I remember when I took my first microbiology class. It was a general education class, and I was dreading it. This was a class I was destined to hate — or at least that's what I was told. I had purchased the requisite expensive textbook, paid my lab dues, and sat far in the back. But later in that class, something magical happened. I fell in love with microbiology, even though I was told I'd hate it. I don't want that kind of stereotype for my daughter, so I compiled a list of children's books about female scientists that will hopefully inspire some future scientists of any gender.
Over the course of history, women have often been overlooked as great contributors of science. For one thing, in much of the past, women were not educated at the same rates or with the same rigor as men, so they were denied the opportunity to enrich themselves in a way that would encourage them to become scientists. For the women who would develop the skills and knowledge needed to become scientists, they were often relegated to assistant positions, which led to the men with whom they worked taking the credit. This is a phenomenon known as "The Matilda Effect," named for scholar Matilda Joslyn Gage who wrote about female scientists relegated to a footnote in history, while their male counterparts received all the accolades.
Thankfully, the world is now beginning to celebrate women in STEM, and these books elevate those brave women willing to shove their way into a field dominated by men that is frequently unfriendly to femmes.
I own almost all of these books, and the ones I didn't own already, I will as of noon on Wednesday. Thanks, Amazon Prime. Note: there is not much children's literature featuring female Asian scientists, but there are a wealth of Asian women in science who should have their own books.
1. 'Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World' by Rachel Ignotofsky
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World is one of the most beautifully illustrated books I've ever seen. It features femme scientists from all over the world and highlights their contributions to the scientific world and society as a whole in bright, vivid drawings.
2. 'Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World' by Rachel Swaby
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World is a great primer on the lesser-known female scientists most of us have never heard of. It's far ranging in its scope from DNA to engineering, and tells each story with heart.
3. 'The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries' Illustrated by Kendra Shedenhelm & Written By Elizabeth Lorayne
A coloring book printed on genuinely decent paper featuring scads of STEM ladies — including a biography of each woman on the pages — The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries is a great gift for kids (or adults, to be honest).
4. 'Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures' by Karen Bush Gibson
Eileen Collins, Mae Jemison, Peggy Whitson, Sally Ride. This book, Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures, is about the fearless women who made space their life, and in doing so provided us all with information about our cosmos we would have never known without their input.
5. 'Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer' by Diane Stanley & Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
The story of Lord Byron's daughter who, a century before the digital age, pioneered what would become computer programming is brought to life in Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer. Born to poetry, Ada understood rhythm, and the workings and importance of pattern and repetition, which would ultimately be the basis of her science.
6. 'Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor' by Katy Wallmark & Illustrated by Katy Wu
Hollywood starlet by day, programmer and inventor by night. Hedy Lamarr proved that women can be fiercely "feminine" and also a scientific whiz. Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor also explains her work in a way that middle readers can understand.
7. 'I Am Jane Goodall' by Brad Meltzer
When I was little, I could occasionally catch a documentary about Jane Goodall and her apes. Now? Not so much. I Am Jane Goodall celebrates the famous primatologist with gorgeous illustrations and a sweet story, introducing a new generation of children to her studies and heart.
8. 'Women in Chemistry' by Mary Wissinger
Long before people tell you how awful organic chemistry is, Women in Chemistry will introduce you to the women who made it their business, and changed the world because of it. Everything from cosmetics to medicine to herbicide, chemistry is vital, and this book teaches children that through illustration and biography.
9. 'Pioneers of Science and Technology' by Georgia Amson-Bradshaw & Illustrated by Rita Petruccioli
Pioneers of Science and Technology extols the virtues of a ton of femme scientists, including but not limited to Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, Lisa Meitner, Jane Goodall, Katherine Johnson, Chien-Shiung Woo, Indira Nath, and Wanda Diaz Merced. Some of these women were almost erased from history, and this book is one small step from putting them in the pantheon where they belong.
10. 'Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist' by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
The story of Eugenie Clark, the woman who defied odds and became one of the world's foremost expert on sharks — and one of history's best marine biologists — is told beautifully in Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist.
11. 'Mae Among the Stars' by Roda Ahmed, Illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Ah — the profound story of Mae Jemison, the first black woman to go into space. Mae Among the Stars is told with warmth, heart, and the courage of a woman being told no, but choosing to forge her own path anyway.
12. 'Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles' by Patricia Valdez & Illustrated by Felicita Sala
The story of Joan Procter, a girl who loved lizards so much that she eventually grew up to be the curator and designer of the reptile house at the British Museum, is illustrated like a dream in Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles.
13. 'Hidden Figures' by Margot Lee Shetterly & Illustrated by Laura Freeman
By now, you've probably read the original Hidden Figures, or watched the movie of the same title. This version, Hidden Figures, breaks it down for young kids to understand.
14. 'Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code' by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by Katy Wu
We would not have modern computing without Grace Hopper; her mind shaped what coding would be. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code explains how she eventually became the mother of programming.
15. 'The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath' by Julia Finley Mosca & Illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Patricia Bath grew up during the Civil Rights era and fought against tremendous odds to become a doctor who changes the world of blindness with an innovative surgical technique she developed. The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath is the amazing, kid-friendly rendition of her story.
16.'The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin' by Julia Finley Mosca & Illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Temple Grandin proved that you can change the world in spite of terrific challenges that may face you. She revolutionized the way we slaughter animals, making them less cruel and more efficient for the ranchers, and her story is told beautifully in The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin.
17. 'Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13' Written by Helaine Becker & Illustrated by Tiemdow Phumiruk
She's depicted in Hidden Figures, but in Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, your little readers get an even more in-depth look at the work Katherine Johnson did to bring Apollo 13 home.
18. 'A Computer Called Katherine' Written by Suzanne Slade & Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
OK, one more to really drive home the point: Katherine Johnson is an absolute legend. In A Computer Called Katherine, kids can learn about how much she invested into the space program and, honestly, how a lot of NASA's accomplishments wouldn't have happened without her.