May is Women’s History month, so I wanted to get at least one post out with great books about great women. There really are so many to choose from that it can be hard, but the amazing thing is that people are putting out spectacular nonfiction picture books that are a great way to get young readers excited about making a difference in the world, following their dreams, and understanding that there are so many different talents out there.
While not actually a picture book, I have to include Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women (volumes 1 and 2). Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo created a superb book for young girls and boys to fall in love with. They highlighted 100 women from Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC) to young superstars making a difference today. Each woman is presented in a spread where one page is text and the facing page is a gorgeous illustration of that woman. What is so spectacular about this book is that the lives of these women are presented as stories. You could easily read 5 or 6 of them to your child before bedtime. A great way to present history made extra special by focusing on women.
Another great book for young girls that teeters on the fiction/nonfiction line is Bessie, Queen of the Sky, by Andrea Doshi and Jimena Durán. I was fortunate enough to read this before it came out, but it deserves repeating. These intelligent women took a woman in history and told her story like a fairy tale. Bessie Coleman was the first black woman in the world to hold a pilot’s license and fly an airplane. Given that she was born in 1892, the struggles that she had to face by being a woman and black show just how much she accomplished. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book they plan to produce.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No post on strong women these days would be complete without mentioning her, and in the past few years there have been 3 written! Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality, by Jonah Winter, is the most recent one that I have read and it is an amazing book. Presented like a court case, this book shows how Ginsburg, as well as all of the other young girls her age, was born into an unfair system “where boys were valued more than girls, where women were not encouraged to achieve and aspire.” Her young life is put forth and then evidence presented showing the many inequalities that Ruth had to face on her way to the Supreme Court. This is a wonderful book which shows that you can’t let others define you, you can’t give up on your dreams, and if you persist and take one step at a time, you can do anything.
I should mention that the two other books about RBG out right now are I Dissent and No Truth Without Ruth. My daughters adored I Dissent, written by Debbie Levy, which focused on her early life and then on how she wouldn’t put up with the inequality that she was supposed to follow. Just last month, No Truth Without Ruth, by Kathleen Krull, came out and it also looks pretty amazing. The preface puts it pretty perfectly – “Some of the things we take for granted today happened because of one person. This is the story of one of those people…” This book looks like it focuses more on the cases she fought that helped us get to where we are today.
While on the topic of the Supreme Court, you have to also include the marvelous Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx, by Jonah Winter. First off, this book is amazing because it is written in both Spanish and English. Second, Sonia Sotomayor made history as the first Latino, male or female, to be named to the Supreme Court, so her story definitely needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Finally, Winter shows how Sotomayor overcame poverty, juvenile diabetes, and the death of her father when she was a child to rise up and succeed. Her determination and drive made an incredibly difference and work as an inspiration to children.
We have always taken to books that highlight innovation, especially since my younger daughter thinks like a future engineer. My children both seemed to gravitate to Ada Lovelace for some reason and both really enjoyed Hidden Figures. To get a look at a more recent computer innovator, one of my favorites is Grace Hopper: Queen of the Computer Code, buy Laurie Wallmark. This book tells the story of Grace Hopper, who always loved figuring out how things worked and how to fix problems, kind of like a human Tinkerbell. But she was born in 1906 when women’s roles were still very different. When WWII came around, she wound up becoming a computer coder. She coined the term computer “bug” and even was the first to think that people should be able to write their programs in English rather than learning how to write in binary. For our future scientist, coders, and inventors, this book is awesome!
Sports are the kind of thing that tends to bring out deep passions in people. Whether it be rooting for your favorite team or knowing all of the ins and outs of who is being traded and if someone got injured. Because of that, the sports industry has always relied on sports journalists to cover their games and the business itself. For a long time, that was a “man’s job.” But Mary Garber changed that and changed history. In Miss Mary Reporting, Sue Macy does an amazing job of showing how Mary grew up in a time when women were really not expected to play or follow sports, yet she did. Through this book, kids can learn about how during WWII women had to take over some of the jobs that were traditionally only held by men. Mary got her chance to be a sports reporter. She was so good that she was able to continue the job after the boys came back. There is so much to learn from this wonderful book. Mary was a forerunner in the women’s movement, proving that a woman can do anything she sets her heart on.
There are many wonderful books about Wangari Maathai, but I will focus on two of them today. In Mama Miti, by Donna Jo Napoli, we travel to Kenya to learn how “Mama Miti,” the mother of the trees, helped Kenyan women solve problems that they were dealing with with the same solution every time – “Plant a tree.” This book is illustrated by Kadir Nelson with beautiful textiles and vibrant colors. It is amazing that for every problem that people brought to her – hunger, animal issues, unclean water – she always said the same thing. This is great for kids preschool through 2nd grade.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Frank Prévot, is a fabulous book for the slightly older child looking to get more of a background on who she was. Whereas other biographies on Maathai focus on the trees that she planted, this biography focuses on the woman and the political issues in her country that led her to create the Green Belt Movement to try and help the rural Kenyan women who were struggling so much with so many issues of neglect and disenfranchisement. This is the best option to understand the changes she really made.
Here are some other books on my radar that should be included as you find new reading on this subject.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly
Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed
Shaking Things Up, by Susan Hood
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison. This book is written in a very similar style to Rebel Girls, but specifically focuses on women in Black History.
Brave Jane Austen, by Lisa Pliscou
Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? by Tanya Lee Stone. I have to say, I’m super excited about this one. I really liked her earlier book about Elizabeth Blackwell, so a book about Ada Lovelace sounds wonderful. My daughters already are quite intrigued by Lovelace’s story.
Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey
For more reviews on books about strong women that I have written in the past, click here.
For a great list of Picture Books About Outstanding Women, check out the link at Goodreads.
I don’t remember reading a lot of nonfiction as a young child, but there are so many outstanding titles being published now. I’m so glad I found the nonfiction picture book challenge a few years ago. Always check out the fabulous reviews and link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy. She’s got her own list of outstanding books for Women’s History month.