The Books That Shape Us: The Value of Fairness

wall of open books

From time to time, Bas Bleu’s editors will share with you some of the books that have had a profound impact on our lives. They won’t necessarily be grand literary classics or hard-hitting political tomes. They will be books that have stayed with us over the years and shaped who we are. If you’d like to share a significant title from your own life, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

When I was a child growing up in Tennessee, weekly trips to our local library were a summertime staple. My mother was (and still is) an avid reader, and the library was a book-filled haven where she could feed her literary appetite while her daughters camped out between the short stacks of the children’s department. It was there I met Trixie Belden, Cam Jansen, and Encyclopedia Brown; raced through yellow-spine Nancy Drew hardbacks; and generally allowed my mother an hour’s quiet respite. It’s also where I met Nellie Bly.

cover of children's book The Value of FairnessPublished in 1977, The Value of Fairness: The Story of Nellie Bly was one volume in the children’s series ValueTales. Each book illustrated a values lesson via a kid-friendly biographical story about a historical luminary such as Helen Keller (determination), Jackie Robinson (courage), Eleanor Roosevelt (caring), Thomas Edison (creativity), and Harriet Tubman (helping). The Value of Fairness covered highlights from Nellie Bly’s life, introducing me to a woman who seemed larger than life: She bucked gender norms to pursue a career as an investigative journalist, set a world record by circumnavigating the globe in seventy-two days, and even had herself committed to New York’s Women’s Lunatic Asylum in order to expose the facility’s deplorable conditions and brutal treatment of patients.

I remember reading other books in the ValueTales series, but The Value of Fairness is the one that’s stayed with me all these years. Perhaps it’s because the asylum in the book—pictured in cartoon illustrations as a virtual prison—looked nothing like the clean, quiet psychiatric hospital where my dad worked. Perhaps it’s because I yelled “it’s not fair!” at my parents whenever I didn’t get my way. (Their response, every time: “Life’s not fair.”) Perhaps it’s simply because my big sister chose The Value of Fairness for a dress-up book report at our elementary school. Whatever the hook, Nellie Bly was fixed in my young mind as a trailblazer, a woman who refused to stay in her corner and who gave a voice to those whom others ignored or tried to silence.

Years later, when I received my dorm assignment for my freshman year of college, I read my prospective roommate’s name—Nellie—and immediately thought to myself, “just like Nellie Bly!” Said roommate did not become an investigative journalist, but she is a dedicated physician. We are both beneficiaries of the efforts and sacrifices of women like Nellie Bly, who advocated for women and boldly ventured into male-dominated spheres to prove “the fairer sex” was more than up to the task. (KG)

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