Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday, which found that 15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science – except for in the United States, Britain and Canada. via The Guardian
Breaking down theNational Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores by gender, girls averaged 151 points (out of a possible 300), three points higher than for boys in the first-ever Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment was given in 2014. via The Atlantic
So what is it? Girls are better than boys at science? Or girls are worse at science? Or girls in higher socio-economic brackets outperform boys?
What’s the end goal? Karen Peterson, the chief executive of the National Girls Collaborative Project, says it’s to “increase their persistence and resilience in STEM studies so that those early kernels of interest translate into meaningful careers.”
As a mom of two girls, I am of the opinion that it’s the parents’ job to pay attention to where the child leads you. For my oldest, her path is towards art school. For my middle daughter, a STEM career mixed with an entrepreneur’s drive seems likely. And yet, the big thinkers at RISD think they very well will end up at the same place. For what is STEM without creativity?
If you peruse the timeline of female scientists and their picture book biographies, one thing is clear. If someone really wants a career in science, she’s not going to let anything stop her. Here’s to the progress women have made in science, and here’s to supporting all girls as they find their passion in life.
What are your favorite STEM books that inspire girls? Thanks for sharing!
STEM Picture Books for Girls
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Life might have its failures, but this was not it.
The only true failure can come if you quit.
Rosie is an closet inventor after she thought her cheese hat python deterrent hat was ridiculed. She uses the hat with some tweaks into a flying contraption for her aunt and learns that failure is the problem solving tool of an engineer. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Ada didn’t speak until she turned three, but when she did, she was full of questions, especially about why? Turns out, she has all the traits and the heart of a great scientist (though she’s also an exhausting kid to raise!). [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
A little girl has an amazing idea that she’s going to make the most magnificent thing! All she has to do is make it. But making her magnificent thing leads down a frustrating path of trial and error. This book best reflects–Inspiration + motivation + passion = Endless possibilities. The girl’s emotional journey reminds a child not to quit. [picture book ages 3 and up]
Mira Forecasts the Future by Kell Andrews, illustrated by Lissy Marlin
Mirabella watches her mother tell fortunes on the boardwalk. She wants to predict the future too, but she doesn’t have the gift. Instead, she uses science to make predictions about the weather by observing the wind, clouds, and sky. She uses instruments too: thermometer, barometer, rain gauge, windsock, and anemometer. Now, she can open for business as a weather station, and her predictions help avert danger during the annual surf competition. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat
Like Godzilla, her science project robot was wreaking havoc. She probably shouldn’t have given it a superclaw, laser eye, or the power to control dogs’ minds without some safeguards. Oh well. At least she has another science project to counter the robot. Her giant toad is much more responsive to her commands, and able to take down the robot, but now there is a giant toad loose! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day by Jennifer George, illustrated by Ed Steckley
Pair this picture book full of Rube Goldberg’s ingenious ideas with Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea. It’s perfect for elementary school simple machines STEM unit. For videos of Rube Goldberg machines, check out The Kid Should See This. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea by
Ruby Goldberg was named after Rube Goldberg and a little mishap when she was born. For the science fair this year, she’s decided to join forces with her arch-rival, Dominic. In working together, and paying attention to the people in her life instead of being so focused on her science experiments, Ruby learns that collaboration is also important for science. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
11-year-old Calpurnia Tate lives in Fentress, Texas (near Austin) in the year 1899. At this turn of the century, things are changing even in small-town Fentress. Calpurnia’s grandfather is at the forefront of this change, and he embraces it as a naturalist scientist and early member of the National Geographic Society. Calpurnia gravitates towards her grandfather learning about science and keenly observing all around her. But one thing she does notice, besides the flora and fauna, is that girls are expected to marry and keep house, and not go to college. Calpurnia’s evolution is to test this theory of homemaking versus college for girls. But anything is possible at the start of a new century, or is it? [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Female STEM Role Models: Picture Book Biographies
Maria Merian: Born April 2, 1647
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
“Summer birds” was a medieval name for the mysterious butterflies and moths that appeared suddenly during warm weather and vanished in the fall.
