Let’s state the obvious. We should not confine learning about women’s history to one month of the year. However, celebrating Women’s History Month in March is a great reminder of the need to incorporate books about women’s history all year long! These middle grade books for Women’s History Month (and every month) are excellent choices for upper elementary children and middle school students.
(Note: this book list contains affiliate links that may earn commission.)
This book list is divided into three sections:
- Historical Fiction Novels
- Memoirs & Autobiographies
Age recommendations are a guide only, not hard and fast rules.
There are loads of wonderful historical fiction books for kids that focus on the experiences of women and girls. For this list, particularly I have chosen a few that are based on real life stories from important moments in history. Find more of our historical fiction recommendations here.
Letters from Cuba
by Ruth Behar
I could not stop turning the pages of this excellent epistolary novel. In 1938, Esther leaves her mother and brother in Poland and joins her father in Cuba. Esther tells her story in a series of letters to her sister. Making the journey by herself, as a Jewish refugee, Esther looks forward to her new home. Once in Cuba, she falls in love with the island and her neighbors. Her father has been working as a peddler, but Esther is a talented seamstress and finds success selling sought after dresses so that she and her father are finally able to send for the rest of the family. Behar based the book on the story of her grandmother. Ages 9 and up.
Betty Before X
by Ilyasah Shabazz, with Renée Watson
An engaging, fictionalized account of 11-year-old, Betty, who would grow up to be civil rights leader, Dr. Betty Shabazz. Betty learned about the power of activism through life at church, listening to powerful speakers, including Thurgood Marshall, and forming friendships with likeminded individuals. Betty’s journey is personal and political, and this book is hard to put down. Ages 9 and up.
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science
by Jeannine Atkins
In this verse biography, Atkins tells the stories of three girls and how their curiosity and willingness to buck the constraints of their gender changed the world. Maria Merian was a naturalist born in the 17th century. In the 19th century Mary Anning searched for fossils on the cliffs off England’s coast, and Maria Mitchell explored the night sky from the shores of Nantucket. Ages 8 and up.
by Supriya Kelkar
In 1942, Anjali’s mother joins Gandhi’s resistance movement in India. This means some big changes for 10 year old Anjali and her family’s way of life, and Anjali must work to overcome her prejudices against some of India’s lower classes, like the “untouchables.” Despite her dedication to nonviolence, Anjali’s mother goes to jail and Anjali must decide if she is going to take up her work. This is a moving story of a girl’s journey towards learning about inequality and the importance of social justice. (Also, look how pretty the cover is!) Ages 8 and up.
For more wonderful biographies of women throughout history visit our huge picture book list of Books for Women’s History Month
Memoirs and Autobiographies
This selection of books includes women making history today as well as women who made contributions over the past century. You may also enjoy the following list: Middle grade verse biographies and memoirs
The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor
by Sonia Sotomayor
First of all, let’s discuss how adorable Sotomayor was as a girl! This is Sotomayor’s adaptation of her memoir, My Beloved World, for young readers. Sotomayor tells her story of growing in the Bronx and following her dreams with the support of her family and community. She presents a nuanced picture of the challenges and achievements which put her on the path to becoming the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice. Inspiring. Ages 10 and up.
Proud: Living My American Dream (Young Readers Edition)
by Ibtihaj Muhammad
In her autobiography, Muhammad narrates her journey from childhood to the 2016 Olympics, where she became the first woman to compete in fencing wearing the hijab, as well as the first female American Muslim to earn an Olympic medal. Muhammad’s story of perseverance will inspire your middle grade and teen readers. Ages 10 and up.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson describes her memories of growing up in South Carolina, and later in Brooklyn, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Verse novels are wonderful to read aloud as the cadence and rhythm adds an extra layer to the listening experience. The narrative is funny and poignant as Woodson figures out what makes her special and discovers her love words. Ages 8 and up.
I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition)
by Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala has become required reading in many middle schools and high schools, I’m happy to say! Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15. After her miraculous recovery, she became–and still is–a strong voice and advocate for girls and education all over the world. Ages 10 and up.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March
by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, illustrated by PJ Loughran
This is an appealing conversation-style, first person narrative by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest person to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. Lowery describes her experience being jailed nine times (all before the age of 15) and beaten on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. It’s an amazing and eye-opening story. Lowery speaks directly to children and tells them they have a voice and can be history makers as well. A final reference to the 2013 Supreme Court decision and assertion that discrimination no longer exists challenges the reader, “Who has the right to vote is still being decided today.” A superb, must-read book. Ages 10 and up.
Reaching for the Moon
by Katherine Johnson
Johnson writes a very readable autobiography beginning with her precocious childhood (she graduated high school at age 14) through her education at college where the teachers had to come up with new classes to keep up with her mathematical talent. She went on to become one of the first Black women to work at NASA and helped get the first men onto the moon. Throughout her autobiography, Johnson describes the roadblocks she faced due to racism and sexism. Ages 9 and up.
