Hello, everyone! It’s the end of the month, so it’s time for another Top 5 list! As you may know, March is Women’s History Month, so we thought we’d spend this Top 5 taking a look at some of our favorite kidlit biographies of notable women. Some challenged stereotypes to serve their nation, some fought for the rights of women and children, and some made their mark with art and dance, but all of them were brave, dedicated and hardworking women who made an impact on the world. Celebrating these real-life female icons and role models sends the important message to our little girls and our little boys that women are strong, women are important, and women can do anything.
So, without further ado, here are our Top 5 Women’s History Month biographies:
Told through the eyes of two young cotton mill workers, On Our Way To Oyster Bay relates the tale of elderly activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’ protest march to Oyster Bay, NY, to raise awareness for worker’s and children’s rights. As a biography, it really only covers a slice of Mother Jones’ work, but captures the essence of who she was as a leader and organizer, and her passion for and dedication to the people she was representing. The young protagonists give little readers characters they can relate to, and the book does a fantastic job of showing a glimpse of what life was like for children, and child workers, in the 1900’s in a way that is striking, but not so graphic as to be frightening. The art by Felicita Sala is colorful, lively, and draws you into the world of Mother Jones and her fellow protesters. The story leaves the reader with the lesson that you must fight for your beliefs, even in the face of disappointment or difficulty, and that. be you man or woman, young or old, your voice matters.
This award-winning picture book biography of Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo covers the time period in which Frida had moved to San Francisco with her husband, Diego Rivera. Channeling her homesickness, isolation, and physical and mental health struggles into ecstatically beautiful art, Frida finds herself and her beauty within her talent, expressing herself in ways that no woman in art had before. While the story relies a bit too much on a romanticized version of Kahlo’s marriage (which, in reality, was an absolute mess), the key message is one of self-acceptance, perseverance, and belief in oneself. And in a book about art, David Diaz’s gorgeous Kahlo-inspired illustrations fill every page with life and energy to bursting, and the story of Frida’s unapologetic desire to be herself in person and in her art sends to the message to young readers that we are far more beautiful and powerful as we are, not as the world tries to make us.
While technically not a biography, Doing Her Bit is based on the true story of the Woman’s Land Army, a collective of brave women from all walks of life who volunteered to become farmhands and take up the workload left by men who had shipped out to fight in WWII. Centered around the experiences of a young woman named Helen, it follows the story of a group of these women undergoing backbreaking training to learn how to do farm labor, only to have their efforts refused by farmers who doubt their abilities and value as workers. When the hard-nosed female director of the camp negotiates a chance for the women to prove their mettle, the farmers find that bravery and skill know no gender. Highlighting a lesser-known chapter in women’s history, the story does a great job of making the characters and story accessible, and the art by Jen Hill gives the women personality and life. The overall effect is a story that leaves baby bookworms with the lesson that women are strong, brave, kind, and never ever less than their male counterparts.
While the infamous assassination attempt on women’s and children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai’s life is covered in this kidlit biography (subtly, yet poignantly), the tale of the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize does not focus too much on that event. Instead, the story centers around Malala’s childhood in Pakistan, she and her father’s dedication to education as an inalienable right to every man, woman and child, and the fearless risks Malala took as a young teenager to speak out against the subjection and censorship of her people by the Taliban. The art by Janna Bock is sweeping and emotional, and seems to leap off the page to draw the reader into Malala’s life and world. This is a beautiful and powerful true story of a remarkable young woman, and it is sure to leave any young reader in awe of the power of education and their own voice.
Misty Copeland set out to create a unique ballet book for young dancers who looked like her, and she absolutely succeeds. Forgoing the prim, pale pastels of other ballerina tales, Firebird tells the story of Copeland’s rise to the first African-American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater through her encouragement of a young dancer who is struggling with confidence. Copeland cuts through the idea that the young girl’s goals of being a renowned dancer like her are not achievable, saying that she once stood in the girl’s shoes, and that hard work, dedication, and belief in herself is what led her to greatness, showing that with these qualities, any young dancer (of any color) can shine bright like the Firebird, and inspire the next generation of dreamers to come. With ecstatically vibrant art by Christopher Myers that dances across every page and stylistically lyrical text, this is a ballerina book that breaks the mold.
There it is! A Top 5 that celebrates the women who make their mark on history. Also, we want to include two honorable mentions: I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley and I Am Jazz, written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, two phenomenal kidlit biographies about fearless women. The only reason we didn’t include them in this list is because we’ve featured them before, but you should absolutely check them out, because they are wonderful. What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a picture book biography of an awesome woman you’d like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much for reading, and Happy Women’s History month!