By Janine Kitson

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World

by Laurence Anholt

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2016

Author and illustrator Laurence Anholt tells the story of acclaimed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) through the eyes of young Mariana who is sent to have her portrait painted. At first Mariana is nervous about meeting this famous artist because of the bizarre stories she hears about Frida’s house — a house filled with strange paintings, wild animals and even a skeleton above a bed. However, as Mariana sits for her portrait she learns about this amazing artist who survived from a horrific accident, which left her with a life time of pain. However, it also opened a world of art to her where she fulfilled her talent and creativity as an artist.

The Hired Girl

by Laura Amy Schlitz

Walker Books, 2015

This uplifting, thoughtful, and charming historical novel revolves around Joan who is 14 years old and keeps a diary. She tells the story of her escape from a cruel father to a life as a domestic servant with a wealthy, cultured and benevolent Jewish family living in Baltimore, Philadelphia, in the early 1900s. The story finishes in both a dramatic, delightful and affirming way. The book highlights the importance of an education for girls as well as highlighting religious tolerance. The book leaves one wanting to know more about what it was like for young working-class women employed as domestic servants in this time. Were they treated as well as Joan was? One suspects not.

Swimming Against the Tide: A Biography of Freda Brown

by Lisa Milner

Ginninderra Press, 2017

This insightful biography tells the story of Freda Brown who lived a life of political activism as one of Australia’s most talented Communist leaders in the post-World War 2 era.

Freda became a leader of the Union of Australian Women (UAW) that pioneered mid-century feminist political action. This was during the 1950s Cold War, when women were ignored and paid half the salary of men. Freda spent many years as president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), which was one of the largest and most influential women’s organisations of the post-1945 era. In that role, she was instrumental in lobbying the United Nations on women’s issues and successfully instigated the International Women’s Year in 1975. She also travelled to more than a hundred countries including Russia, Germany, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Africa, Lapland, Palestine, and Cuba where she worked with leaders such as Indira Gandhi, Hortensia Allende, Fidel Castro, Angela Davis, Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Born in Erskineville in 1919, Freda grew up in the poverty of the Depression, which she recognised as being a consequence of rampant capitalism. Aged 17, she joined the left-wing New Theatre where she worked as a secretary, producer and actor and which inspired her to join the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).

Although the book’s title is Swimming Against the Tide, I never got the sense that Freda was struggling against the tide despite the challenges of being a communist. It seemed more like Freda was carried along with the current, so deep was her commitment to socialism and social justice.

This biography is an excellent history of the progressive left movement and the international women’s and peace movement in the '50s to '70s.

Freda’s daughter is NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has been an outstanding supporter of public education and a strong defender of the full Gonski funding.