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality
by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy
In 1956, Jo Ann Allen was one of 12 African-American students integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. Boyce tells her story in this very readable verse memoir. Poems address both her feelings about the fight for civil rights and her own experience with typical teen feelings. A page-turner for sure! Ages 9 and up.
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
You do not need me to introduce this life-changing book. Anne Frank’s first hand account of her life in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is essential reading for every person. It will change your life. Ages 11 and up.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science
by Joyce Sidman
Way back in the 17th century, Maria Merian (also in Finding Wonders, see above) was the first person to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. She was a self-taught artist who was dedicated to illustrating the natural world, and she especially loved insects. Sidman uses photographs and illustrations to detail Marian’s fascinating life and art, describing how she struggled against the confines of her gender so that she could travel and pursue her interests in a male-dominated world. Includes loads of helpful endnotes, like timelines, glossaries, etc. Ages 8 and up.
The Story of Movie Star Anna May Wong
by Paula Yoo
Lee and Low’s “The Story of…” series of biographies is a treasure trove of information about diverse historical figure. (Although to date it only includes three women. Hmmm.) The biographies skew towards a younger audience than most of the books on this list. However, they are excellent quick reads for older kids, too, and I found all of them fascinating, including this biography of an Asian-American film actress who championed non-stereotyped roles for Asian actors. For kids who want to learn more, the book includes resources for further reading. Ages 7 and up.
Note: Paula Yoo has a fantastic picture book about Wong, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story. And no doubt your readers will enjoy learning more about performers from the books on our list of biographies of women performers.
Fighter in Velvet Gloves
by Annie Boochever & Roy Peratrovich Jr.
This is a short book (under 100 pages) about Elizabeth Peratrovich, a member of the Tlingit nation who fought for the civil rights of Native Alaskans in the mid 20th century, and helped to get Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act passed in 1945. After that she continued to work on behalf of Native Alaskans in all areas of their lives. Fun Fact: Peratrovich is on a 2020 $1 commemorative coin. Ages 10 and up.
The Radium Girls (Young Readers Edition)
by Kate Moore
The subtitle of The Radium Girls is “the scary but true story of the poison that made people glow in the dark.” And, yes, as the readers learns about the history of young women clock painters who were slowly poisoned with radium in the early 20th century, they will be quite scared indeed. (Just not in a screaming-hiding-under-the-bed sort of way.) This is a well-written book and will start conversations about all sorts of topics from chemistry to workers rights to sexism. Ages 10 and up.
Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge (Young Readers Edition)
by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve
Dunbar and Van Cleve have written an extremely readable biography detailing what Ona Judge’s life would have been like, how the Washingtons viewed slavery, how they treated their slaves, and crucially, how they pursued Judge after she escaped. This book is an eye-opener for children whose views of Washington were formed around the cherry tree myth. Did you know Washington attempted to break his own fugitive law in order to capture Judge? Not exactly the picture of a fair and just leader. That said, even though the author’s sympathies clearly lie with Judge, the book does not demonize the president. Ages 9 and up.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
Award-winning author, Fleming, has written an eclectic assortment of books, but the titles I like most are her middle grade nonfiction. Fleming’s extraordinarily well researched biography alternates chapters between Earhart’s growing up years, and the last days before her famous disappearance. Readers come away with a nuanced view of Earhart both as a woman who was interested in curating her public persona and as an intensely curious aviatrix. Ages 9 and up.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can
by Cynthia Levinson
A look at the first woman candidate for president of a major party that goes beyond the sensationalist headlines. Levinson chronicles Clinton’s life from her girlhood to the present, focusing on Clinton’s mantra of “Do all the good you can,” a quote from the Methodist, John Wesley. Levinson respectfully describes Clinton’s personal life, relationships with friends, family and colleagues and emphasizes her work as an activist. Kids will appreciate learning that a person who as been both demonized and lionized is actually just a complex individual, like anyone else. Ages 8 and up.
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier
by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks
In this thrilling graphic novel, the author and illustrator team up to tell the story of Mary Cleave and Valentina Tereshkova, the first women in space. The narrative centers on the women’s journey through the training at NASA and their experience in a white male dominated world. Ottaviani and Wicks have written a marvelous tale with a heavy dose of humor; I found myself laughing much more than I expected to at a book about astronauts! Ages 9 and up.
Hidden Figures (Young Readers Edition)
by Margot Lee Shetterly
I recommended watching the Hidden Figures film with your children in my list of movies to watch with your tweens, but to get the more nuanced story, please read the book with them as well. Shetterly’s young readers edition of her book tells the story of four amazing Black women mathematicians, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, (see Johnson’s autobiography, above) and Christine Darden. The women contributed to NASA’s successful missions but went largely unrecognized until recently. Kids will also be fascinated to learn how the women completed all their complex calculations with the help of modern computers! Ages 9 and up.
MORE: learn about other women who have flown under the radar in the science fields: Books about Women pioneers in STEM subjects.