During the middle ages, studying insects would be considered witchcraft. Maria Merian wasn’t deterred. She collected butterflies and moths and understood their life cycle from egg, to cocoon, to metamorphosis. She kept records of her findings, painting and writing down her observations. She eventually became famous as a scientist, an artist, and an explorer. [picture book biography, ages 3 and up]
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
This is a spectacular book that reflects the incredible accomplishments of Maria Merian, an artist who also should be known as the Mother of Ecology who lived in 17th century Germany when such interests could be punishable by death. In the same way that Maria lured people into science through her gorgeously painted and etched artworks, Joyce Sidman seamlessly combines Maria’s story with science and art. The artwork is carefully chosen to showcase both Maria and her family’s pieces as well how her art influenced others both in her time and beyond. Maria’s careful observations of the life cycles of insects and amphibians came at a time when the general population believed in spontaneous generation. Sidman cleverly breaks this book up into chapters that reflect Maria’s life cycle categories, showing her own evolution from dependence to independence. After reading this book, it’s not a stretch to realize that Maria Merian was the female equivalent Charles Darwin of her time, notwithstanding that she inspired him!
I hope that this book wins a Newbery and Silbert. It is most deserving. But awards aside, give this book to girls as a female STEM inspiration. [nonfiction chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Mary Anning: Born May 21, 1799,
Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries by Don Brown
Mary Anning was a fossil hunter from the time she was small. She and her brothers sold the fossils to help their family make ends meet. When she was twelve, she discovered a fossil of a reptile that lived in the sea. This creature was to be named ichthyosaur or fish lizard. She continued to search for fossils as she grew older, studying about them in science books. She discovered the first complete fossil of a plesiosaur and that of a pterodactyl. Her fossil discoveries and her knowledge about them helped to lay the foundation for paleontology, the study of dinosaurs. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Ada Byron Lovelace: Born December 10, 1815
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 biography, ages 6 and up]
Maria Mitchell: Born August 1, 1818
Maria’s Comet by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated Deborah Lanino
In the nineteenth century, girls are not able to become astronomers or scientists. Maria’s father is an astronomer, and she is able to use his telescope to study the stars. She is America’s first woman astronomer, discovering a telescopic comet. She becomes the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Elizabeth Blackwell: Born February 3, 1821
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone
In the 1830s, there were no female doctors. Women were wives and mothers, teachers or seamstresses. A friend inspired Elizabeth Blackwell to become a doctor. She applied to twenty-nine medical schools and received a single acceptance from Geneva Medical School in update New York. The teachers had let the students decide whether or not to accept a woman, and the boys voted yes as a big joke. Elizabeth proved she was as smart and capable as any boy.
In the author’s note, Elizabeth could not find work as a doctor after she graduated. She ans her sister, also a doctor, started their own hospital, the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. In 1868, Elizabeth opened a medical school for women, The Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Not only did Elizabeth Blackwell become the first woman doctor, but she paved the way for more to follow her. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, more than half of all U.S. medical school students today are women. This is Elizabeth Blackwell’s legacy. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Eleanor Prentiss: Born Sep. 21, 1814
Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern
Eleanor Prentiss and her husband set a record of eighty-nine days from New York City, down the Cape Horn, to San Francisco, a fifteen-thousand-mile journey by sea. At a time when it was unheard of for a woman to navigate a ship, Eleanor used U. S. Navy Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Murray’s new scientific approach to navigation to chart the course. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Margaret E. Knight: Born February 14, 1838
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 biography, ages 6 and up]
Kate Sessions: Born November 8, 1857
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
In the 1860s, girls were discouraged from studying science, but Kate Sessions was not. She liked studying trees and pursued a degree in science from the University of California, the first woman to do so. When she moved to San Diego for her first job, it was a desert town with no trees. She became a tree hunter to find trees for that climate. She grew elms, oaks, eucalyptuses and palm trees, and soon these trees were to be found everywhere in San Diego. She transformed City Park, now called Balboa Park, into an oasis of trees for the Panama-California Exposition. She’s now known as the Mother of Balboa Park. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Pair this book with another tree lady, Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya.
