I was going to title this book list of picture book biographies “Must Have Books For Young Feminists” but I knew that title would be polarizing. I knew that some people would click the link ready for a fight. I knew that if I titled this list with the word feminist that the list would automatically be seen as not for boys. That’s nuts. These are books and books are for people, there are no gender requirements. These books are not just for girls, in fact, I think they may be even more important to read to our sons. If we want to see a change it’s not the girls we need to convince it’s the boys who grow up to be men without understanding the hardships and obstacles many women face and sexism all women must overcome. My daughter rolled her eyes when I got some of these books out of the library, ” Not more woman books Mama, who cares if a lady is an astronaut, I am going to be an astronaut too!” She was 4 when she declared that and I wish I lived in her world where girls can do anything without any barriers. My son who is almost 9 knows why I am reading these books with him, he’s already been initiated into the real word where sexism lives. So please do not scroll past these books if you only have sons, please pick up a few and help open a window of understanding it really can make a difference.
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Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words
by Karen Leggett Abouraya tells the story of one of the great heroes of our time, Malala. Malala was a young girl in Pakistan when she stood up for education as the Taliban was stripping rights away from people in her Pakistani village. Malala stood up for every child’s right for education while the Taliban was banning education for girls. She inspired many and angered the Taliban who sent a gunman to kill her. She didn’t die, and the fear the Taliban hoped would silence her didn’t quiet her, it motivated her. That is what bravery is; facing danger without showing fear. She survived and speaks out still for the rights of all children to get an education. I can’t read this book without tears flowing, obviously very young children will not be ready for this book, I have read it with my son who is 8 but not yet with my daughter who just turned 5. There is no right or wrong time to share this book, read it and chose a time when you think your child will be able to understand and appreciate the importance of Malala’s message.
A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart (Picture Book Biography)by David A. Adler had both my 7-year-old and I totally enthralled. This book does a great job at painting the picture of early 20th century North America and how women were treated. Amelia’s whole life is covered and the book even touches on the conspiracy theories about her death. I loved how much of Amelia’s independent spirit came through in the quotes that the author shared. My absolute favorite tidbit about Ms. Earhart is actually in the author’s note and is about her mother. Did you know her mother was the first woman to summit Pike’s Peak? That fact opened up a huge conversation with my son about parental role models.
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman (Picture Book Biography)by David A. Adler. Often when I am reviewing a book with my kids I will jot down notes. This book had only one note. “Amazing!!!” I have always known the bare facts about Harriet Tubman and her involvement in The Underground Railroad, but I loved being able to learn more at the same time as my son. Our eyes both got wide as we read her incredible story of strength and leadership. My son loved this book as well and I appreciate how the author gives details without getting lost in them. My son told me “She was crazy brave!” and I agree. This is a wonderful book about a real American hero.
Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World
by Cynthia Chin-Lee is a great book to read bit by bit. The book is an alphabet book but is not for toddlers or even preschoolers. This is a wonderful book for elementary aged kids and I’d suggest you read it the way my son and I did choosing 2-3 women to focus on every night and spend some time discussing their stories. The women included in this book are diverse, from all different countries but one thing they all have in common is that they defied the odds, they stood up even when no one else would and they have the bravery to be themselves.
The Story Of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary Edition
Robert Coles is a book all children need to read. Ruby Bridges may not have had a choice about her place in history, but she bore the burden with incredible bravery all at the age of six. This book does a wonderful job at telling the story of how Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to enroll in a previously all-white elementary school. The hatred and threats she dealt with and the grace in which she did. Of all the biographies about the civil rights movement this is my favorite because children can relate to Ruby, they can relate to walking into school, and to the feelings of anxiety. They will never have to face what she did, but it’s easier to put themselves in her shoes than those of leaders and adult activist. This is a great book to introduce children to this part of American history.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is not so much a biography, but it is most definitely a historical account of one woman who changed a nation. We all know the story of Rosa Parks but no matter how well you know the facts, reading a children’s book about it makes me cry. The author has done a fantastic job setting the stage, explaining how Rosa Parks was not your typical heroine, she was just a seamstress, just like everyone else. This is imperative to the message that one woman can stand up for what is right and make big changes. I also appreciated that the author included so much about the women who spearheaded the bus boycott. I am in my 30s and I feel inspired reading this as a woman, to think of the power it can have over young girls excites me. I can not wait to read this to my daughter.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
Cheryl Harness is an amazing story of Mary Walker one of the first female doctors in the United States, Civil War surgeon and prisoner of war, and Medal of Honor recipient. If you have never heard of her don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either, but I am glad I have now. This was an awesome book to read with my daughter who like Mary marches to the beat of her own drummer, and thank goodness they do. Mary Walker carved many paths in more than just the world of medicine and her story needs to be shared.
Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King made me cry. The true story is about a librarian who did what she needed to do to raise enough money to make a functional children’s section in the oldest library in Texas. What she did was stay on the roof of that library for a week, and it worked. I loved the message that libraries are vital, that books open doors, and that providing access to information to those who can’t afford to get it on their own is a worthwhile cause. This book made me want to cheer, it had me spouting off lessons left and right to my kids, and it absolutely captivated all three of us. Go read this book and learn more about RoseAleta Laurell the real librarian on the roof. Maybe she hasn’t changed history the way that some of these other women did but she is such a hero and put books in children’s hands and that will change history, I am certain.
The Red Piano
Andre Leblanc made me sob. This biography is about Zhu Xiao-Mei a young pianist growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. In a work camp during the day but at night she sneaks out to a local village and into a home where a piano is hidden. It’s more than just her love of music it’s her determination not to be broken by the authorities that shines through. When the piano is found in the village it’s chopped for fireword and she is punished further. When Chairman Mao dies the work camps start emptying but Zhu Xiao-Mei is the last to leave. The book isn’t clear about what happens next and if you aren’t familiar with Zhu Xiao-Mei ‘s career as an international concert pianist you may miss the greatest part of this story, not only did she get to leave the work camp, the authorities didn’t win, her passion was greater than their force. That made me sob. My son responded like most 8 year olds would, ” She must really like piano. She owned the bad guys in the end!” Yes she did.
DK Readers: The Story of Anne Frank (Level 3: Reading Alone)
Brenda Ralph Lewis impressed me. I struggle with how to tell such a horrifying story to young children. I should explain that this book is not geared for preschoolers, it’s a school-age book , but still, it’s a daunting task. This book helps break down the facts while including details about this young girl’s personal and family life. This balance of historical facts and Anne’s family life is the key to why this book works. There is so much horror to digest that the little details like how Anne was a bit of a trouble maker, and talked too much in class helps to tune the reader back into the very personal story. I think this is a fantastic precursor to reading Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl, it will give all the needed background for your older child to fully comprehend and appreciate the diary itself.
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully is a book that all little girls should read. I think I may buy 20 copies and give them to every girl that invites either one of my kids to their birthday parties. The reason I think this book is so wonderful isn’t because it’s about some woman that is on a coin (no disrespect Susan) but because I had never heard of Mattie but I should have, we all should have. Many of her inventions are still in use today – like the paper bag that stays upright. She made history many of us just didn’t know it. Her story of invention, entrepreneurship, and strength of character are stunning. She stands up for herself , learns from her mistakes, and follows her passion even though it’s not the easy or even the “only kinda hard” road. All the way she faces challenges and just keeps going. This is far more inspiring than any girl power book that I have read before, and it’s true.
by Marissa Moss is about Ida Lewis the daughter of a light house keeper who steps up and takes over his work when her father ill. Her first rescue is at the age of 16 and over the next 39 years she made many more. Rowing out in rough waters to save lives was just what she did and was why she was refered to as the bravest woman in America.
Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighterby Dianne Ochilltree is a story I had never heard before we found this book at the library but am so glad I know it now. Molly was an African American cook who provided meals for the firefighters in a town in New York. When a fire broke out and most of the firefighters were ill she put on the gear and stood side by side with the men to help fight the fire. She is the first known female fire fighter. What I love about this story is that Molly didn’t grab the gear and start fighting because she wanted to be the first, she did it because there was a need and she was capable of helping. Being the first woman to be a firefighter was brave and Molly kept volunteering with the department for years after the first fire.
