the other women who I love) will always be my heroes. 🙂 But, for a subject I’m not really interested in, I really did enjoy it and would highly recommend it for anyone looking for well-researched but interesting alternatives to boring textbooks!
I also had the amazing chance to interview author Kathryn Atwood! She’s super nice, and is such an interesting person!
1. What inspired your first project, Women Heroes of WWII?
My interest in the general topic dates back to 7th grade when we were each assigned to write a report on someone we admired. I chose to interview my WWII vet dad and I received an A on the project, an unusual grade for me at the time! I had developed into a chronic underachiever — my November birthday made me young for my grade —  but I’d put some serious effort into that report. So I was surprised and disappointed when I received a tepid grade for the quarter. My teacher, Mrs. Margaret Jager, responded to my complaint with a clipped comment about me not generally working up to my potential. Oddly enough, I took this as a compliment; she was the first person who ever implied that I had academic potential! I wish I could say that this conversation initiated an immediate turn-around but that wouldn’t be quite true. It stayed with me, though, and by the time I finished high school I was pulling straights A’s.
Regarding this incident, I actually wrote WHofWWII with my own younger, underachieving self in mind. I always loved to read, even when I wasn’t doing well in school, and so when it came time for me to write my first book I thought that perhaps young adult readers might become interested in WWII if I could somehow interest them in the stories of the war’s heroines. So I crafted each chapter with that idea in mind, pulling the reader in and keeping them there.
My interest in WWII grew during high school. I used to watch a documentary program with my dad called “World at War” and read some WWII memoirs and Herman Wouk’s WWII novels. “The Hiding Place” came to theaters during that time as well and most people in my tight-knit Dutch-American enclave went to see it. We all took tremendous pride in our ethnic connection to Corrie ten Boom!
2. When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
I can date my love of writing from 8th grade when another teacher had us keep a journal.  I was never sure which direction to take with it, though, and I didn’t allow myself the time to develop as a writer until the early 2000’s when I began to rack up a variety of published clips: multiple poems, one short story, a few film/TV reviews, and dozens of book reviews. A serendipitous encounter with Chicago Review Press editor Lisa Reardon set me on my current course.
3. Why did you decide to write non-fiction, as opposed to fiction?
I’ve often gravitated towards non-fiction, including biographies, even when I was in grade school. Although fiction, when done well, can transport the reader into another world, non-fiction can illuminate the world we live in, whether past or present.
4. What is one random thing about you that none of your readers know?
I’m a musician who gives performances based on the historical setting of popular American song (www.HistorySingers.com). I actually met Lisa Reardon at a local music studio where I taught for many years.
5. What is your favorite part about being an author?
Two things that I love about being in this position are 1) meeting people with a connection to the women I write about, and 2) meeting people — especially young people, my intended audience — who have been inspired by these women because they met them for the first time in my books.
6. Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
I’m inspired by the remaining WWII veterans I’ve met during the past few years while performing WWII songs for them via a program called Pillars of Honor (www.pillarsofhonor.org). The vets are uniformly modest but they really are the Greatest Generation in so many ways.
The women I write about are also enormously inspiring. Many of us wonder what choices we would make in similarly impossible circumstances; these women all passed the test with flying colors.
7. There were a lot of amazing women during both wars. How did you choose who you wanted to feature?
It was fairly easy to choose heroines from WWII since that war produced so many and because so much written has been written on the topic. For that book I only had to locate enough biographical material on the people whose stories I thought contained enough of a narrative arc to hold the interest of young adult readers.
Choosing women for inclusion in WHofWWI was a bit more complex. Aside from events such as the German occupation of Belgium/NE France and the Armenian Genocide, there wasn’t the same clear sense of evil as in WWII. So for WHofWWI I chose women who were admired in their day and whose admirable qualities, in my opinion, have stood the test of time. I also tried to include women from different nations and/or who worked in various fronts to illustrate the war’s enormous scope.
8. What are your top three favorite books?
That’s a tough question but the following are some of my favs:
Non-fiction: The Guns of August, I Have Lived a Thousand Years, Out of Africa
Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling
9. What would you recommend to other aspiring authors?
When you’ve decided what genre interests you the most, read extensively in the best of that genre, post reviews of what you read on a site such as Good Reads, and then consider writing for other book reviewing sites such as CurledUpWithAGoodBook.com. Book reviewing generally doesn’t pay but it’s a constructive way to gain published clips, make some connections, and see what’s currently being published in your area of interest.
10. How can people buy your books or learn more about you?
My books are available in most major online outlets — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. — but please support your local indie bookstore if you’re lucky enough to have one!
Each of my books: Women Heroes of WWI, Women Heroes of WWII, and Code Name Pauline (the memoirs of SOE agent Pearl Witherington, edited by me) all have their own Facebook pages where I post reviews and related articles. My website, KathrynAtwood.com, contains info on all my books and provides a variety connection avenues: Good Reads, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and my email. I hope to see you there soon!

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.

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  • I love the Middle Ages. My kids are really into early American History — thanks to Liberty Kids. 🙂

  • History is great to learn about, and it’s easy to think, “I would have loved to have been there when….” but as a mother, I’m glad I live in this era. Prior to antibiotics, it was expected that some of your children would not live to adulthood. There are still many ways to lose a child, of course, but I have to say, I’m pretty happy to have the medical care that is available to use now.

  • Oh, I don’t know. There are several, but I suppose colonial US History comes to mind first. I enjoy reading about women in most time periods, though.

  • I would have to say WWII is my favorite part of history. I helped take of my grandfather for the last 8-10 years of his life. He was on Saipan during WWII. He was a master of procurement and survived a kamikaze attack. It was an interesting time in the wold’s history.

  • I enjoy the 20th century is perhaps my favorite historical period. Within that period I enjoy learning and studying the various wars. However, I do love all of American history….

  • I am quite addicted to the War of 1812 time period right now but soon heading into the Underground Railroad study so that will probably be my favourite then. I think this book will make an awesome class so I look forward to reading it.

  • Growing up in Philadelphia and all the history there my favorite historical time period would have to be the revolutionary war era.

  • I’d have to say I’ve always loved the late 1800’s to Victorian period and then the 1940’s (WWW 2) and 1950’s. However, I love learning about history period. 🙂