When I was a kid, my mom filled my bookshelf with picture books on Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other inspirational figures because she knew that I would be treated differently at school. The reason she did this was that she wanted to make sure that no matter the barrier people would put in front of me, I would know that others had gotten over it and that I could too. I don’t have kids of my own but in a past career, I was an educator. For students, from children to teens, seeing examples of people succeeding in the real world gives them the ability to craft their futures. This is why a book like Noisemakers from Random House Graphic means so much.
Noisemakers tells the stories of 25 inspiring women. The lede, “Did anyone ever get anywhere by being quiet? To change anything, you have to make some noise!” is straightforward and immediately reminds me of the books my mother bought for me. From the creators of the award-winning Kazoo magazine, each of the women’s stories are told through the eyes of 25 extraordinary comic artists. Through these chapters, you’ll meet Eugenie Clark, who swam with sharks, Raye Montague, who revolutionized the design process for ships, Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful actress, and brilliant inventor, Julia Child, a chef who wasn’t afraid to make mistakes, Kate Warne, the first female detective who saved the life of President-elect Abraham Lincoln, and many more.
Each of the 25 stories focuses on a moment in the lives of the women, and retells it to the reader, with some ranging from the moment they decided to pursue their careers to moments where they fought through adversity. For a lot of these stories, we see these women through the eyes of children, either through their childhood or through little girls telling their stories. While there are stories of famous women that are house-hold names like Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Shelly, and Rosa Parks, there are also women like Maria Tallchief, the first Native prima ballerina and Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach Mt. Everest’s peak. The fact that this graphic novel looked to not just the women we know already, but reaches into history to find extraordinary women who may not know is its strength.
But because of this, it also makes the lack of Latinas, especially US-born Latinas, given our large number in the country disappointing. While we do see Frida Kahlo, figures like Delores Huerta or even Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor could have been added. In 18 states, 20% or more of kindergarteners are Latino and at nearly 60 million in the United States, consisting of over 18% of the country’s population as of the last census in 2010. We’re the largest minority population in the country. Beyond that, we built the South West and states like Texas and California are filled with our stories of women who made noise rather than stay silent. The lack of inclusion is frustrating, but yet not surprising.
That said, Frida Kahlo’s story in Noisemakers is my favorite and not just because I have loved her all of my life, but because it allowed me to see her in a different way. In the story, “Frida and Frida” by Naomi Franquiz, we see a Frida as a little girl. Sick from Polio, she looks out the window and asks for answers, and they come. We see Frida spirited away by another version of herself, showing her life, showing her pain, her joy, and her art. The power in Frida’s story doesn’t come from her talent, it comes from her unrelenting spirit to show that talent no matter the cost, and no matter the pain. The panels show Frida recovering from her bus accident and dealing with it for the rest of her life, we see her meet Diego Rivera and we see him leave, and we see some of her most famous pieces as well. And it all ends with her perseverance. This piece is both beautifully illustrated and written and it will hold a special place in my heart.
Noisemakers is divided into sections, with Frida in the section called Create. The others are Grow, Tinker, Play, Rally, and Explore. Through these sections, there is a beautiful diversity of experience, feminity, and the future. A little girl reading this can look to them all, or pick her favorites, and they can each help facilitate, science or art or adventure. Additionally, at the beginning of each story, there is a section that says the name of the woman “and me.” For example, “Frida and Me.” In this piece, you see a bulleted list of qualities that the reader may share with the woman in the story.
This may not seem important but it creates an experiential window for the young reader that is crucial to development. While a child may not immediately identify with climbing Mt. Everest, they may identify with loving the outdoors. By bringing down the bar of identifying with the woman they’re reading about Noisemakers makes their future aspirational and not only inspirational.
Overall, Noisemakers is a great graphic novel with beautiful and important stories. While I wish they had taken time to include Latinas, specifically US-born Latinas in its pages, the overall message of the book is clear, it’s not only okay to make noise, but it’s necessary.
Noisemakers available wherever books are sold.
Noisemakers is a great graphic novel with beautiful and important stories. While I wish they had taken time to include Latinas, specifically US-born Latinas in its pages, the overall message of the book is clear, it’s not only okay to make noise, but it’s necessary.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.