March is Women’s History Month, a fact hard to miss as I look at my Instagram feed and newsfeed. I seem to be surrounded by conversations about girl power and shattering glass ceilings.
As a mom of two daughters, I’m all for it! I look into the eyes of my girls and wish wholeheartedly that they be able to follow their dreams and pursue their passions with the full support of the culture in which they are growing up.
When I was growing up, I never felt that there was something that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do as a girl. I was fortunate to have strong women who raised and educated me as well as supportive men who gave me clear and formative messages about following my dreams. These are messages we share with the girls with the help of books:
Girls are trailblazers and history makers. Girls are empowered and empowering. Girls can change the world.
Books about Women Trailblazers
I always turn to children’s books to enhance what’s going on in and around our family—whether personal, seasonal, cultural, or global. And I’m always looking to books to provide an example of strong women for the girls. At least to balance out the invasive “princess” culture that seems to take such a strong hold in our house during imaginative play.
The stories of women who persevere can be told in many ways:
- In stories by female authors and illustrators
- In titles with girls as strong, dynamic, complex main characters
- In biographies
This month, in a nod to Women’s History Month and to show the girls great examples of female trailblazers, we filled the seasonal shelf with biographies and compilations that celebrate amazing women and their perseverance.
Here are a few of our favorites about women whose lives and work changed the world with our takeaways for all readers. At the end of this post, you’ll also find our favorites about trailblazing boys.
Did you know that Jane Goodall fell in love with a chimpanzee as a baby? It was her own stuffed toy, named Jubilee. She also loved a tree outside her window named Beech.
Despite the roadblocks for a girl with a dream of going to Africa and living with animals, Jane Goodall was supported by her mother. She saved money and made her dream come true.
Jane’s path from curious little girl to naturalist and activist is beautifully and simply chronicled in Caldecott Honor medalist Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.
This gorgeously illustrated children’s book has been a favorite since we added it to our collection years ago. The story is simple, and the illustrations combine drawing, ornamental engravings, photograph, and Jane Goodall’s own sketches, achieving a sensitive balance between illustration, nature, and real life. It’s absolutely stunning.
I fully admit that Patrick McDonnell is one of my very favorite illustrators and we have many of his beautifully illustrated books in our library. But this one is far and away my favorite.
Our Takeaway: Dream far-reaching dreams and follow them no matter what!
One night when I wasn’t able to sleep, I stumbled upon the film, Hidden Figures. Though it was already halfway over and I’m not a movie person, I was immediately hooked. The story was captivating! I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know it. I even woke my sleeping husband in the middle of the night to tell him how good it was. When I discovered there was a children’s book about the same women it featured? Instantly ordered!
I was so glad I could share the story of Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race with the girls. Written by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman, it details the pivotal accomplishments of four brilliant women who broke barriers of gender and race because of their amazing mathematical minds as well as their persistence and their courage.
Meet Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, who became NASA’s first African-Ame
rican supervisor; Mary Winston Jackson, the first female African-American aerospace engineer at NASA; Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, the woman John Glenn specifically requested to check the computer-calculated orbits of his mission on his first orbit around Earth; and Dr. Christine Mann Darden whose work improved the designs of supersonic aircrafts. Their work is crucial to history in so many ways.
Our Takeaway: Know what you’re great at, develop your talents, and be recognized for your unique contributions.
As luck would have it, our friends from New York visited during February break with a special gift: an absolutely awesome compilation about amazing women in various fields including science and the arts. Perhaps the best feature of the Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst is that it introduced us to some “new to us” trailblazers, including Mary Anning, a fossil aficionado who helped prove the world’s age, and Agent FiFi (Willow’s favorite), a secret agent during World War II.
Our Takeaway: You can change the world in any situation or any field you choose.
We are unabashedly nature lovers in this household, and the girls love a good tree-hugger heroine as much as I do. In The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, we learn the fascinating life story of Kate Olivia Sessions, the woman whose affinity for trees helped redefine San Diego’s landscape as a planner of Balboa Park.
Where others thought trees would not grow, Kate envisioned a garden and brought it to life. She pursued science at a time when most women did not. And she used her education and her passion to inspire others while also creating something beautiful and enjoyable for generations.
We borrowed this gem from the biography section of our library. Somewhat reminiscent of Miss Rumphius, H. Joseph Hopkins and Jill McElmurry’s book reminds us to contribute something beautiful to the world.
Our Takeaway: Follow your heart and pursue what you love.
“Persist” is a word in perpetual use in our house, thanks to She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Featuring the stories of inspiring women in American history, the book chronicles the obstacles each overcame to follow their dreams and pursue their goals.
This book was a game-changer for us and began some enlightening conversations about fairness and what it means to persevere. Willow was astounded that there was a time in our history when women were discouraged from education or work, and that the color of a child’s skin prevented her from attending school with her peers. Ruby Bridges, in particular, struck a chord with her, resonating to her very core. The courage of Ruby has spoken volumes to my child across the decades through the words of this book.
Our Takeaway: Persist against obstacles and naysayers in the pursuit of your dreams and goals.
Ruby Bridges is also featured in Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood. Each featured trailblazer’s profile is written in poetry and illustrated by a different, talented female artist, which makes the already fascinating book even more dynamic and engaging.
An introductory timeline anchors the books and links the profiles in history.
Our Takeaway: You don’t have to be a grown up to blaze a trail!
For the littlest readers, This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer is a sturdy, colorful introduction to trailblazing women who made history and set the stage. The book may be compact and petite, but includes many history makers including Rosa Parks, Sonia Sotomayor, Coco Chanel, and Maria Tallchief.
A rhyming format carries the theme throughout the board book and corresponding pages feature illustrations and short, simple facts about each trailblazer.
Our Takeaway: It’s never too early to start reading inspiring trailblazer stories.
Boys are Trailblazers, Too!
Today’s world is full of “the future is female” messages. Girl power! We’re all about it. But my husband pointed out that “the future is equal” is a more positive message to share with the girls.
I took this point to heart when I wrote the takeaways for each book. Whether you have girls or boys, these stories are for all readers. The takeaways share the bigger message for each.
But while we’re trailblazing, don’t miss these amazing books we love about trailblazing boys.
• Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is about a boy who followed his sense of wonder to discover great things.
• The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse is a picture book about the early years and inspirations about a trailblazing artist.
• On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein highlights the curiosity that differentiated young Albert from others.
We’d love to hear your favorite books about trailblazing girls and boys so we can add them to our Read List! Please share in the comments.