Between the pages of these children's books about women in politics and women activists, you will meet the women who helped shape the future and advance the rights of women (and men). While most of these picture book biographies focus on women in American history (because that is what is most available to me), I've included several books about key women from other parts of the world, too.
When I make list of biographies I focus on traditional picture book format. In your library's biography section you can always find informative text about important famous and not-so-famous individuals. So while it may appear that I have left some obvious figures off this list it is because I could not find a picture book that I really enjoyed. There are many good, informative nonfiction books to be found in your library and I hope you will look them up. I look forward to publishers picking up the slack and getting some more quality picture book biographies of ground-breaking political women and activists on the shelves in the near future. (hint hint) (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Picture Books about Women's Suffrage
Learn about the women who fought and protested tirelessly to win the right to vote.
Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women's Right to Vote by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Nancy Zhang. Alice Paul, a suffragette and activist organized a protest outside the White House during Wilson's administration. She led parades, went to jail and even met with the president himself. Her creative tactics helped pave the way for the 19th amendment.
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon. A look at the upbringing of a pioneer for women's rights, from her childhood to her education, and her presence at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention.
I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Introduce your daughters and sons to the spunky Esther Morris, who from her childhood never forgot that "she could do that, too." Not a lot is known about the personal life of Morris, who was an important figure in Wyoming suffrage politics and eventually became a judge, but this picture book gives an entertaining take on what it might be like to be an outspoken female in the 19th century.
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. A fun picture book about two women, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who travelled across the country with a kitten, and a typewriter to spread the message that women should have the right to vote.
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner. The book starts with a sort of prologue starring Abigail Adams who issues a warning to her husband that if women were not included in the new laws for the United States they would start their own revolution. The story then skips ahead to 1840 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott start that very revolution. I appreciated that the author included the voice of Sojourner Truth in the middle of the book because it is important to remember that Cady Stanton and the other suffragettes were fighting for the white woman's right to vote. This book, though, is not just about the fight for voting rights, it covers many milestones in the women's fight for equal treatment.
Picture Books about Women Activists
These tireless women could not tolerate to sit idly by in the face of injustice. They are roll models any child can look up to.
Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist by Philip Dray, illustrated Stephen Alcorn. In Post-Civil War America, Wells was an anti-lynching activist and one of the first successful Black Americans to win a legal battle in court. She wrote tirelessly against Jim Crow and refused to back down, even in the face of threats to her life.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Poems tell the story of Fannie Lou Hamer's life, from her childhood as a sharecropper to her life as an activist. The text is emotional and doesn't gloss over Fannie's hardships, and the collage illustrations are stunning.
Malala Yousafzai: Warrior With Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by L. C. Wheatley. A biography of the young Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Malala has become an inspiring voice for peace and education and even though her story is frightening at times, this is a good, age appropriate picture book.
Malala is one of the fearless women on our printable women card coloring pages. Check out all 8 of our featured women cards!
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 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 tells a valuable story of the history of women workers and the importance of fair labor practices. It is a story which still resonates today.
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla. While many are familiar with Chávez, Huerta is another civil rights leaders who will inspire kids. Warren portrays Huerta in her many roles from a teacher to parent to protester and more. Her strength and determination to help the farmworkers led her to help organize a strike so they could achieve better working conditions and fair treatment under the law. The book includes great supplemental information in the afterward.
Aani and the Tree Huggers by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Venantius J Pinto. Atkins was inspired to write this book by events that took place in 1970, in India. Villagers protested the cutting down of their venerated trees by holding on to them. In this story, Aani, a young girl, leads the fight to protect the trees from tree-cutters who have official orders to cut them down. The trees are a source of food, shelter and comfort for the villagers. This is an interesting book to talk to kids about the many forms of protest. It's not always a march or a strike. It could be—literally—tree-hugging.
Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Alexandra Wallner. 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.
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.
Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson is the story of singer Florence Mills, who used her fame to fight for civil rights in the 1920s. She was well-known for her compassion for the less-fortunate and for helping to advance the careers other African-American performers who faced profound racism. If you’re looking for a book with a good role-model, this is the one.
Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Q. L. Pearce, illustrated by Gina Capaldi. Zitkala-Sa, left her home on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota to go to school in Indiana where she found solace in music. This wonderful biography tells her story from her struggles due to being separated from her traditional culture and discovering her love of music as a child to her activism on behalf of Native Americans, as an adult.
