Review: No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan
No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Shiella Witanto
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott
How does a 22-year-old Jewish woman come to write articles for the Japanese post-war constitution in 1946 that guarantee rights for women? No Steps Behind tells the amazing story of Beate Sirota Gordon. Born in Austria, reared in Japan, and educated in the United States, Beate ended up as the only “the only woman in [the] room.” Her gift for languages and her love of her adopted country, along with perseverance, persuasiveness, and stubbornness gave her the opportunity to change the lives of women in Japan. And why is it you’ve never heard this story before? Perhaps because the US government deemed Beate’s role “a security secret”. It was not until the 1990s that Beate was able to discuss her role.
The history contained this beautiful picture book is complex and vast. Jeff Gottesfeld touches on antisemitism, fascism in Europe, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and prisoner of war camps deftly enough to give context but not enough to lose sight of the larger issue: sexism. Shiella Witanto beautifully illustrates the “ugly proverbs” Gottesfeld uses to exemplify the subservient role of women in Japan. There is an extensive Author’s Note at the end, along with References and Bibliographic Notes which provide greater historical detail as well as a Timeline of events. In a world where immigrants are derided, No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan shows an immigrant’s love of and commitment to her adopted country.
No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan certainly meets the criteria for consideration for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. It offers an historically important and little known story of a young Jewish woman in Japan who, without understatement, changed the world, all while being beautifully written and illustrated for its intended audience, readers ages 7 – 12.
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