Here’s a wonderful phrase I didn’t expect to be writing – there are far too many picture book biographies of incredible, inspiring females for me to include them all in a single list. What a wonderful predicament to be in! Now there is still work to be done – the majority of picture book biographies featuring female protagonists that I’ve found tend to feature white, able-bodied, presumably straight individuals. However, there has been great progress made towards evening out the biographical playing field, and I’m thrilled to have so many wonderful offerings to choose from when booktalking.
Here are a handful of picture book biographies celebrating strong, intelligent, creative, hardworking, world-changing females to share with the young people in your life!
Note: These are listed in no particular order – they’re all fantastic books worth sharing.
Mary Edwards Walker was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and was a no-nonsense, pants-wearing suffragist. She was also a commissioned doctor in the Union army, and tended to the wounded on the battlefields of the Civil War, for which she was awarded a Medal of Honor. An inspiring female who challenged gender norms and expectations.
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully
Margaret E. Knight was a visionary inventor, and many of the machines and tools she created are still in use today. When a man tried to claim ownership of one of her inventions, claiming that, as a woman, she “could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities” of the machine she created, Mattie fought back, and later earned herself the nickname of “Lady Edison”.
Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh
Born in 1868, Henrietta Leavitt was a pioneering female scientist who revolutionised our understanding of the size and scale of the universe, and was hailed by one of her contemporaries as “one of the most important women ever to touch astronomy”. Henrietta challenged societal expectations of female behaviour and refused to allow her gender to limit her intellectual pursuits.
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger,
Bessie Coleman had big dreams, and the determination, willpower and sheer grit to make those dreams come true. She rose from a poor childhood working in the fields to become the first African-American, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license. Bessie’s story proves that dreams can set you on your path, but it’s hard work and perseverance that will take you to the finish line.
Women aren’t supposed to become scientists, right? Wrong! Eugenie Clark fell in love with the ocean at an early age, and she battled sexism and racism to become one of the world’s leading marine biologists, pursuing her passion for studying and protecting sharks.
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo
As a child, Anna May Wong dreamed of a life far beyond her parents’ laundromat in Los Angeles. Anna May was going to go places – she was going to be a movie star! But the 1930s was a difficult time for Asian-American actors, with few meaningful roles available, and discrimination rife. Anna May refused to give up on her dream, though, and her unrelenting hard work and dedication to her craft led her to become the first Asian-American film star.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull
When Wilma contracted polio as a child, doctors said she would likely never walk again, let alone run. But Wilma never let anyone tell her what she could or couldn’t do, and she went on to become the first American woman to win three Olympic medals in a single games.
Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
In 1884, years before women even had the right to vote, Belva Lockwood did something extraordinary, even unthinkable – she ran for President of the United States of America! Lockwood spent much of her life defying convention – she went to college, became a lawyer, and argued cases in the Supreme Court. She never stopped fighting for what she believed, and helped set the stage for future generations of female lawmakers.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick
Effa Manley loved baseball. She loved it so much, and was willing to work so hard to be a part of it, that she would one day become the owner of a baseball team, and was the first—and only—woman ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And there you have it – just a handful of wonderful picture book biographies about inspiring females in a variety of eras and fields, representing just the tip of the iceberg! What are some of your favourite female-focused picture book biographies? Let me know in the comments below!