Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick
Charlotte Parkhurst was raised in an orphanage for boys, which suited her just fine. She didn't like playing with dolls, she could hold her own in a fight, and she loved to work in the stable. Charlotte had a special way with horses and wanted to spend her life training and riding them on a ranch of her own.
The problem was, as a girl in the mid-1800s, Charlotte was expected to live a much different life -- one without the freedoms she dreamed of. But Charlotte was smart and determined, and she figured out a way to live her life the way she wanted.
Charlotte became an expert horse rider, a legendary stagecoach driver, and the first woman ever to vote. And she did these things at a time when they were outlawed for women. How? With a plan so clever and so secret - almost no one figured it out.
My note: This is a well-written fictionalized story about real-life One-Eyed Charlie, though by keeping the feminine pronoun throughout, the author never lets you forget that Charlie is "really" "Charlotte." But were they? Isn't it possible that Charlie was the more "true" identity for this historical figure?
While clearly a story of gender non-conformity, the question of Was Charlie transgender? is challenging, as these identities are self-defined. We don't know how Charlie/Charlotte felt about living their life as a man - was it solely to have a better life than they could have had as a woman? Or was it also because they authentically felt they were a man? From my perspective, if someone presents as a man, it's polite to refer to them as such. Thus, every time the author kept referring to the main character as "Charlotte," I chaffed.
But clearly, no disrespect was meant by the author, and this book makes you really like the main character. I enjoyed it.
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