Posts Tagged ‘women’s rights’

When I read biographies of women, I am often flabbergasted by the variety of activities once considered off-limits to females.  Such perverse undertakings as riding a bicycle, voting, being a nurse, were scandalous not so very long ago.

1967 -- Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

1967 — Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

What a concerted effort there has been to convince us that women are simply not apt to be strong, athletic, brave, scientific, reliable, level-headed, smart, capable.


I am grateful for the determined courage of so many women who buck the constraints of gender and racial restrictions to pursue their dreams, gifts, and callings, opening the door for all of us who follow.

Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree!

Thankful for women and men who choose to expand opportunity rather than hinder, honor rather than degrade, spotlight rather than ignore, listen rather than silence, empower rather than oppress.

Today I’ve got a dozen+ biographies of women whose stories inspire us. There are lots more in my Subjects index under Biography which I encourage you to seek out. Plus, I’ve put links to last year’s Women’s History posts at the end of today’s blog.


Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Roaring with lemon-yellow verve, this is the account of Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who in 1916 set out in their jaunty yellow car to drive around America. That was a skyscraper-tall order in those days of “bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles” when automobiles were still newfangled contraptions.


Their purpose was to campaign for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving the vote to women. This creative, lively telling is plum full of optimism and joy in both text and Hadley’s retro prints. Afterwords tell more about early automobiles and the women’s suffrage movement. Fantastic for ages 5 and up.


Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote, written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Nancy Zhang
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Convincing Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support women’s suffrage required dogged determination and out-of-the-box creativity so good thing Alice Paul owned copious amounts of both qualities.


Planning lavish parades, plunking herself down across the president’s grand desk for a chat, unfurling scrolls down the marble steps of the Capitol with banner-large lettering, organizing massive letter-writing campaigns. Check, check, check, and check. This spirited account of a spirited woman will bolster a can-do attitude in all its readers, ages 5 and up!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This fabulous biography of Justice Ginsburg pulses with strength and determination. Text, typography, and illustrations work together masterfully to present a portrait of one who faced down stinging discrimination based on both her gender and her Jewish heritage.

I loved learning more about how Ruth’s early resistance to narrowly-drawn boundaries prepared her for a career of profound objecting and dissenting.

And, at this moment in our culture, I am especially glad Debbie Levy includes Ginsburg’s dear friendship with one whose ideas were so often adamantly opposed to her’s, Justice Scalia. Oh, for more friendships across the divides. Excellent, lengthy Author’s Note. This is a strong choice for ages 7 and up.


Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, written by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2016; a Paula Wiseman Book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The daughter of Lord Byron, Ada was an irrepressibly curious tinkerer, an imaginative, out-of-the-box thinker, from childhood on. Her friendship with Charles Babbage, the designer of what was essentially the first computer, led to her brilliant collaboration with him and her writing of the first computer program in 1843.


Ada’s story has recently been told in two wonderful books. This one, written by Diane Stanley, reads beautifully, effortlessly, and is illustrated in Jessie Hartland’s delightful, colorful, sunny, style, full of quirk and bustle. Largely accessible to ages 6 and up.

Another equally great choice is:


Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The text in this book delves a bit more into the mathematics of what Ada worked out and has just a slightly more elevated feel — more technical, more sophisticated language. It’s better suited to slightly older children, I’d say.


Robinson’s artwork is fantastic, mirroring the creativity and inventiveness of Ada with its cut-paper designs, mechanical and mathematical references; even the end-papers launch us into the story with their spread of hole-punched programming cards. Ages 8 and up.


Caroline’s Comets: A True Story, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Caroline Herschel was another early female scientist. In fact, she was “the first professional woman scientist,” who teamed up with her brother William in the 1700s to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astronomy.


Such obstacles she overcame as a woman in that society to pursue science! Such perseverance, attention to detail, wonder over the skies, and love of learning were hers to enjoy and employ, making her mark on the world. McCully is one of the best of the best in children’s nonfiction. Her beautiful account of Herschel’s life and legacy is a joy to read, easily accessible to ages 6 and up.


Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, by Catherine Reef
published in 2017 by Clarion Books
161 pages

This lengthy biography of the groundbreaking nurse, Florence Nightingale, might put you off with its serious look and bulk, but for girls ages 12 and up who are interested in her life or in a medical career, it’s a fabulous, absorbing read. Excellent choice for adults as well.

For me, the images of The Lady with the Lamp somehow reduced Florence Nightingale to a kindly little helper in the soldiers’ wards when in reality she was an incredibly stalwart person who agonized in her struggle against her family’s and society’s small-minded ideas of what was suitable for a woman to do. Nursing the sick certainly wasn’t one of the proper occupations of a lady, but Nightingale felt called to it and would not relent.


