I’ve rounded up every book review that I could think of over the last seven years of blogging to try to compile my #WomensHistoryMonth book list below. What are your favorite books celebrating women’s achievements? Thanks for sharing!
My Favorite #WomensHistoryMonth Books for Kids
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
My daughter and I love this gorgeously illustrated and designed book celebrating 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world. So many of these female scientists were overlooked and not given credit for their achievements because they were women. The women of color even more so. For example, Rosalind Franklin actually discovers the structure of DNA. “James Watson and Francis Crick snuck a peak at Rosalind’s work, without her permission, and used her findings to publish their own work without giving her credit.” [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by Katy Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
I love everything about this short biography picture book from the Andy Warhol inspired images to the selection of activists and trailblazers that are highlighted in this book. [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
What’s the Big Deal about the First Ladies by Ruby Shamir, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Learn about the achievements of the First Ladies. Did you know that Edith Wilson helped decode secret messages during WWI? Rosalind Carter encouraged world leaders to help suffering refugees, and Laura Bush helped millions of people in Africa get medicine for AIDS. With an engaging format, this picture book is full of interesting factoids about our amazing first ladies. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sarah Green
Dorothea Lange had childhood polio which left her with a limp, but also a sense of empathy that shaped her view from behind the camera. Her famous photo of a migrant mother and her kids has a backstory: the family was stranded and starving after rains had destroyed the pea crop. 📸Dorothea’s powerful image was published in the newspaper, and then the government rushed ten tons of food to the camp. Lange captured powerful images of The Great Depression and Japanese Americans in internment camps. She also documented the conference that created the United Nations. Read this inspiring picture book biography that shows the power of art in the fight for social justice. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist
My 12-year-old son just read it and said, “I like the way he writes this book because it’s not like he’s writing a (boring) biography. It’s like he’s telling their story.” Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were such a study in opposites. Martina: all heart and emotion. Chris: cool as a cucumber. And they were close friends as well! I love the causal tone of this book that really brings their great rivalry to life, and illustrates good sportsmanship. Readers also get a mini lesson on The Cold War. Two great champions. Two great friends. [picture book biography, ages 7 and up]
Swimming with the Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano
In the 1930s, almost no one studied the depths of the ocean, and none were women but that didn’t stop Eugenie Clark from dreaming of becoming an ichthyologist. She got her master’s degree in zoology and became a research assistant to a fish scientist, soon specializing in sharks. Her research showed that sharks were not voracious killers. Despite facing discrimination as a woman and racism because she was Japanese American, she never stopped learning, publishing over 175 articles about fish. She died in 2015 at the age of ninety-two, still researching! [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Abigail Adams by Alexandra Wallner
Abigail Adams was the wife of a president, and the mother of a president. Both her husband and son became presidents of the United States, and while that is what she is famous for, she worked her entire life for women’s and civil rights. While women’s roles were defined by running the household, Abigail spent her life trying to change things she found unfair, and downright wrong. She fought for woman’s rights, though her husband, did not agree. She taught a black servant to read and write. This picture book shows a side of Abigail that is lesser known, one of American’s earliest proponents of women’s rights, and civil rights for people of color. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone
Jane Addams was the second woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, and worked for many years to get the great powers to disarm and conclude peace agreements.
Focusing on Jane Addams’ vision of a community center to meet the needs of the poor, this picture book reveals that Jane dreamed of living “right in the midst of horrid little houses” to find a way to help the poor. Jane’s creation of a settlement house, Hull House, tackled and solved issues that poor immigrants faced. A safe place for children to play was met with the first playground in Chicago. Long working hours for parents was solved with morning kindergarten and after-school clubs. No running water in houses compelled her to build a public bath.
Jane’s other accomplishments are in the back notes of this picture book. It included a founding member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She also worked for women’s suffrage and spoke out against war. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Woo, illustrated by Lin Wang
Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star, and the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition. Despite facing racism in 1920’s Hollywood, her career was long and varied and included silent and sound film, television, stage and radio.
She rose from humble beginnings growing up in Los Angeles’ Chinatown where her family ran a laundry business. Breaking into Hollywood was especially tough for an Asian American woman, and she took what little roles were offered to her to get started including those that included yellowface and Anti-Asian stereotyping. In 1929, her role as a dancer in Picadilly made her a star in Europe. She vowed never to take roles that demeaned Asians again, even if it meant limited work opportunities. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
I have three other picture book biographies on Wangari Maathai on Top 10: Best Picture Books for Spring and Planting a Garden.
Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Malcolm X once called me
the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.
But nothing about my beginnings would make you think
anyone beyond these parts would ever hear my name.
