Book Review: Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Extraordinary Women from Church History
Authors: McArthur Krishna & Bethany Brady Spalding,
Illustrator: Kathleen Peterson
In mid October I received a package in the mail that was clearly not the iPhone screen protectors I was expecting from Amazon. Instead I pulled out the third book in the Girls Who Choose God series and found myself tearing up at this readable work of art. My spirit is hungry for women’s voices and women’s power, and this book does not disappoint.
Authors McArthur Krishna and Bethany Spalding have created a lovely formula in these books that teaches and engages the reader while never feeling didactic. Each historic figure is introduced as they face a dilemma and have to decide to act on their faith or not. As the title tells us, they choose God and we are told of the outcome, which is often not simple or easy. Then the reader is asked a question that follows from the story. For example, after Emma Smith chose to accept the Lord’s call to teach the Saints and create a songbook, we are asked, “When have you chosen to be extraordinary?” I love the use of “when” in that sentence, because it assumes that we all are more than ordinary and capable of greatness.
Reading the book I was delighted to see a variety of ages, ethnicities, and occupations featured. We encounter grandmas and young girls; women of color; doctors, homemakers, missionaries, politicians. There is no “ideal” model of womanhood laid out, no worshiping of motherhood or marriage. Each girl presented has value because she is a child of Heavenly Parents. And each of us can change the world, one choice at a time.
Let me now turn to the gorgeous artwork of Kathleen Peterson. Her images are captivating. While we can easily recognize well known figures like Eliza R. Snow and Jane Manning James, Peterson’s distinctive style lends girls and women a saintly air. There is something almost Byzantine in the way Peterson uses tiny dots of yellow gold as tessarae to surround these figures. Our heroes appear to have either halos or laurel wreaths encircling their heads, indicating divinity or wisdom, and in the case of Zina Young, a dove hovers above her as she blesses an ill woman. Whatever motif Peterson employs, the effect is the same: these are holy women exercising their God given power to bless others. Each picture is vibrant and alive with possibility. Every page is frameable.
Do not be fooled by the word “Girls” in the title into thinking this book is solely for the under 12 crowd. I showed it to my 87 year-old mother who is insisting on buying it for her granddaughters, aged 14-28, as Christmas gifts (it’s available at Deseret Book and Amazon). In a time when more and more Mormon women and girls are asking questions about their roles in the Church, this book illuminates the past deeds of early saints and in the process shows us a possible future where women own their power. In simultaneously looking to the past as a model for the future, this book is a brilliant beacon of hope.