“Nevertheless, She Persisted”: 15 Children’s Books on Women Who Shaped History
This children’s book list was created by The Conscious Kid, in partnership with LINE4LINE. The Conscious Kid is a critical literacy organization that promotes access to books by and about underrepresented groups. LINE4LINE is a Baton Rouge-based barbershop program that strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. All of the books featured on this list are available to read at the LINE4LINE barbershop program during Women’s History Month.
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra: Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is based on the life of one of the world’s most influential painters, Frida Kahlo, and the animals that inspired her art and life. The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, her dramatic works featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her work brought attention to Mexican and Indigenous culture and she is also renowned for her works celebrating the female form. Ages 4–8.
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome: We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life. Ages 4–7.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk: The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Ages 4–8.
Shining Star, the Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang: Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. After years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors. Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, was a pioneer of the cinema. Her spirited determination in the face of discrimination is an inspiration to all who must overcome obstacles so that their dreams may come true. Ages 6–10.
When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Christopher Lyles: This is a picture book about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, one of San Francisco’s most well-known and politically active Lesbian couples. In this story, Phyllis and Del point out landmarks through the city that can be seen out their window. The Reader’s Note describes how Phyllis and Del left their mark on each of these sites. Ages 4–8.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley: Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable! Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements. Ages 4–8.
My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz by Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael López: This bilingual book allows young readers to enter Celia Cruz’s life as she becomes a well-known singer in her homeland of Cuba, then moves to New York City and Miami where she and others create a new type of music called salsa. Ages 4–8.
My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral/la vida de Gabriela Mistral by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra: Gabriela Mistral loved words and sounds and stories. Born in Chile, she would grow to become the first Nobel Prize-winning Latina woman in the world. As a poet and a teacher, she inspired children across many countries to let their voices be heard. My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela is beautiful tribute to a woman who taught us the power of words and the importance of following our dreams. Ages 4–8.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasia Warner, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki: In Nova Scotia, in 1946, an usher in a movie theatre told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused to budge. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was Black. In no time at all, the police arrived and took Viola to jail. The next day she was charged and fined, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules. She refused to accept that being Black meant she couldn’t sit where she wanted. Viola’s determination gave strength and inspiration to her community. She is an unsung hero of the North American struggle against injustice and racial discrimination. Ages 5–9.
Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez/La Historia de Delores Huerta y César Chávez by Monica Brown, illustrated by Joe Cepeda: Every day, thousands of farmworkers harvested the food that ended up on kitchen tables all over the country. But at the end of the day, when the workers sat down to eat, there were only beans on their own tables. Then Dolores Huerta and César Chávez teamed up. Together they motivated the workers to fight for their rights and, in the process, changed history. Ages 4–8.
Danza! Amaliz Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh: Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances. Soon she founded her own dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, where she integrated her knowledge of ballet and modern dance with folkloric dances. The group began to perform all over the country and soon all over the world, becoming an international sensation that still tours today. Ages 6–10.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet: When Jewish-Ukrainian immigrant Clara Lemlich arrived in America, she couldn’t speak English. She went to night school, spent hours studying English, and helped support her family by sewing in a shirtwaist factory. Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers the country had seen. From her short time in America, Clara learned that everyone deserved a fair chance. That you had to stand together and fight for what you wanted. And, most importantly, that you could do anything you put your mind to. Ages 4–8.
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns: This is the story of a woman who dared to dive, defy, discover, and inspire. Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists. Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to. Ages 4–8.
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard: Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. The young girl is more determined than ever and reminds us what power we hold when we can read. Ages 6–9.
Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly: Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country. Ages 8–12.
The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to cultivating equity, uplifting counter-narratives, and promoting positive identity development in youth. The Conscious Kid works with schools, organizations and families nationally and internationally to promote access to children’s books that center underrepresented groups. www.theconsciouskid.org
LINE4LINE strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color in a creative way by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. Within the African American Community barbershops have historically served as social hubs. By bringing reading into this culturally significant space, youth not only build self-esteem with a fresh new haircut but also strengthen reading skills in a familiar environment. Using relatable role model mentors, LINE4LINE builds community from within. Founded in 2014 by O’Neil Curtis, LINE4LINE takes place at his Baton Rouge barbershop the first Monday of each month from 4–7pm. During this time LINE4LINE has given 1500 haircuts; placed over 3000 books into homes; created an onsite 24/7 Free Little Library; built a Barbershop Library of multi-cultural books; started a program with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public schools; participated in community outreach events, and established a back-to-school giveaway, serving an additional 3000 youth and families. In 2016, LINE4LINE received its 501c3 status and kicked off the 449 Book Club giving new books to boys which are read and discussed at the following month’s program. In 2017 LINE4LINE began seeking funds through grants and private donations and entered a partnership with The Conscious Kid to further diversify its Barbershop Library. Looking to the future, LINE4LINE plans to create an on-site space for youth to gather during out of school time with a lending library, support services and programs that seek to develop life passions. https://www.facebook.com/Line4LineBR/