Although anytime’s a good time to teach your kids about fearsome women in history, Women’s History Month and it’s the perfect time for me to give you a book list! As a parent I like to use picture book biographies to teach my kids about historical figures, but these stories are not just dry texts. I’ve selected what I think are some of the best books for children that are not just about significant or famous women, but also have great illustrations and an all-around entertaining story.
In addition, several children’s literature bloggers are publishing the month-long Kid Lit Celebrates Women’s History Month, with daily reviews, interviews and thought on women’s biographies and history books for kids. I highly recommend adding their blog to your reader so you can follow along.
Every-Day Dress-Up. Okay, so this is not actually a biography, but it is a terrific, optimistic books for kids ages 2 and up who love pretend play. The narrator’s mommy shows her there is more to dress up than princess costumes. Each day of the week she dresses up as a different famous woman, like Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo, which inspires her to try out a new occupation. By the end of the book, she is celebrating her own future greatness. Also available for the Kindle.
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was recognized for her work restoring trees to Kenya. The wonderful thing about Maathai’s story is that it involves the cooperation of an extended community of women and will make kids aware of the power of individuals to bring positive, long-lasting global change. As always, Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are stunning. Also available for the Kindle. In addition, I enjoyed Jeannette Winter’s version of Wangari’s story in the picture book, Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa
You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer. In the mid-19th century, Amelia is fed up with the ridiculous and cumbersome clothes that women are expected to wear. So, she decides to forge ahead with a new style. As you can imagine, not everyone is impressed. If you have kids who have independent ideas about what they wear, they will love Amelia’s story.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Clara comes to NYC dirt poor but full of grit. She works a miserable, backbreaking job at a garment factory. An extraordinary individual, she taught herself to read and led the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. History, despite being beaten and jailed for participating in labor strikes. Melissa Sweet’s books and illustrations just keep getting better and better and she tells a valuable story of the history of women workers and the importance of fair labor practices, which still resonates today.
Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren. I love the story of Mercy because not only did she become an accomplished writer and political thinker before, during and after the American Revolution, she was surrounded by men who encouraged and valued her contributions, despite the prevalent belief that woman’s role was to cook and sew.
She Loved Baseball. Effa Manley is the only woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She was the business manager of the Newark Eagles, a Negro League Baseball team, which she and her husband founded. She fiercely campaigned for the rights and due recognition for African-American ball players. Also available for the Kindle.
Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca. This is a long, text-heavy picture book with a not-so-pretty story, best suited for kids ages 8 and up. It tells the fascinating history of a woman who fought both personal and political struggles with and for her fellow Native Americans. I had not even heard of Sarah Wimmemucca before I picked up this book. Make sure your kids don’t miss out.
Jazz Age Josephine. Josephine Baker overcame a difficult childhood, pushed back against racist entertainment policies and dazzled audiences with her dancing. Winter’s spirited text and Priceman’s lively, jazzy illustrations, brings Josephine’s particular brand of joyful performance to life. Also available for the Kindle.
Here Come the Girl Scouts! Scouting girls will enjoy reading this biography of Juliette Daisy Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in order to give girls a way to explore interests outside of “proper ladylike pursuits.” I love Hadley Hooper’s illustrations and the way the text uses quotes from the Girl Scout handbook.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx. Women make history even in the present day, as the life of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrates. Sotomayor’s story of growing up in the Bronx emphasizes the important role family plays in nurturing success. This is a bilingual book. Also available for the Kindle.
What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! I love that Alice was known for just being herself. This award-winning book charms readers with Alice’s exuberance and flouting of social conventions. She rejected a prim boarding school in favor of home learning, survived leg braces and slid down the stairs of the White House. She sounds like a great friend to have had.
Amelia And Eleanor Go For A Ride. In 1933, two convention-defying, risk-loving women sneak away from a stuffy dinner party and go for the ride in the sky! Large black and white pencil illustrations capture the era perfectly.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq. When war threatens to destroy Alia’s precious library collection, which includes rare editions, she bravely works to move 30,000 volumes to safety. This is a powerful story about courage and determination.
Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries. Do your kids like dinosaurs? Teach them about Mary Anning, who discovered the first complete fossil of a plesiosaur in 1823. This book is out of print, but fortunately is now available for Kindle.
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. Thirteen year old Maria has to catch and study insects in secret otherwise her 17th Century neighbors will accuse her of witchcraft. The metamorphosis of butterflies and moths, or “summer birds,” was not understood and such creatures were considered “beasts of the devil.” This book is as much about a love of the natural world as it is about one of the first female naturalists.
Obviously there are so many other interesting historical figures in women’s history to read, what would you add to this list? Leave a comment so I can pad my reading list!
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