Learning about strong women from picture books

In the past few months, I have seen my older daughter get a stronger appreciation for serious issues – politics, injustice and discrimination. She learns a great deal from the books that she reads, but also from the conversations that we have. Obviously, the political primaries happening and my not so quiet dislike for certain politicians has swayed some of her thinking, but I like that she is taking an active interest in the world around her and understanding that choices that we make affect not only our local world but our larger community.

One thing that has come up a lot has to do with the rights of women. It is very difficult for young girls to understand that while they have the opportunity to do and be almost anything, that these rights have come because so many women were oppressed in years past and fought back. When we read books about women who led the way, J definitely asks why they were not allowed to go to school, or why they were expected to get married and take care of a family. Since at the moment both of my girls long to be on stage, they have a hard time with the notion that at one point this was considered an unacceptable life choice. Our children now have many opportunities that my mother’s generation did not have, but as we saw in the case of Malala, the struggle still continues for many.

strong women

So how do I educate my girls on both the past and the present? Books of course! The following are a few of the books that we have been reading lately, and a few old favorites, that have started J thinking more about women’s history.

elizabeth leads the way“What would you do if someone told you can’t be what you want to be because you are a girl? What would you do if someone told you your vote doesn’t count, your voice doesn’t matter because you are a girl?” This is how the wonderful biography, Elizabeth Leads the Way, begins.

As I said above, it is exceptionally difficult for girls today to comprehend that women were not allowed to do things simply because they were girls. But when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a girl, her choices were very limited. Her own father thought that her life would have been easier if she had just been born a boy. Fortunately, he did allow her to continue her education and she married a man who had fought for the rights of slaves and therefore understood when Elizabeth talked about women’s rights.

Still, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed the idea to fight for women’s right to vote, people were flabbergasted. There were others who agreed with her though, and they just needed her spark to start the fire. Women didn’t actually get the right to vote until 18 years after she died, but we all owe Elizabeth Cady Stanton a huge debt of gratitude.

eleanorWhen you think about important women in history, Eleanor Roosevelt’s name always comes up. A woman who spoke up for what she believed in and changed the role of the First Lady, a biography on her is a must read for anyone interested in women’s history.

In Doreen Rappaport’s outstanding biography, “Eleanor, Quiet No More,” children of all ages can get a sense of how amazing she was. From a childhood of privilege but lacking love, she finally was encouraged to be her best self when she was sent to England to study and found herself in the tutelage of a progressive teacher.

Using wonderful illustrations by Gary Kelley and a number of strong quotes, the book gives you a sense of who she was and how her beliefs were formed. She stood up for the vast number of Americans who struggled to survive while the wealthy lived easy lives. She sood up for the rights of women and African Americans. She helped the soldiers during the war. Eleanor was often mocked for her looks and called a do-gooder, but she persevered and was a major force in our history. Eleanor Roosevelt was a game changer and this book does a wonderful job or portraying that.

hrcSpeaking of strong women and First Ladies, there is Hillary Clinton. Now, I will admit, she is one that many people have very strong feelings about, and not all positive. She has made a lot of mistakes, but she is also an important figure in changing the role of women in this world. Whatever your politics, people should be able to look at Hillary Clinton, what she has accomplished over the years, and realize that she is an important person.

The new biography “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead,” does struggle with being rather propagandaish, but there is still a solid message for young girls. As the book begins, “In the 1950s, it was a man’s world. Only boys could grow up to have powerful jobs. Only boys had no ceilings on their dreams. Girls weren’t even supposed to act smart, tough, or ambitious. Even though, deep inside, they may have felt that way.” Here is the story of a young girl who excelled in school, who learned about the world beyond her pristine town of those that struggled and wanted to help make a change. As she got older, she saw the plight of migrant workers and their kids, she was a part of the movement to make sure that everyone had the right to vote. As First Lady, she fought for health care and women’s rights, even while everyone continued to make fun of her appearance – something they would never think of doing to a man.

This is an important addition because it shows that the struggle for women’s rights is real and still current. For all of the advances, we are still needing to make cracks in the glass ceiling.

There are some great books about women that escape the political realm. A few of these are old favorites, but this one is newly published.

ada lovelaceIn our quest to find biographies about strong women, we discovered this little gem published in 2015 – “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.” Ada Lovelace was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron. Ada had a lonely childhood and filled many hours coming up with inventions in her journal.

Through pictures of her childhood, we are shown Ada’s fascination with things that fly and her desire to create a flying machine. She experimented and made many computations, but was stalled by a bout with the measles that left her unable to walk for many years.

Fortunately for Ada, her mother recognized her passion for math and hired tutors for her, even though there were few highly educated women at the time. Through one of her tutors she met Charles Babbage, a famous mathematician and inventor, and they developed a friendship.

Babbage had designed an Analytical Engine to solve complicated problems – a true thinking machine and forerunner of the computer – but he hadn’t actually built it. Ada took home his lab books and created early coding to go with the machine, the instructions to actually make it work. While she never touched a modern machine, Ada Byron Lovelace created the profession of computer programmer long before the computer was even invented.

Miss MooreMiss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough, might be one of my all time favorites. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. What is truly amazing about the book is how it continually shows how things were done in the late 1800s when Anne Moore was growing up and in the early 1900s, but when Miss Moore was faced with people telling her that girls “didn’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, the common refrain was “Miss Moore thought otherwise.”

“In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But Anne Moore wanted to be like her 7 brothers out having fun and she wanted an education like them too. With her education she became a wonderful librarian and then turned the library system on its head when she actually encouraged children to come into the library and check out books. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books.

who says doctorsIn the same vein, “Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors,” by Tanya Lee Stone, tells the story of Elizabeth Blackwell who became the first woman doctor in America.

In a very straight-forward manner, the book gives a great sense of who Elizabeth Blackwell was and how she wound up becoming a doctor. She was a girl who was spunky, strong, smart and who never walked away from a challenge. She was a curious girl who wanted to know more about the world around her She also never imagined being a doctor until a friend who was very ill put the idea in her head. Of course she was laughed at and rejected, but one school finally admitted her. “Elizabeth proved she was as smart as any boy.”

There are tons of other great resources out there for stories on strong women that we will continue to read. Anyone can make a difference in this world, regardless of your gender.

I am highlighting great biographies as a part of my efforts with Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out her website for a ton of great resources!nfpb16


  1. As a children’s librarian, Anne Carroll Moore is one of my heroes, and I adored “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise”. So many things we take for granted today were only made possible through the sacrifice and determination of so many intelligent and brave women.

    1. I know! We read that book a few years ago and it still remains one of my favorites. I’ve considered being a children’s librarian and fully admire all that you do!

  2. Am reading “The Notorious RBG” about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think you’d like it.

    1. the really pathetic thing is that I read your comment and my brain said you spelled it wrong because I thought RGB (red green blue) instead of RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg). I’ve worked with color for too long! I might have to pick that one up. Currently reading House in the Sky. Only such much “adult” reading I can manage 🙂

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