Kids have a natural curiosity and love to problem solve so inspire them with biographies of women inventors! Read about the fascinating lives of extraordinary women who persevered to find innovative solutions to both ordinary problems and complex technological conundrums.
From practical women who wanted a better way to do housework to women who faced barriers in scientific fields to women whose were driven to express themselves through art, these books demonstrate the power of women to change our everyday lives.
All of these biographies include informational back matter like timelines, author and illustrator notes and glossaries, so young minds can dive deep into the lives of women inventors.
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Picture Book Biographies of Female Inventors
The Brilliant Calculator by Jan Lower, illustrated by Susan Reagan
Born in the late 19th century, Edith Clarke discovered a passion for mathematics and astronomy at school, went on to graduate from Vassar and MIT, and became the first American electrical engineer. After graduating, she was shut out of engineering jobs because of her gender, but she wouldn't let that stop her. Instead, she invented the Clarke Calculator, which quickly solved the calculations needed to prevent electrical power wires from overloading. That calculator finally got her a job as the first female electrical engineer in America.
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu
From an early age, Hopper loved to figure out how things worked. Encouraged by her parents to study math and science, despite the domination of the field by men, Hopper's curious mind helped her persevere and she during WWII, she enlisted in WAVES, the women’s division of the Naval Reserve. Hopper remained in the Navy until she was 80 (!) solving incredibly complex computer programming problems. An utterly fascinating story.
Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu
Hedy Lamarr, known to the public as a beautiful 1930's movie star, was also a brilliant scientific thinker and inventor. With composer George Antheil, she designed and patented a ‘frequency hopping’ device that would be able to help the US Navy redirect enemy torpedoes. The Navy classified the invention as "Secret" and Lamarr's work as an inventor went unrecognized for decades. But now, your kids can learn all about this amazing female inventor!
The House That Cleaned Itself: The True Story of Frances Gabe's (Mostly) Marvelous Invention by Laura Dershewitz and Susan Romberg, illustrated by Meghann Rader
The number one reason to read this book to your kids is that no doubt they will want to try out Frances Gabe's ideas for themselves. Although, beware when your child starts hooking up a soap-spraying sprinkler in the ceiling. The number two reason is because this biography is a wonderfully joyful and humorous look at one woman's boundless imagination and her quest to invent tools to make life easier. Don't miss this one.
Railroad Engineer Olive Dennis by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Tanja Stephani
You'll notice a consistent theme in many picture book biographies of women trailblazers. The woman in question excels at school, often out-performing her colleagues, in male-dominated fields like engineering or science. Then, when she goes out to get a job, her gender is seen as disqualifying. Such is the story of Olive Dennis. She was eventually hired as the first female engineer at B&O Railroad. At first, she worked on strengthening bridges, but to her initial disappointment, she was sent out to ride the trains to suggest improvements. Eventually, she invented a multitude of items that made riding the rails much more pleasant!
Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
Mattie, the first U.S. woman to obtain a patent, started inventing things when she was just a girl. She figured out how to make faster sleds, better kites and when she was twelve, she invented a device to protect loom workers. She also invented a machine to manufacture paper bags. The illustrations in this book are wonderful. Flowing watercolors are accompanied by blueprint-like drawings of Mattie's inventions.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
I love this illustrated biography of a woman who has recently been "discovered" as the first computer programmer. The daughter of the notorious poet, Lord Byron, Ada's math-loving mother raised her away from him. Ada had an inquisitive, curious mind and when she met Charles Babbage (who invented the first mechanical computer), it was Ada who figures out how to program it. A gorgeous book with fun details that will fascinate children.
The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
This is a wonderful biography of a woman you have probably never heard of, but who has made significant contributions to medicine, including inventing a treatment for blindness. Written in rhyme, the narrative flows well and the illustrations are engaging. End material, including a letter from Dr. Bath, photographs, a time line and further details about Dr. Bath's life and work make this biography extra special.
Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Tracy Subisak
Larson and Subisak's biography of Emma Todd introduces kids to a woman driven by her curiosity and passion for innovation. Inspired by her inventor-grandfather, Todd grew up tinkering and exploring. She eventually worked at the US Patent Office where her interest in flight had her dreaming of all kinds of inventions, including designing a prototype for a working airplane.
Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine by Kate Hannigan , illustrated by Sarah Green
Thank goodness for inventors like Josephine Garis Cochrane! Josephine could think of all sorts of things she rather do than wash a sink full of dirty dishes, so she set about inventing a machine that washed dishes. Whenever Josephine hit an obstacle, she repeats the mantra, "There must be a better way!" This attitude led her, not just to invent and improve a dishwashing machine, but to become an entrepreneur who never stopped searching for a better way to do things.
Sweet Dreams, Sarah by Vivian Kirkfield, illustrated by Chris Ewald
Born enslaved, Sarah Goode learned the art of woodcraft from her free father. Post-Civil War, she moved to Chicago, married a fellow-carpenter, opened a furniture store and set her mind to creating innovative pieces of furniture that would work in small spaces. In 1885 she became the first African-American woman to secure a patent. Her invention? A cabinet that transformed to a bed!
Cut! How Lotte Reiniger and a Pair of Scissors Revolutionized Animation by C. E. Winters, illustrated by Matt Schu
Blow your children's minds by telling them that Walt Disney didn't invent animation. In fairness, neither did the German animator Lotte Reiniger, but long before Disney, she used scherenschnitte-style paper puppets to create and stop motion films. She went on to invent a multiplane camera to give her animated films depth of field. I love the way the illustrations draw upon the same paper cutting techniques that Reiniger used.
Rock, Rosetta Rock! Roll, Rosetta, Roll! by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
I thought it would be fun to round out this list of women inventors with a reminder than inventions are not always things you can patent. Considered the godmother of rock and roll, Bolden and Christie bring to life the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe through lively free verse and vibrant illustrations. Although this may be your child's introduction to Tharpe as the (or one of the) inventor of rock and roll, they will recognize (or at least you will!) other faces like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley as later musicians who were influenced by her music.