It’s time that the world learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and John Lewis. Working for voter registration in Mississippi, she lost her job and her home, but that didn’t stop her. She sang for freedom as an inspirational leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and cried like she lost her own sons when three of the boys were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
Arrested on bogus charges, she was beaten by the police who also made the other prisoners beat her too. She suffered permanent kidney damage and walked with a limp from this but still she fought on. Voices of Freedom tells Fannie Lou Hamer’s story and achievements in glorious and vibrant mixed media collage illustrations. [advanced picture book, ages 9 and up]
She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell, illustrated by Charlotta Janssen
Joan Tumpauer Mulholland is another white activist who fought for civil rights but is largely unknown. As a young girl, she ventured into the black side of town in Georgia and saw the black school house, a one-room shack. She realized that it was wrong and decided she was going to do something about it when she had the chance. When she was in college at Duke University, she joined the Civil Rights Movement as a Freedom Rider and was arrested. She participated in the sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as marched on Washington. Joan shows that an ordinary person can stand up for what she believes in to make a difference. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mark Cronk Farrell
Fannie is another unsung hero who stood up against injustice. In this case, she helped factory workers and coal miners form unions to get better wages and working conditions. As a union activist, she tackled the most hostile environments, going up against company gunman to organize strikes and boycotts. Fannie died for her cause, but the effects of her work lives on. [picture book biography, ages 9 and up]
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Clara Lemlich, an immigrant from Russia, led the largest walkout of female workers in the country’s history to protest hazardous working conditions. Despite the danger Clara’s protests puts her in, she doesn’t back down. She’s arrested sixteen times and six of her ribs are broken. The Triangle Waist Factory fire happened in the middle of this maelstrom which claimed 146 lives. In the aftermath of the strike, Clara is successful in improving conditions for the women and young girls who work in New York’s garment industry and she spends the rest of her life fighting to improve the conditions of workers. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George
Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, winning at age 17. Her story includes the bravery of her father, Zuayddin Yousafzai, who believed girls deserved the same educational opportunities as girls. Malala blogged for the BBC about the school closings in Pakistan. It was an act of defiance that would have violent repercussions, but nothing would stop Malala from advocating for education for girls. She is the voice for equal education for children everywhere. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Owenson
Whoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.
Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, is among the quietly heroic that not many of us knew about. She is an inspiration that a single, seemingly ordinary person, can stand up to the horrors of the Nazi’s regime. She and others worked on a different kind of underground “railroad” rescuing Jewish children at the risk of their own lives. Her jars of hope allowed the children she rescued to be reunited with loved ones who survived WWII. [picture book, ages 9 and up]
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
Ada’s father was the famous poet Lord Byron, but her mother had a passion for geometry. Measles left her temporarily paralyzed and blind but her mother kept her mind sharp by quizzing Ada on math problems. Her gift with numbers led to meeting Charles Babbage, a famous inventor and mathematician. He had designed a mechanical computer but it needed instructions in the form of an algorithm. Ada’s program for this device was the foundation for modern computer science. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone
It’s hard to imagine today that women weren’t allowed to become doctors and the obstacles placed in their ways. Elizabeth Blackwell is to thank for women in field of medicine. This is her story of how her determinationone opened the doors for all the female doctors to come. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully
Mattie was an inventor since she was very young, creating toys for her brothers and a foot warmer for her mother. Her first commercial success was a fast sled that she sold to her brother’s friends. When her mother moved the family to work in a textile mill, Mattie befriended the machine shop manager, Mr. Baldwin. To prevent thread shuttlecocks from injuring the workers, Mattie invented a metal guard which were widely used. Mr. Baldwin taught her about patents.
Working at a paper bag factory, Mattie got the idea to create a better machine that would make a square-bottomed bag that would not tip over. She worked on her invention for two years, until it worked perfectly. Many of the paper bags we use today are still being processed by Mattie’s invention. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra, Iraq, where all who love books come to gather and talk. But now in 2003, the talk is of war and bombings. Alia is worried that the books in her library might be destroyed from fires of war so she asks permission to move them but she is denied. Alia takes matters into her own hands and moves some of the precious books to safer quarters. As war approaches, she gets her neighbors to help save the books in a human brigade moving them over a seven-foot wall. It’s just in time too because nine days later, a fire burns the library to the ground. She has saved thirty thousand books! And until a new library can be built, they are safe … in her house stuffed to the gills with books and in the homes of her friends. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by David Catrow
While this is a picture book, it is appropriate for children of all ages, particularly girls. It tells the story of socialite Bostonians Harriet Hemmenway and her cousin, Minna Hall who are so outraged by the new fashion of hats that are threatening bird species in Florida that they are the nucleus for a new group: The Audubon Society. [picture book, ages 6-12]
Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Mannis
Julia Morgan completed 450 architectural projects before she worked on William Randolph Hearst’s castle. Her road to becoming an architect seemed pretty smooth in the beginning. She studied engineering at University of California at Berkeley as the only woman in the class, and then went on to work for her favorite teacher, Bernard Maybeck, who taught math and also worked as an architect. Studying at The École des Beaux-Arts for her architecture degree was a test of her perseverance. The trustees would not let her take the entrance exam for over a year, and when they conceded, she was forced to pass it three times. She became the first woman in the history of École des Beaux-Arts to receive a certificate in architecture, but her commission at Mills College that withstood the great earthquake of 1906 was further testament to her talent as an architect.
