March is Women’s History Month! In honor of that designation as well as the fact that tomorrow is International Women’s Day, I thought it would be nice to share some picture books and easy chapter books featuring great women in history that your children need to know. I am intentionally focusing on lesser known women in history, so that hopefully you can discover several new books to read with your kids this month! While you’re reading, be sure to check out last year’s post on Mothers Who Changed the World!
Picture Books Featuring Great Women in History Your Children Need to Know
What You'll Find on This Page
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Picture Books About Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which started off as a tree planting movement but has since expanded to forestry training for women, as well as training in food processing and bee-keeping – trades that allow women to earn an income while preserving the land and local resources. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I found several picture books about this amazing woman:
Picture Books about Wilma Rudolph
Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely, the 20th of 22 siblings. Her mother was a maid, and her father was a railway porter. Wilma caught polio at age 4, and had to wear a brace until she was nine years old. Incredibly, Wilma went on to win several gold meals, and was considered the fastest woman in the world throughout the 1960s. There are several books about this woman as well:
- Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman
- Wilma Rudolph (On My Own Biography)
- Wilma Rudolph: Olympic Runner (Childhood of Famous Americans) – this is an easy chapter book.
- Wilma Rudolph: Olympic Track Star (Graphic Biographies)
Picture Books About Friedl Dicker-Brandeis
When artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was sent to a concentration camp during World War II, she created secret educational classes for the children who were there – effectively running what may have been the world’s first art therapy program. She was eventually moved to Auschwitz, where she sadly died – but her work from Terezin was saved. It takes great courage to find light in dark moments, and Dicker-Brandeis did this for for hundreds of children. Out of the nearly 660 authors of drawings under Dicker-Brandeis’s direction, 550 were killed in the Holocaust. I recommend Through a Narrow Window to adult readers, and this picture book for children:
Picture Books About Irena Sendler
As head of the children’s section of the Polish Council to Aid Jews, nurse and social worker Irena Sendler worked to smuggle about 2,500 Jewish Children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. You can read about Sedler in these picture books:
Picture Books About Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor, and one of only eight civilians. A surgeon during the American Civil War, she was one of the first women to become a doctor in the United States. I suspect that Walker would have happily joined the army, but at the time women were considered unfit for the Union Army Examining Board (they were happy to have her as a civilian who even crossed enemy lines). Walker taught school to save up money to pay her way through medical school. She was often criticized for wearing trousers during a time when women typically wore ankle-length dresses. You can read about this indomitable women here:
Picture Books About Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind Franklin played a huge role in the discovery of DNA that went unrecognized. I couldn’t find a picture book about this brilliant young woman who tragically died of cancer at the age of 37, but I think there should be one written about her. Due to challenges with her director and colleagues, Franklin left King’s College for Birbeck College – where she was offered her own research team. During her time at Birbeck, Franklin pioneered work on viruses, and her team member Aaron Klug went on to win a Nobel Prize (in 1982, long after Franklin’s death) for discoveries made that built on Franklin’s work. You can learn more about this scientists in these non-picture books:
- Scientists Who Made History: Rosalind Franklin (targeting 5th-8th grade children)
- Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (biography)
What women would you add to this list?
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