“Why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life which satisfies so many people?” she asks. The journey was lonely and difficult. Her courage, fearlessness, iron strength and will turned the field of nursing upside down. I loved bumping into others in this account whose stories I’ve included in my blog previously, including Elizabeth Blackwell, Alexis Soyer, and John Snow.


Joan of Arc, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Demi’s regal, detailed, gold-leaf illustration work is perfectly suited to this story of the unlikely medieval French warrior.


From her childhood in France with her sensitive heart and early devotion to God, we watch stunned as Joan’s teen-age visions propel her to undertake dangerous journeys, deliver messages that appeared crazy, and lead the French army to dumbfounding victories. Her tragic downfall, burning at the stake, and canonization complete this thought-provoking biography. Ages 7 and up.


Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, written by Raphaële Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, translated by Julie Cormier
first published in France, 2015; first US edition 2017 by Charlesbridge

Aurélia Fronty’s stunning artwork zooms this account of Malala straight past previous children’s biographies about her. Wow. Gorgeous pages, exploding with brilliant color and gorgeous textile patterns make it irresistible!


Frier unreels a lucid, strong narration of Malala’s life, her relentless pursuit of education for girls. Journey from her childhood, past her attack, through the Nobel Prize, before dipping briefly into her current activism. 8 pages of back matter provide lots more information about Pakistan, the Pashtun people, worldwide education for girls, Islam, other historical peacemakers, and Malala’s ideas. Inspirational and eye-opening for ages 7 and up.


Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, written by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley
published in 1999 by Viking

Maria Tallchief was born on an Osage Indian Reservation in 1925 and went on to become one of the greatest American-born ballerinas.

Music and dance coursed through her from the time she was a little girl. Maria was fortunate enough to have parents who supported her dreams. Against all odds, with a fierce work ethic, years of relentless practice, and a love of the dance-music language of ballet, Maria rose to the top.


Rosemary Wells sat down with Tallchief before her death and helped record her life experiences through her joining the Ballets Russe at age 17. It’s a lovely, fascinating narrative, handsomely illustrated. Ages 7 and up.


Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2011; a Paula Wiseman Book by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When I was a little girl, Amelia Earhart was one of my great heroines. I loved reading about her.

This poetic account of her solo night flight across the Atlantic in May, 1932, illustrates the grit and marvel that mark Earhart’s life. Terrible storms. Broken instruments. Iced-over wings. Seemingly certain disaster. Freezing cold. Toxic fumes.


With skill and tenacity, Earhart manages to pull through this tremendously difficult adventure. Taut, gripping text from an award-winning author and images from Wendell Minor that strap us right in the cockpit make this a winner for ages 7 and up.


Nothing by Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson, written by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Greg Couch
published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

Althea Gibson broke the color line in international tennis, winning the Grand Slam in 1956 and the Wimbledon in 1957-58.

All that strength and energy had to be channeled in the right direction, however. As a child, she was “the tallest, wildest tomboy in the history of Harlem,” so they say, who ran right into trouble every way she turned. Sport was just what Althea needed, yet even there, learning to reign in her high emotions and carry herself like a true champion — those were tough lessons.


Stauffacher spins a vivid account and Couch’s meaningful, vibrant illustrations swirl with the mad energy and spirit of Gibson. Great read about an athlete I knew nothing about. Ages 6 and up.


America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener
published in 2000 by Gulliver Books, Harcourt Inc.

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle didn’t learn to swim until she was seven years old. At that time, immediately following her near-drowning in a pond, her father tied a rope around her waist, plunked her in the river and told her to “paddle like a dog.”

Turned out Trudy was a masterful swimmer who loved competition! She began long-distance swimming when she was just 16 years old, swam on the 1924 Olympic team, and then began work on the ultimate challenge — the English Channel. When a newspaper chided her, saying that she and other women ought to forget such things and admit they would “remain forever the weaker sex” it spurred Ederle on all the more.


But what a formidable challenge! Read her harrowing experiences and triumphs in this riveting biography. Handsome illustrations capture the tumultuous swim and the 20’s era. Ages 6 and up.

Here are links to last year’s Women’s History posts. There are many more bios in the Subject listing as well so don’t miss out!

Baby, we’ve done a lot for the world

Frailty, thy name is not woman!

