Now today (as of this writing; by the time you read this, it's yesterday), would have been Dian Fossey's 79th birthday, had the world been a gentler place. A glorious look into her endeavors is to be found between the covers of Light Shining Through the Mist: A Photobiography of Dian Fossey, by Tom Mathews. And, as you know, the 16th of January, 2011 marks 455 years since Philip II parked himself upon the throne of Spain.
The 17th of January is, of course, the deathday of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and President Rutherford B. Hays. It's the birthday of Betty White, Rock Hudson, James Earl Jones, and Al Capone, but for our purposes better to focus upon the fact that this is the 305th anniversary of the birth of a man about whom one can read in Robert Lawson's Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse. David A. Adler's B. Franklin, Printer or his A Picture Book of Benjamin Franklin, illus. by John & Alexandra Wallner; or Who Was Ben Franklin, by Dennis Brindell Fradin.... Of course, there's What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin, by the estimable Jean Fritz. And let me tell you all here that it was an honor and one of my happiest experiences, book-wise, was learning more about, writing & envisioning, painting The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin as a boy, a teenager, young husband, father, scientist & inventor; revolutionary statesman, Francophile, air-bathing naked geezer, and dead Renaissance man.
I haven't had the privilege of writing & illustrating a proper book for a while, the world being rotten, the times being hard & fast-changing. But last month an editor offered me the chance (rain in a dry land) to do a picture book biography about a truly brave, bullheaded doctor, suffragist, reformer, and stemwinder. Dr. Mary Walker was one of the first females, certified as an M.D. She was the only woman ever to have been cited for the Medal of Honor for her service as a civilian field surgeon in the American Civil War, during which she was captured & shipped off to a Confederate prison. When those of you who came into the world as girl-babies go out and about in your jeans rather than having to wear a long skirt every single day of your life, give thanks to such dress reformers as Amelia Bloomer and Dr. Mary. Long after women of her day got sick of the ridicule and insults and went back to their long gowns, Mary stuck to her trousers, "from the highest, the purest, and the noblest principle." In fact, she added a manly coat and a silk topper. In fact, off I'll soon be going to the fabric store to buy the goods for a Bloomer costume (not being dorky enough in my usual garb) for the school visits coming down the pike.
I've written about Mary before, when I was a lot younger and thinner, in my bookRabble Rousers (actually, barely, still in print!). A joy it has been to tell a little more, learn a little more, about this passionate, cranky American, all these Americans all these years.