Last week we met an early champion for equal rights and two contemporary champions on the tennis court, a pioneering filmmaker, the first female rabbi, an expert on reptiles, and a gracious philanthropist.
Today — six more fascinating women to admire:
Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America’s Children,
written by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Julianna Swaney
published in 2018 by Tundra Books
Born in 1873 in New York state, Jo was drawn towards medicine from childhood on, and with the way having been paved for women in the medical field by the Blackwell sisters, Jo set out to become a doctor.
When her private practice did not flourish, Jo became a health inspector, sent to work in the violent, disease-ridden Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of NYC. There, Jo encountered a severe public health crisis.
She tirelessly worked and brilliantly innovated to bring down the infant mortality rate and improve the health of women and children. I came away from this biography wanting to know more about this amazing woman. Ages 5 and up.
A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks,
written by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Xia Gordon
published in 2019 by Sterling Children’s Books
Poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks’ life is fittingly, lyrically presented here in stanzas marking her growth as a person and artist.
Brooks had a penchant for poetry from the time she was a child, and was blessed with parents who saw that spark, honored it, nurtured it, made space for it. I love seeing their supporting role and that of her husband throughout this account.
Her artistic journey is cleverly referenced in the illustration work as a “furious flower [that] lifts its face all unashamed.” Meet the first African American to win a Pulitzer, hailing from Chicago, in this lovely book. Ages 6 or 7 and up.
Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon,
written by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer
published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
In 2019, it is almost impossible for children to believe that women were banned from running marathons not so very long ago. Yet there it is.
Bobbi Gibb, born in 1942, was not allowed on her school track team because she was a girl, but spent her youth running, running, running through the woods and fields near her Cambridge, Massachusetts home simply because she loved it. When she witnessed her first Boston Marathon, her feet itched to join the race. But she was rejected on the grounds that “women are not physiologically able to run twenty-six miles.”
In 1966, Gibb ran the marathon anyway, unsanctioned, the first woman ever to do so, and came in 124th out of 415 male runners. She was given no medal. It took 30 years for her to receive official recognition of her repeated successes. This is a brilliant book, exuberantly illustrated, for ages 5 and up, showing just how far we’ve come!
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré,
written by Anika Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar
published in 2019 by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Librarians are special heroes of mine, truly the defenders, preservers, and champions of invaluable treasures across time and cultures. So I was elated to see this account of the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, a woman who welcomed the Spanish-speaking community into the city’s libraries and ushered Latinx culture into our story collections for the benefit of us all.
The brief, lyrical narrative which begins with her departure from San Juan in 1921 is sprinkled with Spanish words which you will need to deduce from context.
Columbian artist Paola Escobar’s stylish, retro, toasty-warm illustrations charm us from cover to cover, and an Author’s Note and list of resources for further reading greatly increase our understanding of Pura’s remarkable role in the book community. Ages 5 and up.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain,
written by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Sophie was a little girl who actually “sneaked out of bed to study math while others slept.” That’s how enamored she was with mathematics!
She grew up in Paris during the French Revolution at a time when no professor would take on a female mathematics student, using a pseudonym to mail in her homework until she was finally discovered. A female math prodigy. Unheard of! Germain had to buck the unyielding constraints in academia for many years before finally becoming the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1816.
Barbara McClintock’s exquisite illustrations whirl us into 17th century France and reveal the allure of mathematics. An excellent read for ages 6 and up.
Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington,
written by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall
published in 2019 by Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins
With her Medusa-like locks and wild imagination, surrealist Leonora Carrington bursts on the scene in this lush, fascinating biography. She came roaring into the world with a mind of her own, a predilection for the fantastical, and a thirst for the arts.
Carrington joined the surrealist movement in France putting her uniquely female spin on the subject matter, fled to Mexico during WWII and fell in love with the countryside and culture. This tropicalicious story of her life fabulously weaves in the vibrant, picturesque details of Carrington’s world with the mystical, dreamy images she painted, and her deep commitment to presenting powerful notions of womanhood.
Amanda Hall’s gorgeous illustration work will mesmerize listeners and readers ages 6 to adult.
Find more riveting stories on my Women’s History list. And come back the next two weeks for two more women’s history posts!