It’s interesting to me that William Randolph Hearst, who had discriminatory hiring practices at his publishing companies, chose a female architect for his project. Julia would spent more than half of her fifty-year career working on Hearst’s project, going toe to toe with her famously outspoken client. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
You can learn more about Julia Morgan at the Hearst Castle website.
Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells
At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service. Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result. [early chapter book, ages 7 and up]
Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, First Woman Pilot by
In eighteenth century France, hot air balloons have captured the people’s hearts. The balloonists are heroes but they are all men. Sophie Blanchard changes this. She was the first woman pilot, making sixty-seven flights in hot air balloons. A beautiful and inspiring picture book biography that also details a little about what life was like during Napoleon’s reign. [picture book, for ages 4 and up.]
In Mary’s Garden by Tina and Carson Kügler
As a little girl, Mary was happiest building things. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She collected treasures from the shore — driftwood, sea glass, stones and broken household objects — and used them to create marvelous sculptures for her garden.
This picture book is about the Wisconsin artist Mary Nohl and her garden in her Lake Michigan cottage. Even today, Mary’s art is controversial. The John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin is seeking to preserve her legacy. You can learn more about that here. [picture book about staying true to yourself, ages 4 and up]
Sacagawea by Lise Erdrich, illustrations by Julie Buffalohead
At 11 or 12 years of age, a young Shoshone girl was abducted by Hidatsa warriors during a horse raid in what is now Montana. They gave her the name Sacagawea or “Bird Woman.” When she was no more than 16, she was given in marriage to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian fur trapper, as his second wife. Charbonneau proposed to Lewis and Clark that they hire him as a guide and interpreter for the Corps of Discovery, a group of more than forty men, instructed by President Jefferson to travel from Mississippi to the Pacific primarily by boat. Right before the expedition began, Sacagawea gave birth to their son, Pompy.
When the Corps reached Sacagawea’s former home in what is now Montana, she was amazed to discover that the Shoshone chief was her brother, Cameahwait! The Shoshones provided necessary horses for the next difficult leg of their journey, eventually making it all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Sacagawea was instrumental to the success of the expedition. With a baby as part of the party, their group did no appear menacing. Sacagawea’s skills in foraging for food, guiding the men through the wilderness and negotiating with the Shoshone might have been the difference between success and failure. Her story is beautifully and fittingly told by Lisa Erdirch and Julie Buffalohead who are also Native American.
Mother Teresa by Demi
The more you give away, the more you receive.
Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She helped the poor while living among them. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, and through this organization, built homes for orphans, nursing homes for lepers and hospices for the terminally ill in Calcutta, and also did aid work in other parts of the world.
I never knew that Mother Teresa was born in Skope, Yugoslav Macedonia. Her life is detailed in this gorgeously illustrated picture book, from the moment she knew her calling, at age 12, to her death at age 87. Her many gifts included a facility in learning languages, leadership and organizational skills, but most importantly, her capacity to love and assist selflessly. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
Three great books for kids of all ages on Jane Goodall, and some books she wrote herself.
Read about Little Melba and 10 other female African American pioneering musicians: Florence Mills, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Hazel Dorothy Scott, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Melba Doretta Liston, and Leontyne Price.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
The Drum Dream Girl is of Chinese-African-Cuban mixed race ancestry and all these cultures inspire her to drum. The dragon dance drummers of her Chinese ancestors. The conga, bongó and timbales that come from her Latin and African roots and the rhythms beckon to her. Her sisters invite her to join their all-girl dance band but her father says that only boys should play drums. Until he changes his mind and finds her a teacher that will teach girls that helps her unlock her talent. Now, when people hear her play drums, everyone agrees that girls should always be allowed to play drums.
Told in lyrical free verse, Margarita Engle tells an inspiring story for girls everywhere that they should be able to be anything they want to be. Just like the Drum Dream Girl! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russel-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
When Melba was just 7 years old, she fell in love with a trombone and begged her mother to get it for her. This is not really the perfect instrument for a small girl, but Melba’s Grandpa John gave her a few lessons and she kept at it. By the time she was 8 years old, she was good enough that a local radio station invited her to perform a solo. The Great Depression forced Melba and her mother to move to Los Angeles and by the time she was 17 years old, Melba was touring the country with a new band. She traveled with Billie Holiday in the South where the racism she faced almost caused her to quit the trombone, but luckily she did not. Melba Liston was a composer, arranger and performer of prodigious talent and is considered a jazz virtuoso. [picture book, age 4 and up]
I have a list of fabulous flying females that includes these two books below:
Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Beryl Markham, if a half blood (ok, reading a lot of Percy Jackson right now), would have been a child of Artemis. Her true story reads like an adventure heroine of any age but particularly for her time, at the turn of the century. Her life was lived spectacularly, making Amelia Earhart seem tame by comparison. Raised in part by Maori warriors as a tween in Kenya, a female horse trainer, and then a great aviator adventurer. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss
Maggie Gee dreamt of flying as a child. When she grew up, she was one of two Chinese American woman to serve with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in WW2. It is a wonderful picture book. Thank you to Monise Seward for this recommendation!
My daughters and I had the honor and privilege of meeting Ruby Bridges when she did a school visit, and I have a list of children’s books on her as well.
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