#RaisingReaders Monday: Best Biographies for Women’s History Month!

meme for womens history

(graphic from the National Women's History Museum)

Guest Post: Celebrating Women’s History Month

Encouraging girls and boys to go beyond their comfort zones, to take risks and make history!

My name is Carol Simon Levin.  I am a Youth Services Librarian, storyteller, historical impersonator, and aspiring author and I am delighted to have been invited by Katey to do a guest post on one of my passions — sharing the stories of “fascinating women history (mostly) forgot” with kids.
There was a young woman who wanted to fly.
But the people said, “Kiss that wish good-bye!Nobbody Owns the Sky
The sky’s too big and the sky’s too high,
And you never will fly, so you’d better not try.”
But this woman laughed, and she just said, “Why?
Nobody owns the sky!”

from Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of
“Brave Bessie” Coleman
 by Reeve Lindbergh

(Bessie Coleman was a black woman who,
when denied admission to any flying school in the USA,
went to France and became the first black pilot in the world.)

I am a big fan of biographies. Biographies are histories with personality. In telling the story of one person in the context of historical events, they provide close-up windows into the past — bringing the reader the emotion and immediacy of fiction in the context of real information. They are also fascinating and fun! Of course, there are many wonderful biographies about men, but since this is March, I’m going to focus on the women in this post…

New to biographies and not sure how to interest your kids?  Tie biographies into your child’s passions. 

Mary AnningHave a dinosaur fan at your home?

Mary Anning & the Sea Dragon by Jeannine Atkins tells how the first dinosaur bones were found by a twelve year-old girl 200 years ago!  There are other good versions including Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton (done in a graphic novel format, great for reluctant readers!) Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Lawrence Anholt and Rare Treasure by Don Brown (Note: If your library has more than one, consider comparing what each author chose to mention and leave out.)  http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/2015/02/school-age-storytime-dinosaurs-galore.html

An aspiring dancer or musician?

Jospehine  Share one of these:

  • Josephine : the dazzling life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell,
  • A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey,
  • Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown,
  • Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat by Roxane Orgill,
  • Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson,
  • Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan,
  • The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marion Anderson and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Russell Freedman or
  • When Marian sang : the true recital of Marian Anderson : the voice of a century by Pam Muñoz Ryan

— all tell the stories of talented and determined black girls and women who wouldn’t bow down to discrimination’s limitations: real-life examples of Mary Hoffman’s classic picture book Amazing Grace!

Basketball BellesHow about a sports fan?

Slam dunk Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map by Sue Macy.

Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey introduces kids to the Women’s Professional Baseball League established during World War Two after the men were sent off to fight. Make a movie night as well and show A League of Their Own. Introduce trailblazing female bat-wielders with Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story by Emily Arnold McCully,  Mighty Jackie: The Strike Out Queen by Marissa Moss and Girl Wonder by Deborah Hopkinson.

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick profiles the first female sports executive and the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For more ideas, check out: http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/2013/12/school-age-storycraft-take-me-out-to.html

For those more inclined to run track than around the bases:

 Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma RudolWilma Unlimitedph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull tells the amazing story of a tiny, sickly black girl stricken by polio who ended up winning gold medals in track at the 1960 Olympics!

Pair this with the wonderful feminist fable about a running race: “Atalanta” from Marlo Thomas and Friends’ 1974 feminist classic Free to Be You and Me (book, DVD, and CD available).  You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-77_cVnmUQ.

Wheels of ChangeDid you know that the bicycle helped lead to women’s voting rights? 

Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed Historyby Sue Stauffacher and

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy tell the extraordinary story of how the bicycle and women’s rights were linked.

You Forgot Your Skirt Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey shows how wearing less-restrictive clothing opened up women to new opportunities.

Mama Went to Jail for the Vote by Kathleen Krull and Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage by Claire Rudolph Murphy present a child’s eye view of the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone, The Ballot Box Battle by Emily Arnold McCully and Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President by Ann Malaspina bring immediacy to the story of the pioneers of the suffrage moment who spent their lives trying to get the vote for women and never actually got to vote.

