Not so long ago, children's knowledge of women in history was pretty much limited to the two Queen Elizabeths and Martha Washington. Even now, schools focus heavily on the achievements of the Y-chromosome heroes of the world. But as Women's History Month approaches, you can help expand your kids' knowledge by reading them one of the great women's history picture books for children. Because it's about time the next generation learned about everyone who shaped the world.
Last year, the National Women's History Museum published a report on the "status of women's history in state-level social studies standards." The news wasn't great: Although states do include women in their standards, most often the same figures are mentioned (most notably Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman), and usually only in the context of certain segments of history, such as the civil rights movement or women's suffrage. "The standards overwhelmingly emphasize women — by more than half (53 percent) — in their domestic roles," added the report. In other words, kids are learning that women didn't do much over the centuries except keeping order at home, except for the few times when they were standing up for integration and voting.
Although some of these girls-rock! books do include the better-known female historical figures, they go farther by adding more unfamiliar names and widening the span to include not just suffragists, but also scientists, artists, jurists, and other fields of work. From board books for toddlers to slightly deeper books for kindergartners and first-graders, there's something to delight and inspire everyone here.
1ABC What Can She Be?
2Dream Big, Little One
Dream Big, Little One, by Vashti Harrison
"Just look at all the leaders who came before you....Reach for the stars, like Mae, Bessie and Katherine." Harrison, author of "Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History," brings her message to the preschool audience by introducing them to such Black visionaries as astronaut Mae Jemison, singer Ella Fitzgerald, Olympic champ Florence Joyner, and renowned author Maya Angelou.
3I Am Sacagawea
"I Am Sacagawea," by Brad Meltzer
Dial/Penguin Children's Books
For children who are still a little too young for the excellent "Who Was...?" biographies, there's the Ordinary People Change the World bestselling series, which introduce small readers to important historical figures in simple, entertaining ways. For instance, your preschooler will enjoy learning about Sacagawea, the young Shoshoni woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their historic exploration that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Others in the series include Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, and Billie Jean King.
4I Am Caring
"I Am Caring," by Brad Meltzer
Penguin Random House
For the very smallest bookworms, the "Ordinary People Change the World" series also includes bio board books that focus on the qualities of history-makers, such as the compassion of scientist Jane Goodall, who has devoted her life to the study and conservation of chimpanzees.
5This Little Trailblazer
"This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer," by Joan Golub
This rhyming board book profiles 10 women (and name-drops a dozen others at the end for good measure) who "[helped] the world with their skills, smarts and might." The trailblazers include Ada Lovelace, who wrote one of the first-ever computer programs; Native American prima ballerina Maria Tallchief; and pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale.
6I Look Up to... Michelle Obama
"I Look Up To...Michelle Obama," by Anna Membrino
Random House Books For Young Readers
In easy-to-grasp language, this book details the qualities that make our former First Lady an admirable figure ("Michelle works hard"). If your kids enjoy this, you'll want to pick up the others in the continuing series: Serena Williams, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a brand-new release on Malala Yousafzai.
7Little Scientist Boxed Board Set
"Little Scientist Board Book Set," by Mudpuppy and Emily Kleinman
Budding STEAM stars will take to this 12-book set that introduces toddlers to scientists from a variety of fields. It features not only Newton and Einstein, but also female groundbreakers such as Carolyn Porco, "who asked Saturn to say, 'Cheese, please!' from deep in space," and paleontologist Mary Anning, "who dug deep to uncover prehistoric secrets known as fossils!"
8A Is For Awesome!
"A Is For Awesome!: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World," by Eva Chen
Feiwel & Friends
Another contribution to the alphabet of heroines is this dynamic book from the author of "Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes." Juno shows her youngest fans an array of inspirational women, along with some of their personal quotes. (From suffragette Emmaline Parkhurst: "We are here not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers." Why only 23 women? Because we can't forget the "eXtraordinary You and the Zillions of adventures you will go on!"
9She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
"She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World," by Chelsea Clinton
Written by an author who's rather inspirational in her own right, these mini-bios of American figures include Helen Keller, journalist Nellie Bly, garment-worker activist Clara Lemlich, and Ruby Bridges, who defied hate and protest to integrate an all-white Southern school. There's also a sequel: "She Persisted Around the World."
10Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote
"Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote," by Kirsten Gillibrand
Knopf Books for Young Readers
"When my grandmother was born, women didn't have the right to vote," is how Sen. Gillibrand introduces the topic of suffrage and the people who fought for women's representation. Some names you'll recognize (Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton), while others are less familiar (Inez Milholland, Lucy Burns). Either way, you and your children (1st grade and up) will be fascinated by the journey.
11Counting on Katherine
"Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13," by Helaine Becker
Henry Holt & Co.
Although girls perform just as well as boys in math and science all through high school, the gender gap begins in college, and less than a third of the science and engineering workforce is female, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. Start the dialogue early by having your children learn about Katherine Johnson, the math-loving girl who went on to become one of the "hidden figures" at NASA.
12The Girl Who Thought in Pictures
"The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin," by Julia Finley Mosca
The Innovation Press
"If you've ever felt different, if you've ever felt low; if you don't quite fit in, there's a name you should know." So begins the simple rhyming tale of scientist Temple Grandin, whose name your kids *should* know. Diagnosed with autism as a child, she was bullied in school, but found a mentor in her science teacher. Grandin's gift for understanding animal behavior led her to become an animal science professor and to create more humane facilities for cattle farms.
13Counting With/Contado Con Frida
"Counting With/Contado Con Frida," by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein
As your child learns to count "dos pinceles" (two paint brushes) and "cuatro vestidos" (four dresses), you can introduce them to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and perhaps look at some of her paintings online.
"Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez que Crecio en el Bronx," by Jonah Winter
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Written in both English and Spanish, this preschool-and-up bio teaches children that just as the beautiful moonflower can grow in a dusty, glass-strewn lot, so can a little girl from a poor New York City neighborhood blossom to become the first female Latinx member of the Supreme Court.
"Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist," by Jess Keating
Your little oceanographer will be thrilled by this tale of a sea-loving girl who defied stereotypes to become a scientist. In doing so, she also helped teach the public that sharks aren't the fearsome villains they're made out to be. This was one of The New York Times' picks for "best books for feminist boys and girls."
16Little People, BIG DREAMS: Jane Austen
"Little People, BIG DREAMS: Jane Austen," by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Lincoln Children's Books
Vegara's "Little People, BIG DREAMS" series has won raves from both reviewers and moms for her explanation of how simple dreams became reality for so many inspiring figures. Book lovers will want to introduce their children to the author of "Pride & Prejudice"; other women in the series include Mother Teresa, Wilma Rudolph, L.M. Montgomery, Josephine Baker, Maria Montessori, and Anne Frank.
17Shaking Things Up
"Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World," by Susan Hood
Through marvelous poems and colorful illustrations, you and your children will learn about heroines who made a difference at a young age. Among them: Molly Williams, a servant girl who became the first known female firefighter in the United States; Annette Kellerman, champion for women's athleticism; Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin; and Frances Moore Lappe, famed advocate for a plant-based diet as a way to end world hunger and conserve resources.