book reviews

A Lady Has the Floor


Starred review! ★

Lockwood is often overshadowed by her feminist sisters, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but as this informative and delightful biography proves, she was in the forefront of the fight for women’s rights. Young Belva was fearless as a girl, and by age 14 was a teacher. But she soon learned that, as a female, she would make less than men. She was discouraged as a college student, disparaged at law school, and had to appeal to President Ulysses S. Grant to be presented with her degree. Women lawyers were prohibited from arguing before the Supreme Court until Lockwood forced the issue. Though she couldn’t vote, she ran for president as the National Equal Rights party candidate, and while she didn’t live long enough to see women get the national vote, she kept fighting into her eighties. Hannigan’s style is pithy, but packed with facts. Belva comes alive as a feisty activist, with a strong sense of self and an innate willingness to fight injustice, both for herself and her clients, who included widows, freed slaves, and civil war vets. The text is peppered with quotes from Lockwood, and repeats the refrain, “Bold, determined, strong.” Jay’s signature crackled artwork has a historical look, but also a childlike appeal that will bring the audience close. An excellent example of picture-book biography." —Booklist


Starred review! ★

"Belva Lockwood was a teacher, a lawyer (first woman to enter the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court), a suffragist, and a presidential candidate. This remarkable woman stands out for many reasons, including her two presidential campaigns in 1884 and 1888. Belva's awareness of women's issues came early. She became a teacher at 14 but found out that she was only paid half of a man's salary. Later, her father did not want her to attend college (even though she was 24, already a widow and a mother), and the college she attended did not want her to study what were traditionally men's subjects: "math, science and politics." Law school proved to be an even bigger challenge. After she was finally allowed to attend, she was denied a diploma upon graduation and had to demand it from President Ulysses S. Grant (also the president of the law school). She is also known for winning a major Supreme Court case on behalf of the Cherokee nation. This is an engaging introduction to a woman unknown to many, young and old, giving some insight into her adventurous personality. In one illustration, the white woman rides a penny-farthing bicycle (in her floor-length skirt), just like the male lawyers in Washington, D.C. Her quotes are integrated into the illustrations, executed in oils with a crackle varnish, with a look reminiscent of 19th-century folk art. Soft blues and browns predominate in the naïve paintings, lending to their antique appearance. An excellent, well-researched model of its genre, which will inspire children to do whatever they desire in life, no matter what immediate restrictions exist. (author's note, timeline, bibliography, source notes) (Picture book/biography. 8-11)” —Kirkus Reviews


Starred review! ★

Hannigan presents an invigorating account of the life of Belva Lockwood, taking readers from her childhood in Niagara County, N.Y., to her career as one of the first women lawyers in the U.S. to her 1884 run for president (“Are women not worth the same as men? Belva spent her whole life asking that question.”). Working in her distinctively crackled folk style, Jay depicts powerful moments of resistance and courage from Lockwood’s life—whether storming into a classroom or protesting before the Supreme Court. Endnotes provide a timeline of Lockwood’s life and beyond, highlighting significant events in the ongoing fight for women’s rights and concluding with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. Ages 9–12. —Publishers Weekly


The Detective's Assistant


Starred review! ★

"After 11-year-old Nell Warne's family drops dead, one after another, she turns in desperation to her Aunt Kate. But Kate Warne isn't in the market for a long-lost niece—she believes Nell's father murdered her beloved husband, and besides, as the first female detective at Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, she's too busy working undercover to care for a child. Determined Nell has other ideas and soon, Kate has no choice but to let her do the odd detecting chore to pay for her keep. And she's awfully good at the job. Hannigan keeps a strong narrative hand on the several stories she has going on simultaneously: the mysteries surrounding the deaths of Nell's father and uncle; Nell's correspondence with her best friend, who traveled the Underground Railroad to safety in Canada; and several Pinkerton adventures that involve chicanery, American history, and lots of excitement. An author's note explains that Kate Warne was a real person who did many of the things described in the book, making this a great title for promoting women's history. But even if Kate were purely fictional, Nell—strong-willed yet scared, tough but needy—makes a solid heroine. The terrific cover will drawn em in." – Booklist, May 1, 2015


Starred review! ★ 

Thrust unceremoniously upon her only surviving relative in mid nineteenth-century Chicago, thirteen-year old Cornelia tries hard to prove her worthiness to Aunt Kitty, who carries a grudge against the girl because Cornelia’s father shot her husband, his own brother. Still, despite the tension between them, Kitty—based on the real-life Kate Warne, the first female detective—finds the girl’s quick thinking and keen observational skills helpful in solving crimes, and soon Kitty and Cornelia, now known as Nell, form an uneasy duo. Their tentative bond solidifies when Nell proves that her father’s shooting of his brother was an accident that occurred when the men were aiding in the efforts of the Underground Railroad, a revelation aided by Nell’s correspondence with her friend, Jemma, whose family escaped to Canada thanks to Nell’s father. Nell and Jemma reveal information through codes and clues that ring true to their age and give readers something to puzzle over, while Nell and Kitty’s detective work offers excitement and intrigue without an intense sense of fear or danger—a remarkable balance that keeps this novel accessible and captivating. Sprinkled with period details (often cleverly revealed through Nell’s voracious appetite for daily newspapers), this novel provides a rich but approachable historic context for the smart, admirable Nell and the steely Aunt Kitty, both well drawn here under Hannigan’s sure hand. Her extensive author’s note offers readers information about Kate Warne and the actual cases on which the book’s adventures are based, including the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. With skilled writing that conveys the excitement of detective work, the appeal of history, and Nell’s authentic, good-humored personal growth, this is one for the ages. – The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July/August 2015



Five star review! ★

"Parents need to know that The Detective's Assistant is a funny, history-packed novel from Kate Hannigan based on the true story of the first female detective in history, Kate Warne, and her imagined relationship with a long-lost niece, 11-year-old orphan Nell. Together they solve crimes as undercover female detectives as the country approaches Civil War. Though a sense of loss and death, alleged murder and thievery permeate the novel, it's a stunning, fast-paced yarn that champions smarts, problem-solving, women, and the importance of family. Great role models for girls."