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! (City Lights/Sister Spit)
Kate Schatz The only thing that this book is missing is a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th volume. I love this book and not just because it has rad in the title. This book is a collection of true groundbreakers, women who were forced to be brave because they chose to follow their dreams in a world that wasn’t ready for them to, to stand up for others and to force change when it would have been easier to just go with the flow. There are 25 amazing American women featured and a shout out to the nameless women who make brave choices every single day. My son really liked this book because like me he loves biographies and history we read a handful of letters each night because the entries are long and it gave us time to talk. I read a few pages to my daughter but they entries were too long and detailed to hold her attention. I would read this to children 6 and up, I think tweens and teens would also really like this stylish and important book.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird
Renee Watson is the story of Florence Mills. I am so glad I grabbed this book from the library because I am not sure I’d have learned about her without it. Florence was an entertainer in a very segregated world. While she was welcome to entertain she wasn’t often welcome in other places. She had a voice that quieted crowds and dance moves to match but what stood out to me was her commitment to others. She opted to make opportunities for others instead of making herself an even bigger star. What makes her brave is she was outspoken about equality and used her influence as an entertainer to do so. It was a brave move and that is the message that comes across in this book, that being kind is brave, helping others can be a brave act, and following your dreams requires most of us to put aside fear and go for it.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La juez que creció en el Bronx (Spanish Edition)
Jonah Winter is yet another book that makes me tear up. I have a soft spot for women who defy the odds against them. Sonia Sotomayor did just that and in this biography readers learn just how many she had stacked against her. I can’t imagine how many times she heard that her dreams were too big and that is something that is not unique to her. Children are told they can’t be this or that much more than we think, maybe not explicitly but it’s implied all too often. We don’t have to tell our children they are amazing all the time, but we should listen to their dreams. I love this book and so does my daughter, we like that it’s text is in English and Spanish and try to figure out some of the Spanish words while we read it. I like that it begins with her as a young girl, someone my daughter can relate to even if her environment is very different, her age makes and instant connection. This book leaves me thinking about how brave it is to follow your dreams especially when only a few people expect you to even come close to reaching them.
Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Freedom and Equalilty (Biographies (Picture Window Books))by Suzanne Slade is a great introduction to Susan B. Anthony and why she is so much more than just a lady on coins. Although we often think of her as a suffragette she was also a champion of human rights and abolitionist. She fought for women’s right to vote knowing that she herself would never get the right. This book explains all that in terms kids can understand and relate to.
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone made me teary eyed. If you aren’t familiar with Elizabeth Cady Staton grab this book because not only will it catch you up on the life of this women’s rights activist, it will also let you feel her sense of justice and determination. I wrote down the quote “wasn’t interested in easy” which was in reference to her father saying she should have been born a boy so she would fit in better but is a great quote for anything and anyone.
Did I miss a great title? Share it with me in comments or pop over to my Facebook Page!
Thanks for this list. I have already placed holds at the library.
I love your book lists! I wish that when my kids were small I were as cool as you are. Please remember Wilma Unlimited and Helen Keller (I read A Girl Named Helen Keller (Scholastic Reader Level 3)Dec 1, 1995 by Margo Lundell and Irene Trivas to my 1st graders each year.) Both women’s lives were so inspiring!
Allison McDonald says
Absolutely! I have Helen Keller in so many others but not that book, I should grab it! And Wilma Unlimited is another favorite, my grandmother was a track athlete and I have a soft spot for stories about pioneers like Wilma!
jess @ fushmush says
*sigh* feminism is so misunderstood these days but I do love the title of this post.
Thanks for sharing. I have pinned quite a few of them for the future.
Deb Maxwell says
Great list! I’m pinning it. I just discovered Me…Jane about Jane Goodall. It’s wonderful for young kids. Beautiful pictures. (Won a Caldecott honor).
Ted Macaluso says
Nice list. You might also consider “Drum Dream Girl. How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music” by Margarita Engel.
I’m picking out books for my five nieces, plus my daughter and her friends, for Christmas, and didn’t have high hopes when I googled “picture books for feminists to read their daughters” – you can’t imagine my delight when your comprehensive list came up! And I’m so glad you noted the importance of sharing these with boys as well as girls. Thank you for such a wonderful list; I can’t wait to give them, and also, I needed a win tonight. Much love.
Allison McDonald says
This comment is a much needed win for me tonight too 🙂
“Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson” by Sue Stauffacher is a great one! She was the first African American to win Wimbledon. I love this book because not only is it about an awesome woman, but it also shows children that even if they’re labeled as “troublemakers” when they’re young, they can still achieve amazing things!
Allison McDonald says
Thanks for this addition to the list!