Rediscover some unknown vote-seeking women with I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets the Vote by Linda Arms White which profiles the woman whose “can-do” attitude was instrumental in making Wyoming the first state to allow women to vote (in 1869), then became the first woman to hold public office in the United States!

A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull introduces the first woman to own a newspaper, to speak before Congress, and to have a seat on the stock exchange – but her boldest act was announcing herself as the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1872–before women even had the right to vote!

An overview of the history of women’s attempts to hold elected office can be found in Madam President: The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics by Catherine Timmesh.

Move from bicycles to buses and blackboards

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is a moving and thought-provoking depiction of Rosa Parks.I am Malala

Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds and If a Bus Could Talk by Faith Ringgold offer two other interesting perspectives on this seminal act of Civil Disobedience.  Kids and teens have stood up for their rights too.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles shows the courage of the tiny six year old girl who was the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school and

Separate But Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight of Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh profiles a Mexican American family’s struggle for their children to be allowed to attend white schools.

More recently, several books by and about Malala Yousafzai including I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World show that the struggle for girls’ education continues.

On a lighter note, maybe you have an aspiring inventor at your house?  

Girls think of everythingMarvelous Mattie: How Margaret Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully or

In The Bag!: Margaret Knight Wraps it Up by Monica Kulling both tell the story of Margaret Knight, eventual holder of twenty patents, who fought discrimination and proved that she was just as intelligent an inventor as a man.

Monica Kulling has also just published Spic-in-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen about the world’s first female efficiency expert and the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Catherine Thimmesh’s Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women tells how correction fluid, windshield wipers, disposable diapers, and space helmets were all dreamed up by women.

More ideas: http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/search/label/Inventors%20and%20Inventions

Speaking of outer space, inspire your budding space scientist

Carole Gerber’s Annie Jump Cannon, Astronomer introduces the woman who developed the Harvard Spectral Classification System still used today to classify a star’s light — but also presents insights into the challenges of women interested in science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh and Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by  D. Anne  Love profile two other star-gazing pioneers.

Girls who not only want to look up at the sky but fly up there will enjoy

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan,

Robert Burleigh’s Night Flight : Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic,

Candice Fleming’s Amelia Lost: the Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart or one of the many other biographies of the world’s most famous female flyer.

Suzanne Whitaker’s The Daring Miss Quimby introduces America’s first licensed female flyer and the first woman to solo across the English Channel.

Read about the sixteen-year-old girl who flew under all four bridges in NYC’s East  River in Soar Elinor by Tami Lewis Soar, EleanorBrown or about a Chinese-American woman who flew with the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II in Sky High, The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss.  Learn more about her fellow WASPs in Amy Nathan’s Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II.

Want more?  There are dozens more amazing flyers you’ve never heard of in The Roaring 20: the First Cross-Country Air Race for Women by Margaret Whitman Blair and Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys by Karen Bush Gibson. Seeking even higher altitudes?

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Stone tells the about the women who were recruited by NASA in the early 1960s but never allowed to fly.

More ideas at: http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/search?q=flight and my bibliography at https://nobodyownsthesky.wordpress.com

Julia MorganBack on solid earth, share the story of an amazing architect.

Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis shows the determination of the first woman in the world to become a licensed architect (like Bessie Coleman, she had to travel to Paris to do it because no US school would accept her) and who went on to design seven hundred buildings and spend nearly thirty years on the design and construction of William Randolph Hearst’s “castle” in California.


Speaking of women with patience and drive, check out Helen’s Eyes: a Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher by Marfe Ferguson Delano.
Do you know young people who seek challenge or adventure?

Introduce them to the courageous women in

  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford,
  • Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea and Brian Pinckney,
  • Joan of Arc and Cleopatra both by Diane Stanley  (the latter starts with the memorable line: “Everything we know about Cleopatra was written by her enemies…”),
  • The Librarian of Basra: a True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter,
  • Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds: a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss,
  • The DarinNurse soldier spyg Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter by Bonnie Christensen,
  • Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy by Pegi Deitz Shea,
  • They Called her Molly Pitcher by Anne Rockwell,
  • Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness,
  • Molly, by Golly! : The Legend of America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree,
  • Brave girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel,
  • Delores Huerta: a Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah E. Warren,
  • She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader by Jan Godown Annino and
  • Irena Sendler and the children of the Warsaw Ghetto by  Susan Goldman Rubin — gripping true stories all!

