Strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
It's women's history month, and I couldn't let this time pass by without celebrating some phenomenal picture book biographies of the world's most remarkable women -- women who are leaders and pioneers, who have broken barriers, and who continuously fight for social justice. From dancers to doctors, artists to architects to activists, the stories of these women who continuously and tenaciously broke boundaries and challenged societal norms are not just inspiring, but a crucial part of the world's tapestry. So, in honor of this month, here are some of our favorite books about women whose determination and accomplishments have made indelible contributions to our contemporary society. Happy reading!
PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark, by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley: Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up at a time where women were encouraged to be homemakers, not lawyers. But this did not dissuade RBG from following her aspirations and dissenting widely in the face of injustice. As a child who dissented to being forced to write with her right hand (when she was truly a lefty) and as a Supreme Court Justice who continually disagreed with unequal treatment of all people, this is an inspiring and powerful book about how we can always stand up for what's right, even when it seems the whole world is against us.
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid, by Jeanette Winter: It wasn't easy to be a visionary Iraqui architecht when you were living and studying in London. But Zaha Hadid fought against adversity and eventually designed buildings that brought her famed mantra - "the world is not a rectangle" - to life. Her unconventional designs turned into museums, stadiums and opera houses reminiscent of nature, and upon her death in 2016, she was the only woman to receive both the Pritzker Prize and the Royal Gold Medal for her designs.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Did you love this movie? Well now you can share the inspiring story of these four brilliant women with your kids and students. Hidden Figures is the remarkable true story of four black American women who lived at a time when being black— and being female - limited their abilities to do what they wanted to do: math. And they were really good at math. Did they let societal and gender norms stand in their way? Absolutely not… and so they broke boundaries. This book is outstanding!
Pocketful of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire, by Amy Guglielmo and illustrated by Brigette Barrager: Mary Blair was never one for to play by the rules. At a time when studios preferred male artists and shied away from color, Blair was anything but shy, painting mermaids and filling canvases with viridian trees and mauve-tinted skies. She eventually bucked tradition within the animation industry, and her amazing sense of color became critically important as she helped design the ride of all rides: Disney's It's a Small World. Stunning!
Ordinary Extraordinary Jane Austen, by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Qin Leng: An extraordinarily beautiful picture book about an extraordinarily special writer who never let rigid gender constructs hold her back from achieving her dream: writing extraordinary stories. So Jane Austen did just that, despite a publishing industry that wholly favored male writers. And she didn't just succeed in the mild sense of the term - she went on to create unique novels that have delighted readers for generations.
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jesse Hartland: Did you know that the famous poet, Lord Byron, had a daughter who is touted as the very first computer programmer? Ada had a vivid imagination like her father and a scientific mind like her mother. Put them together, and you get one important visionary - a passionate woman who envisioned a world driven by computers and wrote the first computer program.
Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Barrington: Women in space? Yes, please. A child with a big heart and bigger dreams, who would stop at nothing to achieve her goal? Yes, yes, YES, please! This is the sweet story of the brilliant Dr. Mae Jemison, who not only enrolled at Stanford University when she was just sixteen years old, but eventually went on to become a doctor and then the very first African-American female astronaut. STEM, anyone?!?
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk: As a little girl, Maya loved to observe space and structure and used her house as a model to build little towns out of scraps of paper. She also grew up with art, and it was the combination of her love of light, lines and art that gave her a vision for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. After beating out more than a thousand others, Lin won a public design competition to create this memorial, one of the most influential memorials in modern history.
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad: Another dazzling beauty by two of my favorites. This biography, about a young girl who always felt "brutta" (ugly) lyrically tells the story of how Elsa discovered her own imagination and went on to create some of fashion's most unique and influential designs. A must for budding fashionistas!
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath, by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley: From toy chemistry sets to laser probes, this vibrant rhyming book tells the story of Dr. Patricia Bath, a young girl born in Harlem who dreamed of being a doctor. Undeterred by sexism and racism, Dr. Bath eventually became an ophthalmologist and subsequently co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving and restoring the gift of sight. Another win for STEM!
The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life With the Chimps, by Jeanette Winter: Jane Goodall blossomed from a child watching birds at her windowsill to studying chimpanzees in the African wilds. An extraordinary woman, her observations have led her to become the foremost expert who has led a worldwide crusade to save these remarkable primates from extinction.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley: When Temple Grandin wasn't talking at age 3, she was never expected to speak. Yet, this remarkable woman, currently a spokesperson for autism, eventually went on to become one of the most powerful and quirky voices in modern science. Due to her unique mind, Grandin was able to connect with animals in a unique manner, which allowed her to invent groundbreaking improvements for farms worldwide.
Frida Khalo and her Animalitos, by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra: Though famed artist Frida Khalo is typically remembered for her self-portraits, most people don't know about her beloved pets: a parrot, an eagle, a black cat, a fawn, two turkeys, two monkeys, and three dogs. This is the story of Frida and her animals, and it considers how the artist embodied the characteristics of her cherished pets.
Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III: So many young girls today know of- and hope to emulate- the great Misty Copeland. But they likely don’t know about the famous ballerina who inspired Misty herself. Meet Raven Wilkinson, the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company. Though she faced racism and derision, she never let it hold her back. Raven was persistent, and this persistence led her to dance for royalty in Holland and at the New York City Opera after that— until she was fifty years old. A must have for your little dancers.
Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire: Alabama Spitfire tells the story of Harper Lee, born Nelle Harper Lee, on April 28, 1926 in segregated Monroeville, Alabama. An overall-wearing, tree-climbing tomboy, Nelle would spend afternoons at the courthouse watching her father, an attorney, fight for justice. She also loved books and the written word. From Alabama to New York and back again, this is Harper Lee's story -- and the story of the events that inspired her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala, by Lina Maslo: This is a beautifully illustrated new biography about Malala Yousafazi, who, despite the fact that she was a girl born in Pakistan, had a father who believed she could do anything. Girls in Pakistan were not educated, so Malala's father simply schooled her in secret, unafraid of the consequences. Though an enemy sought to silence her powerful voice, Malala was undeterred, eventually traveling the globe to advocate for the right to education for every person.
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton, by Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: When you learn that a five year old picks up a guitar for the first time, flips it upside down and backwards, and teaches herself to play, you know a great story will unfold. And so it is with Elizabeth Cotton, who, at only eleven years old, wrote the song Freight Train, which became one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. A lyrical gem that is as inspiring as it is beautiful.
I am Amelia Earhart, by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous: Amelia Earhart loved adventure and did not back away from challenges -- even when those challenges involved participating in activities that girls had never done before. She dreamed of flying and would stop at nothing to accomplish her goals, eventually breaking records and becoming the first woman to fly all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hicks, by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton: Audrey Faye Hicks was only nine years old when she heard the grownups grumbling about segregation and civil rights. And because she wanted the same opportunities as everyone else, she wanted to make her voice heard too. One of the youngest civil rights activists, Audrey's story reminds children everywhere that age is nothing but a number.
Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller, by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares: When she was only a toddler, Helen Keller became blind and deaf, no longer able to speak or communicate with the people around her. But despite her handicaps, she wanted to experience life. With the help of a phenomenal teacher, Helen gained knowledge and wisdom, which led her on a mission to change the world and fight against injustice. Even without a spoken voice, people listened.
* NOTABLE ANTHOLOGIES *
Anthology of Amazing Women, by Sandra Lawrence and illustrated by Nathan Collins.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World and She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History, by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison:
Rad American Women A to Z, by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.