Picture Books about First Ladies
First ladies of the United States did not sit idly by while their husbands conducted business. Whether their contributions were political, social or cultural, many first ladies expressed a fierce devotion to making their country better for everyone.
Kids' Guide to America's First Ladies by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Anna DiVito. This is not a picture book, but I found it an excellent resource and goes beyond the dry facts of each women's life as first lady. Each woman's section can be read with your child as a discreet unit if you prefer. It has just been published and includes the first ladies through the present day.
Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick. I love this book which captures Eleanor Roosevelt's adventurous, convention-defying spirit. In 1933, two risk-loving women sneak away from a stuffy dinner party and go for the ride in the sky! Brian Selznick's black and white pencil illustrations capture the era perfectly.
Dolley Madison Saves George Washington by Don Brown. Dolley was a popular first lady, whom many underestimated and wrote off as a "socialite." It was Dolley, however, who stepped up to the plate as the soldiers fled the White House during the War of 1812 and rescued valuable state papers from the mansion, as well as the now-famous portrait of the first Commander-in-Chief. Great fun but also a serious look at the importance of courage.
Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein. A picture book biography of Lady Bird Johnson's life and dedication to bringing the beauty of nature to America, including her role in the Highway Beautification Act.
When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. (To be published 3/2107, I haven't seen a copy of the book yet, but am so looking forward to it so wanted to include it here.) A look at Jackie Kennedy Onassis' role in the campaign to keep Grand Central from going the way of Penn Station.
Picture Books about Women Candidates and Legislators
Women aren't just auxiliaries! They run for office, serve the public as representatives and senators. Note to publishers: I am disappointed in the lack of quality picture book biographies about women who served in public office. I think you need to work on this!
She Was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Russell-Brown's engaging biography of Chisholm narrates her journey from a young child with a talent for leadership to her life in politics. Readers will learn about how her experiences growing up in Barbados and New York influenced her desire to make change and fight on behalf of others. With the growing diversity in high political offices, this is an important read for children to learn about the long trajectory of the fight for representation and justice.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. There are several picture book biographies about Hillary Clinton, I like this one as it offers an inspiring and positive message in the way it focuses on Hillary's journey in leadership, service and activism as a girl, young adult and grown woman in education, the law and politics. I also love Pham's appealing illustrations, especially the final pages which show Hillary in a group of her fellow inspiring female leaders. Jonah Winter's Hillary and Kathleen Krull's Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight are also worth reading.
Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Courtney Martin. A fun biography of a woman who ran for president in 1884. Belva Lockwood was a determined woman. When her law degree was denied she appealed directly to President Grant and won. She argued a case before the Supreme Court, and she had the audacity to run for the highest office at a time when women couldn't even vote. Yet most kids (and grown-ups) don't even know her name. Time to change that.
Madam President: Five Women Who Paved the Way by Nichola D. Gutgold, and Abigail S. Kennedy, illustrated by Jane Ramsey. In the absence of a good picture book of most of women mentioned in this book, I am including this short collection of biographies of women who ran for president. The book includes the stories of Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Patricia Schroeder, Elizabeth Dole, and Hillary Clinton.
Picture Books about Women Lawyers and Judges
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. I love this charming book about how Ginsburg never stopped disagreeing with ideas that put women and other underprivileged persons at a disadvantage.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. This is a wonderful book if you are looking for a picture book biography about a contemporary Hispanic-American figure (or any inspiring public figure). Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's story will inspire everyone. The book follows Sonia as she grows up in poverty in the Bronx and gets an education. The book has a great, positive message and emphasizes how important it is to be surrounded by supportive friends and family.
When Esther Morris Headed West, Women, Wyoming and the Right to Vote by Connie Nordhielm Woldridge, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. If you made it to the end of this list congratulations, you probably noticed this is the second book about Ester Morris. I didn't know if I should include her under suffragettes or judges (women never stay in pat little boxes, do they?) so I thought what the heck, I'll just do both. This book focuses more on Morris in Wyoming rather than her childhood, but both books are worth reading.
More book lists about strong women:
- 16 Picture Books about Women Scientists
- Picture Books about Women in History
- Biographies of African-American Women
- Picture Books about Rowdy Girls