Children’s book celebrates heroines from France

Joan of Arc illustrated by Amy Blackwell

Joan of Arc illustrated by Amy Blackwell - Credit: Archant

A delightful new book features wild female adventurers from around the world, including plenty from France

Jeanne Baret illustrated by Amy Blackwell

Jeanne Baret illustrated by Amy Blackwell - Credit: Archant

Some of history’s most adventurous female trailblazers from 231 BC to the present day are brought to life for young readers in an inspiring new anthology.

The Woman Who Rode a Shark combines vibrant portraits with hand-drawn maps, by illustrator Amy Blackwell, who captures each of the 50 female pioneers, activists, scientists and artists featured in the book. Written by Scottish-born travel writer Ailsa Ross, the extraordinary collection of stories features female adventurers of all ages from across the globe. So which female adventurers in France caught Ailsa’s eye?


The teenage warrior who fought for France

Ailsa writes: “When Joan of Arc turned 13, she began hearing voices. Those voices told her that God had chosen her to save France from the English army. God had chosen her to help crown France’s rightful king, Charles VII. Joan was a poor farm girl from northern France. Who would believe this was her destiny? Joan did. She rode a horse to the royal court to find out who was with her.

Speaking from the heart, Joan talked to Prince Charles about her task. The French army had been fighting the English on French soil for nearly a century. It was tearing the country apart. “Why not give this girl a chance?” thought the prince. He told Joan her first battle would be to win back the city of Orléans.

Josephine Baker illustrated by Amy Blackwell

Josephine Baker illustrated by Amy Blackwell - Credit: Archant

Most Read


The first woman to sail around the world

Europe two centuries ago was a time before electricity. You could not travel long distances without great effort, and a pleasant life could only be afforded by the wealthy. It was a time when many countries and cultures were still unknown to Europeans, and a voyage around the world took years and was filled with peril.

It was into this world that Jeanne Baret was born. The daughter of poor farm workers in France, she grew up to be a herb woman like her mother. Her job involved collecting wild plants that could be sold as medicine in pharmacies. Through her work, she met the famous botanist Philibert Commerson.

In 1766, Philibert was asked to join the first French expedition around the world. His task was to find natural resources – medicines, spices, food – that might give the French an edge over other European countries competing for the biggest empire.

Philibert knew of the perfect plant expert to bring on board as his assistant: Jeanne. There was one problem. It was illegal for women to join naval expeditions. So, at the age of 26, Jeanne disguised herself as Jean.

The Woman Who Rode a Shark by Ailsa Ross

The Woman Who Rode a Shark by Ailsa Ross - Credit: Archant


The cabaret siren who became an activist and spy

Josephine Baker grew up in Missouri, USA. Her family was so poor they slept six to a bed. They couldn’t afford Josephine’s schooling – it ended when she was eight years old. By the time Josephine was a teenager though, raw talent was exploding from her every limb. She was working as a street-corner dancer in St Louis. She was recruited to dance in New York City. By the age of 19, she was in France performing cabaret on the Paris stage.

Soon Josephine was famous across Europe. She became so rich she owned a gold piano and Marie Antoinette’s bed. She even had a pet cheetah named Chiquita. It caused havoc whenever it jumped into the orchestra pit at her performances.

After 14 years of dancing through the glittering Jazz Age of Paris, the fun stopped. On 1 September 1939 World War II was declared. The capital filled with refugees fleeing German soldiers. To Josephine, gold pianos no longer seemed important. She could have left France, but she didn’t. Every night after finishing her shows, she went to a nearby homeless shelter. She made beds, bathed old people and comforted new arrivals.

Other female adventurers from around the world who feature in the book include Whina Cooper, the Maori activist who marched more than 600 miles for land rights in 1975 and pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo over both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

The Woman Who Rode a Shark and 50 More Wild Female Adventurers, is published in hardback by AA Publishing, priced £14.99.


Like this? You might also like

Top student cities in France

Escape to the chateau:DIY visits couple who swapped their townhouse for a French château