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The Children's Bookshelf: Annette Feels Free - September 4, 2022

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Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid is a beautiful account of the life of this courageous, creative, and clever woman. Author-illustrator Katie Mazeika drenches the pictures in soft aquarium blue with splashes of yellow.

Born in Australia in 1886 Annette loved to dance until she contracted a disease at age six that caused her legs to simply give out. She needed braces to walk. Her father took her to a pool to swim----in the water she was able to move her legs without braces! As she grew older, she started entering and winning swim races in both Australia and England. Next up for her was an attempt to swim the English Channel---sipping hot chocolate as she went.

When she started to compete in America, she found that women had to wear full skirts and pantaloons whereas the men could swim with their legs free. In Boston Annette cut off her pantaloons and designed a new swimsuit in which she could swim freely. Although she was arrested for not wearing enough clothes the judge said women should have the same rights as men as to what to wear. The “Annette Kellerman” swimsuit became ever so popular.

Annette moved naturally into the areas of underwater ballet and artistic swimming which became an official Summer Olympics event in 1984. She was popular and played in fourteen Hollywood movies.

Author Katie Mazeika who has herself overcome a physical disability provides touching details in the Author’s Note and back materials. Annette Feels Free will be enjoyed by readers 5-8 years of age (Beach Lane Books/ Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2022).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Annette Feels Free

Annette designed what was called The Annette Kellerman Swimsuit. She and other women liked how comfortable and colorful it was. Design an outfit for yourself that you think would be super comfortable. Don’t forget to include lots of details including belts, snaps, pockets, collars, shapes, types of fabric and colors. Let your imagination fly!

Annette worked hard to overcome her physical disability of not being able to walk without braces. Go back over this story and find the answers to the following questions: Who helped Annette solve her problem of not being able to walk without braces? What audience called her The Diving Venus? What did she drink when she tried to swim across the English Channel? Why was she arrested on a beach in Boston? What type of water dancing did she do that eventually became a part of the Summer Olympics?

This story seems to have a title in two parts--- part one seems to be full of feeling and part two seems to be full of accomplishments. If you were to give this story a title, what would it be?

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.