March is Women's History Month and it's a wonderful month to explore amazing picture book biographies about influential women. Here are seven of my recent favorites to get you started. Don't miss the Amelia Bloomer List, an annual book list of excellent books "with significant feminist content" for more ideas on books to explore in March (or anytime!).
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi Ali. Grades 1-4. Sourcebooks, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. This is a fantastic introduction to the disability rights activism that led to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Jennifer Keelan was one of very, very few children who participated in the demonstrations, including the Capitol Crawl. In the Capitol Crawl, people with disabilities crawled up the steps of the Capitol, the building where laws are made, which at the time was completely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. Jennifer writes the forward to this book and back matter includes additional information about disabilities, activism, and the ADA, as well as a bibliography. This is a particularly timely addition to your Women's History Month units since March is also Disability Awareness Month and this July is the 30th anniversary of the passing of the ADA.
Instructions NOT Included: How a Team of Women Coded the Future by Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn, illustrated by Chelsea Beck. Grades 2-5. Little, Brown, 2019. When computers were first being developed, of course they didn't have instructions. And it fell to a team of women to figure out how to program the first computers. This book introduces three women - Betty Snyder, Jean Jennings, and Kay McNulty - whose work went on largely behind the scenes but without whose work, our lives would be incredibly different today. Hand this one to young coders.
Mother Jones and her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Grades 2-5. Schwartz & Wade, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. Written in the first person, this book is told in a voice that will grab readers from the very beginning: "I've seen coal miners in West Virginia, covered with soot, lungs filled with dust, hardly being paid DIDDLY-SQUAT..." Mother Jones spoke out for workers' rights and protested the terrible working conditions of the early 1900s. This picture book concentrates on her 1930 Children's March and the focus on the child labor issue give this book special appeal to young readers. Use this as a readaloud to introduce Women's History Month or units about labor or workers' rights.
No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Shiella Witanto. Grades 2-5. Creston Books, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. Beate Sirota Gordon was an immigrant to Japan, arriving there as a child with her Jewish family after tensions rose in their European home. She noticed that women were not equal with men - some wives even walked three steps behind their husbands in public. After attending college in the United States during WWII, Perkins was hired by the US military as a translator and ended up being involved in developing Japan's new constitution after the war. She made sure that women's rights were explicitly laid out, using her seat at the table to accomplish what many Japanese women had been forbidden to do. When she returned to Japan much later in life, she was hailed as a hero. This is a powerful story about a woman using her privilege to accomplish positive change for other women.
The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Grades 2-5. Atheneum, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. You've heard of FDR, but have you ever heard of Frances Perkins? Perkins was a shy girl who grew up wanting to protect and help people. She found her voice and used it to speak out against unfair labor practices and was eventually hired by FDR as his Secretary of Labor. She helped develop the New Deal of the 1930s with many programs that helped protect Americans, like Social Security and getting people back to work. In determined text and with quotable stylized sections that emphasize quotes from Perkins and her inspirational grandmother, this is a book that shows that women can bring about change.
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang. Grades 2-5. Sterling, 2019. Review copy provided by my local library. This wonderful biography, picture book winner of the 2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, introduces Wu Chien Shiung, a Chinese-American physicist whose work and discoveries helped several men win Nobel Prizes, although she was never credited or awarded herself. It's especially appropriate for highlighting during Women's History Month since Wu's contributions to science were hidden for so long.
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jones by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Grades 2-5. Beach Lane Books, 2018. Review copy provided by my local library. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan took her big voice to law school and the Texas State Senate, and then to Congress where she used voice to speak out against injustice. It has bright, textured illustrations and a chorus that repeatedly asks "What do you do with a voice like that?" to move the narrative forward. In a world where young girls are still not sure that they can be leaders, this is a much-needed book to show that women can lead and make a difference.