Harriet Hemmenway: Born 1858
Minna Hall: Born 1867
She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by David Catrow
Socialite Bostonians Harriet Hemmenway and her cousin Minna Hall were so outraged by the new fashion of hats that threatened bird species in Florida that they started a new group to protect birds and wildlife called The Audubon Society. [picture book biography, ages 6-12]
Henrietta Leavitt: Born July 4, 1868
Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colon
Although Henrietta Leavitt graduated from Radcliffe College and had a strong interest in science, she, along with most women, was kept from doing key research in almost all the sciences. Her work at Harvard College Observatory measuring star positions from photographs was a data tracking task, but she used her mind to understand this data. She made a breakthrough discovery, relating the blink-time of a star to its brightness. This revelation leads to understanding and measuring the distances of stars from earth. Despite a limited role as a researcher, Henrietta because a true astronomer, helping us today to understand the size of the universe.
Read the afterword in the back to understand Henrietta Leavitt’s true accomplishment as it’s a little fuzzy in the text. Other women astronomers to read about include Caroline Herschel, Annie Jump Cannon, E. Margaret Burbridge, Wendy Freedman, and Sally Ride. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Julia Morgan: Born January 20, 1872
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 spend 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 biography, ages 8 and up]
You can learn more about Julia Morgan at the Hearst Castle website.
Sarah Josephine Baker (Dr. Jo): Born November 15, 1873
Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America’s Children by Monica Kulling
Review from The Nonfiction Detectives:
“At ten years old, she decided she wanted to be a doctor after her brother and father died from typhoid, she was even more determined. Baker was persistent, and after graduating from Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, (1898), she took a job with the New York Public Health Department. Her beat, a tough west-side neighborhood called, Hell’s Kitchen. “Here, thousands of people, many of them immigrants, lived in run-down apartments. Diseases such as smallpox and typhoid fever spread like wildfire, especially among the young.” Dr. Jo made it a requirement that midwives were licensed, sent nurses to homes of new mothers with newborn children, and organized milk stations throughout the city that offered clean milk.
During her twenty-five years on the job, (becoming the director of the NYC Department of Child Hygiene in 1908), “Dr. Sara Josephine Baker had saved the lives of 90,000 inner-city children across America.” [nonfiction picture book, ages 5 and up]
Irène Curie: Born September 12, 1897
Lise Meitner: Born November 7, 1878
Rachel Carson: Born May 27, 1907
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by
Al Gore wrote, “Silent Spring came as a cry in the wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly written argument that changed the course of history. Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all.”
Rachel Carson rose from poverty to become a biologist and writer, earning a scholarship for graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. During the Great Depression, jobs were hard to come by, especially as a female scientist. Rachel ended up working for the Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio scripts about sea life. She sent her articles to magazines such as The Atlantic and soon had offers for a book deal. Her book, The Sea Around Us, became a best seller and she was able to quit her job and write full time. She worked four years on Silent Spring. She died at age 56 before she could see the environmental changes that her book instigated. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up
Eugenia Clark: Born May 4, 1922
Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano
In the 1930s, few people studied the ocean and none were women. At 9 years old, Eugenie Clark dreamed of studying sharks and went on to get a master’s degree in zoology. She became the first person to study sharks in their natural habitat. Her research shed new light on sharks; they were intelligent creatures, not voracious killers. She experienced discrimination as a woman and racism as a Japanese American, but she never let it slow her down. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 92, still researching and diving the depths of the ocean! [picture book biography, ages 5 and up]
Shark Lady: The True Story of how Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by
This is another picture book biography about Eugenie Clark. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Jane Goodall: Born April 3, 1934
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter
For slightly older readers, ages 5 and up, who want to learn more about Jane Goodall and the work that she did, use this picture book. It has more detail on exactly how she conducted her work in Gombe and what she accomplished. This picture book pairs perfectly with Me … Jane. [picture book biography, ages 5 and up] p.s. I have more Jane Goodall book suggestions.
Raye Montague: Born January 21, 1935
The Girl With A Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
This is another HIDDEN FIGURES story and should be paired with Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.