See the full review at Common Sense Media. 


"Hannigan (Cupcake Cousins) makes skillful use of period details, bringing the novel’s threads together in a nail-biting conclusion. Nell is a fearless, no-nonsense heroine, and her dry-witted narration drives this rollicking historical escapade."

For the full review, go to Publisher's Weekly.




"Hannigan’s quick pace and Nell’s spunky voice successfully suspend readers’ disbelief, and the author manages to pack an amazing amount of historical tidbits in along the way."

"A rousing fictional account of the remarkable career of a pioneering woman."

Read the full review in Kirkus Reviews.



"Nell is an irrepressible character: spirited, thoughtful, and intuitive.  . . . Although there are plenty of madcap adventures, grief and the longing for a home are at the forefront of the story." 

"Recommend to readers who enjoy adventure, history, and stories featuring independent, strong-minded girls." — School Library Journal



"The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan is funny and touching while also shedding light on such historical happenings as the Underground Railroad, boarding house life, the tensions leading up to the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln’s election and first inauguration. Nell is a wholly delightful character who can be both perceptive and clueless as to what’s going on around her. She likes to read newspapers, has to work hard at learning correct grammar, and thinks the fashions of the day are silly even if she does want to wear them. She’ll clomp her way to your heart while wearing her daddy’s boots and have you cheering for her every step of the way."

Read the full review at Mother Daughter Book Club.



Cupcake Cousins


". . . debut novelist Hannigan has assembled all the ingredients for an entertaining and gentle-natured family tale." 

"The ending is almost as sweet as the recipes that end several chapters."

Read the full review in Publisher's Weekly.



"Hannigan deftly portrays the angst Willow struggles with as she approaches the early-preteen years. With keen insight, she also explores Delia’s worries about her father’s job loss and concerns about her parents’ marriage."

"Hannigan’s lively tale celebrates family and friendship."

Read the full review in Kirkus Reviews.



Willow and Delia are nine-year-old cousins and fast friends who love spending their family vacations together in Michigan, and hate their flower girl dresses for Aunt Rosie’s wedding. They want to prove that they can contribute more to the event by baking the cake than by parading down the aisle in bubblegum pink dresses, but their early attempts to help the cook range from unpalatable to disastrous. Meanwhile, Delia’s biracial family is dealing with tensions following her father’s layoff from his job. In the end, the cousins triumph as flower girls, pastry chefs, and problem solvers. While the book’s conclusion is more rosy than realistic, the characters are engaging, and young readers caught up in the story may find it entirely satisfying. Pencil drawings appear at intervals, and, for would-be cooks, recipes (blueberry smoothies, bacon-wrapped dates, frosted cupcakes) appear after certain chapters. This sweet chapter book is Hannigan’s first novel. — Carolyn Phelan


From the Chicago Tribune

Cupcake Cousins author embraces young readers with lighthearted novel — and tasty recipes. – Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2014 


The Good Fun! Book


From the Chicago Sun-Times

"How to throw a party that gives back"

In The Good Fun! Book (Blue Marlin), Hyde Park mother Kate Hannigan Issa and former neighbor Karen Duncan give parents detailed instructions for hosting 12 pre-tween parties that make service fun. The parties offer a range of themes, from helping animals to feeding the hungry, and each includes two service ideas, a party food recipe the guests can make and eat together, and a craft activity kids can take home. All parties have been tested on the authors’ families and friends."

Read the full article at the Sun-Times.


From Huffington Post's Ellen Galinsky

"The other day in the mail I received a wonderful gift. It was from Darell Hammond, the visionary CEO of KaBOOM!, the group that has helped bring playgrounds to children around the country. In keeping with Hammond's passionate commitment to 'saving play' because it's declining in America, he want to share this book with friends and colleagues.

"This book is called The Good Fun Book by Karen Duncan, the wife of the Secretary of Education, and Kate Hannigan Issa. It is a gift in the real sense of the word because it can help us turn the gimmes into giving; it serves as an antidote for extravagant children's parties; and at the same time it really provides lots of 'good fun' for kids and adults."

Read the full article at Huffington Post.



From School Library Journal

Gr 3-6-For each month of the year, Duncan and Issa suggest a party with a service theme. For example, they suggest making Valentines for children at a local hospital in February, cleaning up a park for Earth Day in April, or making jack-o-lanterns for a nursing home in October. The ideas are realistic, age appropriate, and thoughtful. The authors have done a good job mixing fun with function. Some of the activities are geared for a large group, like a school class, while others would work with a Cub Scout troop or a birthday party. Almost all the projects require an adult leader to contact and coordinate with a community organization like a nursing home or food bank. Each plan contains two ideas, a treat recipe, a craft, and information about a national charity related to the theme. The book is illustrated with child-friendly color cartoons featuring youngsters doing good deeds. The Kid's Guide to Service Projects (Free Spirit Publishing, 1995) has more service ideas, but they are not organized in a party-plan format. This is a great resource for any school or public library.
– Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT (c) Copyright 2010.