Girl Power: Women’s History Books for Kids

Reading recommendations from our own Dr. Alice Mar

This month I have a collection of books to share for Women’s History Month in March. All of these books will introduce your kids to amazing women from history. I chose to focus on lesser known women whose voices you may not have heard before.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

This book tells the true story of Clara Lemlich, an Ukranian immigrant who led a massive strike of women shirtwaist workers in New York’s Garment District in 1909. The illustrations are by the wonderful Melissa Sweet. My daughter was so inspired by this book when we read it three years ago that she chose to do a speech on it for school. For teens, check out Audacity by Melanie Crowder, a novel about Clara.

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness

Every girl who grows up wanting to be a doctor knows the name of Elizabeth Blackwell but not everyone knows Mary Walker, one of the first women doctors in the USA who was also a suffragist, served in the Union Army as a doctor during the Civil War and is (shockingly) still the only woman who has won the Medal of Honor. And if you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Blackwell, be sure to check out Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors by Tanya Lee Stone

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

Annie Taylor was a 62 year old school teacher who became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (in 1901). The black and white illustrations give this book an old-timey feel. For more tales of adventure check out this book about a lesser known female aviator and contemporary of Amelia Earhart: Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough

If you have a son or daughter who loves reading, they should be thankful to Anne Carroll Moore who opened the first children’s room at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1896. She went on to lead children’s programming at the New York Public Library. If your kids love story times at the library or having a corner filled with child sized furniture and low bookshelves they can browse freely, they have Miss Moore to thank. For a modern inspiring female librarian story check out The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola

A beautifully illustrated and inspiring story of one of the world’s leading oceanographers. A bonus for this book is that it is about a woman who is still alive and very actively involved in environmental activism. You can find out much more about Sylvia Earle at her foundation Mission Blue’s website. For older kids she also has several excellent Ted Talks. If you have a budding marine biologist also check out Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating.

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeannette Winter

This book by a master of children’s picture books tells the story of one of the major architects of the late 20th century. Born in Iraq, she overcome obstacles as a Muslim woman to go on to design some seriously funky and beautiful buildings all over the world. For another look at a visionary architect check out Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvery.

Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimental

Hopefully, kids today will find it unbelievable that there was time when people thought women were too fragile to run a marathon. In 1966, Bobbi Gibbs became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. This is a year earlier than Katherine Switzer ran as the first officially registered female. (Gibbs ran in 1967 also and beat Switzer by an hour.) For teen athletes try Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox which is an amazing story about the first woman to swim the Bering Strait, the first person to swim the Straits of Magellan and the first to swim around the Cape of God Hope in South Africa.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

Born in 1897 London, Proctor had an unusual for the time fascination with reptiles. She went on to become a noted zoologist and eventual first female Curator of Reptiles at the London Zoo.  For a tale of another science loving girl, check out The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman about one of the first female entomologists.