Engineering is not taught to black students during the days of Jim Crow in the South. Raye has to study business instead but she continues her studies in computer science taking classes at night after college. She did get a job with the U.S. Navy, but it was as a clerk. Still, she was able to work on engineering projects, designing a ship in just 18 hours that President Nixon ordered. Her boss, a white male, took the credit. She was licensed as a professional engineer in the United States in 1978 and received honors as the U.S. Navy’s first “hidden figure'” in 2017. [rhyming picture book biography, for ages 4 and up]
I have a Book Talk video here.
Sylvia Earle: Born August 30, 1935
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
Sylvia Earle, who has spent more than seven thousand hours underwater, calls the ocean “the blue heart of the planet.”
From when she was very little, Sylvia explored the outdoors. Her family’s move to Florida introduced her to the ocean, where she explored at deeper and deeper levels as she grew older. Her explorations in the ocean led her to start three companies and a nonprofit ainmed at designing and building systems that can explore the deep ocean. As a scientist and environmentalist, Sylvia works tirelessly as a spokesperson about protecting our oceans. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
Wangari Muta Maathai changed Kenya tree by tree, becoming the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
This gorgeously illustrated picture book tells the inspirational story of Wangari Maathai and how she founded the Green Belt Movement; an African grassroots organization that empowers 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 biography, ages 4 and up]
Ellen Ochoa: Born May 10, 1958
Ellen Ochoa: The First Hispanic Woman Astronaut (Great Hispanics of Our Time) by Maritza Romero
Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to fly in space. She studied physics, math, and engineering, earning three degrees in twenty-three years. Ellen also flies airplanes, plays the flute, and writes for the San Diego Union Tribune.[early chapter book biography, ages 8 and up]
Mae Jemison: Born October 17, 1956
Mae Jemison: Awesome Astronaut by Jill C Wheeler
Mae Jemison is the first African-American woman to travel in space. In addition to being an astronaut, Mae was a doctor, business owner, and volunteered in the Peace Corps. She faced racism and sexism but never let it deter her from her dreams. As an astronaut, she conducted experiments in space. The Earth We Share is a science camp for kids ages 12 to 16 that Mae launched. Mae returned to NASA for a special project to develop the first starship in 2011. [early chapter book biography, ages 8 and up]
Compediums of Women in Science
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
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.” [encyclopedia compendium, ages 8 and up]
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Women are the source of many ingenious inventions, and this book chronicles the trials and triumphs of many of them including: Ruth Wakefield (Chocolate Chip Cookies), Mary Anderson (Windshield Wipers), Stephanie Kwolek (Kevlar), Bette Nesmith Graham (Liquid Paper), Patsy O. Sherman (Scotchgard), Ann Moore (Snugli), Grace Murray Hopper (Computer Compiler), Margaret E. Knight (Paper Bags — see Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor), Jeanne Lee Crews (Space Bumper), Valerie L. Thomas (Illusion Transmitter), 10-year-old Becky Schroeder (Glo-sheet),
and 11-year-old Alexia Abernathy (no-spill bowl). [encyclopedia compendium chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins
Six remarkable women — Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908), and Jane Goodall (b.1934) — followed their passion for science. [encyclopedia compendium chapter book, ages 8 and up]
More STEM Recommendations from Readers
From author Maria Gianferrari:
I would also add Jeannine Atkins’s Finding Wonders here too. I just read & enjoyed The Shark Lady :). And I also LOVE The Tree Lady!! Laurie Wallmark also has a new one, Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code.
I know more, so I may stop back again, but one that I cannot wait to read is called: The Girl Who Thought in Pictures about Dr. Temple Grandin! I also enjoyed Sy Montgomery’s bio of her.
And my friend and agency sister, Hayley Barrett has a bio coming out on astronomer Maria Mitchell–can’t wait for that one either!!
Ada Lovelace Poet of Science by Diane Stanley
And one of my very favorite poets, Joyce Sidman, has a bio coming out on Maria Merian called The Girl Who Drew Butterflies–so excited for this one!!
From Michelle Goetzl of Books My Kids Read:
As to the above comment from Maria, we bought the Grace Hopper book and it is marvelous! And we have preordered the Dr. Temple Grandin book.
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