Older readers will appreciate

Kathryn J. Atwood’s two books Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics and Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, and Cheryl Mullenbach’s Double victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II.
Or maybe someone passionate about nature?

In The Chimpanzee Children of Gombe: 50 Years with Jane Goodall at Gombe National Park, the famed naturalist and tireless advocate for our nearest biological relatives shares her mission with young people.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola or Meet My Grandmother: She’s a Deep Sea Diver by Lisa Tucker McElroy present the groundbreaking marine biologist and diver whose ocean exploration and advocacy have made her known around the world.seeds of change

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Johnson, Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeannette Winter, and Planting the Trees of Kenya all tell the inspiring true story of Wangari Maathai, courageous environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace prize, whose passion & determination inspired hundreds of thousands of women across Africa to reforest their continent. Another fascinating tale out of Africa is

one plastic bagOne Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul which shows how one enterprising woman turned plastic bags into purses and became an economic engine for her region.

Closer to home, Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt tells how we largely owe the presence of wildflowers instead of junk and billboards along the nation’s highways to her tireless campaign.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by Joseph Hopkins, and Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You A Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley all present other role models.

You can find more books in this category here.

All of these and many more are the History-Makers — well-known and unknown girls and women who pushed the envelope  — without whom our world would be a very different place. 

I’ve only presented a small sampling of the possibilities – there are many other excellent books on these and other fascinating women.  Kathleen Krull’s Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought), Cynthia Chin-Lee’s Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World, Cheryl Harness’ Rabble Rousers: 20 Women Who Made a Difference, Sylvia Branzai’s Adventurers, Julie Cummins’ Women Explorers and Women Daredevils, Holly George-Warren’s The Cowgirl Way: Hats Off to America’s Women of the West, and Amelie Weldon’s Girls Who Rocked the World all provide fun and fascinating tidbits which hopefully will have your children eager to find out more!   A librarian can help them find these titles and offer additional suggestions.

Most kids today take for granted the choices they have and have no idea of the limits that were (and still are) placed on women around the world.   As kids read about the obstacles people overcame, they build their own resiliency.  Hopefully, as they learn about these inspiring people, kids may say “I can do that!” and build dreams for themselves.


Looking for other inspiring women? — check out these links:

http://carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com/search/label/Women%27s%20History%20Month — many program ideas and bibliographies on these and other titles (type names or titles in the search box to see how I’ve used many in programs)

www.tellingherstories.com — “fascinating women history forgot” links to my impersonations of women in engineering and flight and extensive bibliographies.

http://www.amightygirl.com/— splendid booklists to inspire your girls — also daily stories at:

https://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/— Named after the pioneering 19th century newspaper editor, public speaker and suffragist, this annual list features books for children and teens about girls and women that spur the imagination while confronting traditional female stereotypes.

http://www.girlssucceed.blogspot.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/TellingHerstory — profiles of amazing but lesser-known women & girls

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kidlit-Celebrates-Womens-History-Month/629392300461620— guest posts by children’s authors, illustrators, and librarians

You can also follow my Women’s History Month board on Pinterest


Carol bio picCarol Simon Levin is a Youth Services Librarian, author, storyteller and program presenter based in Bridgewater N.J. Whether she is telling the amazing stories of early women in aviation, engaging families in a rousing Halloween Hootenanny of songs and stories, expanding on the mathematical and artistic possibilities of a simple square, or sharing the story of a dolphin who learned to swim with an artificial tail (along with activities to help children understand what it is like to live with a disability), she always strives to create exciting programs that engage her audience’s interests and expand their horizons. Check out her blog carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com for many more ideas. She also does historical impersonations/STEM programs of “fascinating women history forgot.” Information at TellingHerStories.com. Carol  is a member of the New Jersey Storytelling Network, the New Jersey Library Association, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.