Every child should have a well-stocked bookshelf, because books are everything. But along with the Cat in the Hat, Llama Llama, and Elephant and Piggie titles, a good children's book collection should include some nonfiction... particularly picture book biographies of women. Because it's never too early to introduce our kids to the important people who helped shape our world.
Of course it's wonderful for children to grow up reading about fantasy characters, and to learn rhyming and sight words as they follow along with the text. But it's also important for them to learn about real-life inspirational figures along with the PAW Patrol rescuers and Marvel superheroes. As the children's book publisher Scholastic explained, reading nonfiction biographies helps kids in a number of ways. They make history more relatable (remember how bored you were memorizing meaningless names and dates?). They teach valuable lessons in perseverance and achieving seemingly impossible goals (who would have thought a girl from the barrio of the Bronx could grow up to become Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor?). And there's something to appeal to every child's interest, whether it's animals, photography, space, music, or science.
In honor of Women's History Month in March, it would be especially appropriate to buy or borrow one of these bios. Some are about women you know well (and so your kids should, too); some may come as a surprise to both of you. Either way, you'll find plenty to inspire and delight.
1. Computer Whiz
Long, *long* before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came on the scene, Ida Lovelace was defying the conventions of 19th-century womanhood to create the computations and ideas that would make her the first computer programmer. Fun fact: She was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron.
2. Civil Rights Leader
Even preschool readers can relate to the story of a young girl who learned early on that she had to stand up for what was right. This vividly illustrated bio takes Parks from a childhood incident involving a bully to her famous bus protest that helped galvanize the civil rights movement. One Amazon reviewer wrote that her 5-year-old asked for an "Amazing Girls"-themed birthday party after reading this and other bios. 'Nuff said.
3. Star Quality
Girls who are starstruck — as in *real* stars — will thrill to the story of Mae Jemison, who wanted to "see Earth from out there." That dream propelled her to become the first African American woman astronaut; it might just inspire your own kids to dream big.
4. Heroines On Horseback
During the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt spearheaded the Pack Horse Librarian project, aimed at bringing books and reading to the Appalachian families that had been hit hard by the decline of the coal industry. This book introduces young readers to a part of history that isn't mentioned in the books. Cal, the oldest boy in his family, can't understand why his sister Lark loves books so much, until he meets a librarian willing to go the distance to bring the world of reading to his remote community.
5. Creator Of A National Holiday
Ever heard of Sarah Josepha Hale? If not for her, we might not be enjoying turkey dinners and football games on the fourth Thursday in November. Hale was a writer and editor who petitioned the government over and over for a national Thanksgiving Day observance. For 35 years, presidents turned her down, until finally Abraham Lincoln realized that Hale's idea might help unite a nation splintered by the Civil War.
6. Radiant Scientist
"When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself...she was going to be a scientist, not a princess." So begins this colorful board book, which tells Curie's story in a way even preschoolers will understand. This is one in a series of kid-targeted bios that include figures as diverse as Georgia O'Keefe, Vivienne Westwood, Dolly Parton, and Mother Teresa.
7. Breaking Through The Dark
Introduce your children to the remarkable life of Keller, who became an accomplished author, public speaker and activist despite living in a world of darkness and silence. This excellent bio includes a vocabulary review and a fun quiz for reading comprehension.
8. Women Who Dreamed
Astronomers, designers, artists, educators — you'll find them all in this collection of mini-essays of women around the globe who dared to pursue their improbable dreams. Their tales will encourage your children to pursue their own dreams.
9. She Thought Green
If you've ever admired the greenery in San Diego, you have Kate Sessions to thank: A century ago, the scientist and nature-lover launched a movement to turn the desert area into a botanical marvel. Perfect for the garden-loving kids in your life.
10. Brave Boater
Your kids will be captivated by this true story of Ida Wells, who braved treacherous ocean waters to take over her father’s job as lighthouse keeper when he became ill. As if that weren’t amazing enough, she also rescued a group of boys whose boat capsized, an act of daring that earned her the Congressional Life Saving Medal.
11. Freedom Fighter
12. Famed Dancer
This is the first-ever picture book to honor Hernandez, dancer and founder of the famed Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. She combined her knowledge of ballet and of indigenous dances to create a unique style of performing that still thrills audiences today.
13. No Crying In Baseball
Back in 1950, girls were expected to play with dolls, not bats. But Johnston, a skilled slugger and fielder, didn't let stereotypes stop her. Disguising herself as a boy, she tried out for her local Little League team and made the cut. Your sports-loving kids will love reading about the "Mulan" of the sandlot.
14. Accomplished Architect
Baghdad-born Zaha Hadid dared to think outside the box and to defy cultural stereotypes of womanhood. Taking inspiration from the curves, waves, and colors of the Iranian landscape, she studied in London and went on to design unique and imaginative structures all over the world, from bridges to opera houses. Your child may never play with LEGOs the same way again.
15. Intro To RBG
How could I not include a bio of The Notorious RBG? Especially when it's as excellent as this one. With vibrant illustrations and simple prose, the book follows Ginsburg from her Brooklyn childhood all the way up to her appointment to the highest court in the land. Slightly older readers will appreciate added features such as a list of the "Top 10 Times Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fought For Fairness on the Supreme Court."
16. Fighting For The Right To Learn
The inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai comes to life in this beautifully illustrated and simply told book. Preschoolers will relate to Malala's love for her supportive father and her determination to secure education for girls everywhere.
17. Young Author
Long before they're old enough to read "Mockingbird," your children can read about the author, who was as much of a memorable character as Scout Finch. Nelle Harper Lee was a tomboy who preferred climbing trees to playing dolls, and two of her favorite pastimes were reading and watching her lawyer father try cases in court. Her childhood and her impressions of segregation in the deep South helped inspire one of the most iconic American novels of all time.
18. An Alphabet Of Heroines
Download this digital version to your phone or tablet for a handy alphabetical guide to a variety of badass women: former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto; educational groundbreaker Maria Montessori; Depression photojournalist Dorothea Lange; Irina Sendler, who helped rescue 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis; and even Irish pirate queen Grace O'Malley.