I have several blog posts in the works (and in the rears as I'm behind on them) but I decided to jump ahead for this one. International Women's Day, March 8, just passed, but we're still at the start of Women's History Month so I'm taking full advantage to share some favorite picture book biographies about women.
Picture books have come a long way in recent years, particularly in expanding diversity and representation in terms of characters, topics, and authors and illustrators. That is particularly true for biographies, which have also become more narrative and engaging in their content in many respects. I won't hit on every beloved picture book biography about women nor on all that deserve mentioning. There are simply too many. However, I hope to share some that I find especially compelling and well done.
I also want to take a moment to discuss why we celebrate women's history, or Black history, or Indigenous People's and First Nations' history. It's the same reason we should proudly embrace the movement Black Lives Matter. These celebrations and calls to awareness do not denigrate or belittle the value of other lives or histories. Rather, the groups represented have and continue to be marginalized. We call attention to the contributions and accomplishments of women and other marginalized people because they have been neglected, overlooked, demeaned, and often, impeded. Telling more of our history is not rewriting history. It's expanding our understanding and acknowledging more of our truth.
With that, please enjoy these titles, and feel free to suggest others in the comments ...
Picture Book Biographies About Women
Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi and Q. L. Pearce
Gertrude Simmons, also known as Zitkala-Sa, meaning Red Bird (1876 - 1938) overcomes the oppressive and repressive methods of government and missionary boarding schools and uses music and stories to help her native culture "sing" and became an activist on behalf of Native American rights.
Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin and Bethany Stancliffe
Eliza Davis (1817 - 1903) takes on the most popular author of his time, Charles Dickens, challenging him to revisit his own implicit biases and correct the negative stereotypes of people of Jewish faith or descent that he perpetuates in his literary works.
Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers and Marta Álvarez Miguéns
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel and Nabi Ali with a foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins
Jennifer Keelan (1981 - ), who was born with cerebral palsy, climbs the U.S. Capitol steps to demand rights for persons with disabilities. The Capitol Crawl helped secure passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin and The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley
Dr. Temple Grandin (1947 - ) embraced the different ways of thinking that were characteristic of her diagnosis on the autism spectrum to became an animal behavioral scientist, professor, advocate, and inventor. Raye Montague (1935 - ) excelled at math and science and became one of the "hidden figures" behind the NASA space program.
On the above note, you should also check out Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman as well as Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and Dow Phumiruk.
Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai and Kerascoët
Malala Yousafzai (1997 - ) resists efforts by the Taliban to suppress education for girls and women in Pakistan. She is shot by the Taliban for speaking out and writing but survives to become a global women's rights activist.
Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa and The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
Wangari Maathai (1940 - 2011) launches the Green Belt Movement in Africa, planting millions of trees to restore ecological health while also empowering and educating women through sustainable economic development. Alia Muhammad Baker (1952 - 2021) serves as the the chief librarian of Al Basrah Central Library in Basra, Iraq. When war comes to her city, she helps save 30,000 books from destruction.
Me ... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport
Ada Ríos grows up in an impoverish town built on and around a landfill in Paraguay. With few resources, she starts taking free music lessons with environmental engineer Favio Chávez and receives a violin made from recycled materials by Nicolás Gómez. She and other young musicians become known as the Recycled Orchestra.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet
Ukrainian immigrant Clara Lemlich (1886 - 1982) challenges the corrupt and abusive practices of the garment and textile industry. She helps incite a labor strike that brings 20,000 factory workers into the streets to protest.
One Wish: Fatima Al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University by M. O. Yuksel and Mariam Quraishi
It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
Gyo Fujikawa (1908 - 1998) avoids the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II that trapped her family and becomes one of the earliest children's book author-illustrators to show diverse children together on the page.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter and Nancy Carpenter
Speaking of Children's Crusade, there was an earlier and smaller one, in 1903. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1837 - 1930) led more than 100 mill children on a march from Philadelphia to New York to protest child labor and working conditions in mills.
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown and John Parra
Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954) suffers from lifelong pain as a result of polio and a tragic bus accident in her youth but turns her pain and other life experiences into art.
For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for America the Beautiful by Nancy Churnin and Olga Baumert
Katharine Lee Bates (1859 -1929) writes the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" and becomes an educator and suffragist.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton and Felicita Sala
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
Teresa Carreño (1853 - 1917) of Venezuela travels the world as a preeminent pianist and composer.
Dorothea's Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth by Barb Rosenstock and Gerard DuBois
Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) survives polio and perseveres through the physical challenges left by the illness to travel the country photographing and documenting life during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl as well as after.
Alicia D. Williams and Jacqueline Alcántara
Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D. Anne Love, Pamela Paparone
Hypatia (c. 355 ce - 415) became a renowned scholar, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who lived and taught at the university in Alexandria, Egypt.
Jen Bryant and Toshiki Nakamura
Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927 - 2002) becomes the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. She helps write and win passage of Title IX, the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Women's Educational Equity Act.
Oh my gadflies, it's so hard to stop. I could list dozens more ... Sigh. Two more, because I just read these last night ...
Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard and Keith Mallett and Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom by Gwendolyn Hooks (Author) Simone Agoussoye
Looking for more picture book biographies about amazing women? Check out these lists:
Closing out with a clip from the Recycled Orchestra and the docufilm "Landfill Harmonic" ...