15 Don’t Miss Children’s Books for Women’s History Month with Elizabeth from the Kid Lit Mama
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Children’s books have come such a long way, especially when it comes to nonfiction and biographies. As a child, I don’t remember reading anything even remotely similar to the titles I’m going to recommend today. The nonfiction we had access to was incredibly dry and fact-based, unlike the narrative biographies that exist nowadays. Today’s picture book biographies are written like stories, and they are incredibly engaging and beautiful!
Since March is Women’s History Month, this is a great time to amplify the stories of WOMEN in particular. I’m going to share with you a variety of picture book biographies about incredible women, as well as some titles featuring the stories of women’s lives for slightly older readers. Since I know many teachers and parents are working to diversify the books in their libraries to make their collections more inclusive, I’ve pointed out the ethnicity/race of the women featured in these titles, with an emphasis on titles featuring BIPOC characters.
1) Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez
This biography highlights the life of Maria Martinez, a renowned potter who developed an incredible new firing technique that produced pottery known as blackware. Maria was one of the Tewa people of San Ildefonso Pueblo, one of nineteen Pueblo tribes in New Mexico.
2) The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation
This book highlights the story of an incredible woman who is making history TODAY, Darlene Arviso. In the mornings, Darlene drives a school bus, and in the afternoons, she delivers water to Navajo families living on the reservation, serving over 200 thirsty families each month! Darlene’s story reminds us of all the unsung heroes that exist in society and also encourages readers to help and listen to others.
Black/African American representation:
3) Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
Learn about the life of Alma Thomas, a talented painter who lived during segregation. Alma brought art to her community by teaching at the local school, welcoming children into her home and teaching them there, and leading field trips and art clubs. Alma’s art is a totally new style and is truly dazzling, inspired by her childhood in the South and her daily experiences in nature. Alma’s art was featured in the first ever solo show by a Black woman, and her artwork was the first by a Black woman to be displayed in the White House (by the Obamas).
4) We Wait for the Sun: The Story of Young Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Her Grandmother’s Enduring Love
This book shares the story of Dovey Mae and her Grandma Rachel going out in the early morning to pick blackberries. The story is full of intergenerational love, wonder, and delight and is truly beautiful. At the end of the book, we learn all about Dovey Mae Johnson Roundtree, who grew to become a civil rights activist, and her grandma’s influence on her life.
5) Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln
This title celebrates the life of pianist Teresa Carreño. Teresa moved to the United States with her family during the Civil War. It is here that Teresa became known as “the Piano Girl,” receiving important invitations to play, including one from Abraham Lincoln and his family. Her music brought everyone great joy during a difficult and painful time.
Also available in Spanish as Manos Que Bailan: Cómo Teresa Carreño Tocó El Piano Para El Presidente Lincoln:
6) Planting Seeds: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
This gorgeous (and I mean, GORGEOUS) picture book biography details the life of Pura Belpré. Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, captivating children with her magical story time and creating her own Spanish books as well. She is now remembered in children’s literature through the Pura Belpré book award, which honors Latinx children’s book creators.
Also available in Spanish as Sembrando historias: Pura Belpré: bibliotecaria y narradora de cuentos:
7) Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX
Learn about the life of Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Japanese-American lawyer and legislator from Hawaii who was significant in the passing of Title IX, which required schools to treat men and women equally, including in sports . This book continually returns to the adage “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” to demonstrate the many challenges Patsy encountered and overcame throughout her life. Patsy was the first woman of color in the US congress.
8) Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria
This is the incredible story of how a Chinese chemist, Tu Youyou, discovered the cure for malaria from an ancient chinese remedy, the qinghao plant. Her discovery helped save millions of lives, and she was the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize. This story feels especially interesting and relevant as we live through a pandemic.
9) A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything
This bold picture book details the creation and evolution of Wonder Woman! Woman Woman was officially pitched by a man named Bill Marston, but he was inspired by his wife (of course), Elizabeth Marston. The idea of a female superheroine was controversial at the time, but she was a hit with kids and inspired them to see women’s potential. This book highlights how Wonder Woman changed with the times and was revived by feminist figures to become who she is today.
10) Violet Velvet Mittens with Everything
This title is written in first person, from the perspective of fashion editor and style icon Diana Vreeland. The author has captured what I imagine is Diana’s voice quite well, and the text is brimming with personality. You can tell that Diana was bold, confident, and not afraid to push boundaries in fashion. The illustrations in this one are adorable: the color palate, spectacular. Little fashion lovers will swoon over Violet Velvet Mittens with Everything!
11) Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson
This book shares the life of Joanne Simpson, a meteorologist who enjoyed studying the clouds, particularly cumulus clouds. The men she studied with didn’t take her seriously or see the point in studying clouds. Joanne stuck with it, made an incredible scientific discovery about her favorite clouds, and obtained her doctorate of meteorology! She also designed a mathematical cloud model that influenced what meteorology has come to be today.
For older readers:
12) Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers
Latinitas includes forty short biographies highlighting the lives of Latina women, starting as girls. Their stories are both remarkable and relatable. For example, we learn that as a girl at her Catholic school, Alicia Alonso was continually told by the nuns to pay attention and sit still (relatable). She ended up becoming a prima ballerina founding one of the biggest ballet schools in the world (remarkable)! This book will inspire little girls everywhere to dream big dreams.
Also available in Spanish as Latinitas: Una Celebración de 40 Soñadoras Audaces:
13) “Nice” Jewish Girls
This biography anthology shares the stories of 36 bold Jewish women, including more well known figures like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Gloria Steinem to lesser known hidden figures like Anna Freud (the daughter of well-known psychotherapist Sigmund Freud) and Helen Frankenthaler (a painter that invented a technique known as canvas “soak staining”).
14) Bold Words from Black Women
This GORGEOUS book (fit for a coffee table) features 50 Black Women. Unlike most anthologies, this one includes each woman’s own words. Each page includes a quote from the featured woman in addition to a short bio.
15) Look Up Series