Marching to our own heartbeats

Embracing a worldful of callings


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So many misconceptions about the frailty of women’s judgement, stamina, intellect have been invalidated over the years. What fallacies do you still encounter? Here are five more biographies to help set the record straight:

elizabeth started all the trouble cover imageElizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her life-long fight for women’s rights. Organizing, writing, speaking, convening, she championed the cause, then passed the torch along to others, who inspired still others.

elizabeth started all the trouble interior rappaport and faulkner

One of the most scandalous, divisive, hard-earned rights Stanton and her colleagues campaigned for was the right for women to vote!  Ludicrous as it seems to us now, this was once an outrageous notion.

elizabeth started all the trouble illustration matt faulkner

Doreen Rappaport traces a lively narrative of suffragists and trailblazers in this fantastic new book. Matt Faulkner’s riveting compositions are packed with strong personalities. Highly recommended for ages 6 and up.

look up cover imageLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2013, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Henrietta Leavitt thirsted for understanding about the stars in an era when astronomy was a field reserved almost exclusively for men. Her opportunities for using the best equipment were limited by her gender. Instead, she was assigned tedious work as a virtual human computer.

look up illustration raul colon

But that did not stop her from painstakingly studying on her own, leading to a monumental discovery. Read the story of the woman who was said to have “the best mind at the Harvard Observatory.” Another beautiful collaboration by Burleigh and Colón. Ages 5 and up.

dolores huerta cover imageDolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla
published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Teacher, listener, friend. Organizer, defender, peacemaker. Dolores Huerta filled many roles in her work, campaigning on behalf of migrant workers in California.

dolores huerta illustration robert casilla

Raise your awareness of the unjust treatment of farm laborers and your gratitude for the calloused hands that put food on your table with this warm account of Huerta’s groundbreaking work. Ages 4 and up.

sacagawea cover imageSacagawea, by Liselotte Erdrich, artwork by Julie Buffalohead
published in 2003 by Carolrhoda Books

Kidnapped at age 12 and transported far from home. Adapting to a new language and culture. Married off, age 16, to a Frenchman. Volunteered by that husband for a strenuous, treacherous journey to be undertaken while she carried, birthed, and nursed her first-born.

sacagawea erdrich and buffalohead

Sacagawea is the subject of many biographies but I love this one for its humanizing rather than mythologizing of her and the handsome, dignified paintings by Ponca artist Julie Buffalohead. Ages 4 and up.

here come the girl scouts cover imageHere Come the Girl Scouts: The Amazing All-true Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure, by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2012 by Scholastic Press

Daisy was an adventurous soul from the time she was a small girl. As a young woman, she ditched dinner parties to go fishing and favored elephant riding to etiquette lessons.


At the age of 51, she launched the Girl Scout movement, championing a life of service, physical activity, conservation, respect, and full engagement in a juicy life for girls. Her story is fascinating, illustrated in a bold, jaunty style, peppered with Girl Scout maxims. A joyful treat for ages 5 and up.

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There’s been a storm of conversations recently in the children’s literature world over carefulness and truthfulness in our depictions of slavery. The good news in all of this is that we are having these conversations. This week, I’ve got seven strong choices for increasing our understanding of this painful piece of our history.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter cover imageWhen the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, by Sonia Rosa, illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, translated from the Portuguese by Jane Springer
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

I didn’t imagine I would find the story of an amazing, Afro-Brazilian slave woman when I went book-looking, but this moving and visually-sophisticated account fairly leapt off the shelf.

After reading this short text, I only wish I could meet this person. She was an intelligent, caring, remarkably hopeful woman whose deep sorrows and trials could not break her spirit.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior2 rosa and hees

Esperança Garcia lived in the Brazilian state of Piauí in the mid-1700s. For a time she was owned by Jesuit priests and worked on their cotton farm. While there, she was taught to read and write which was a rarity in Brazil just as it was in the Southern United States. When she was sold to a new, cruel master, Garcia’s situation vastly deteriorated. She found she could not be silent, and wrote an eloquent letter to the governor.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior rosa and hees

Read her story, written with intimacy and grace, accompanied by these extraordinary pictures. Each page is vigorous and arresting, surging with Brazilian heat and dominated by the indomitable figure of Esperança herself. Ages 5 and up.

frederick's journey cover imageFrederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by London Ladd
published in 2016 by Disney/Jump at the Sun

When you see Doreen Rappaport’s name on a book, you just settle in with confidence that a remarkable connection is about to occur between you and her subject. And that’s exactly what we get from this newest book on Frederick Douglass.

His life’s journey is traced from the time he was a tiny babe-in-arms, wrenched from his mother as she stretches a helpless arm towards him with a brokenhearted wail, to his persevering accomplishment of helping obtain the vote for black men.

frederick's journey interior rappaport and ladd

Written in lyrical free verse, and interspersed with quotes from Douglass, it’s an eloquent biography. London Ladd’s powerful paintings pour strength, dignity, and determination across every page. Included are Author and Illustrator Notes on the making of the book, a timeline, and resources for further learning. An exceptional piece, highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

two friends cover imageTwo Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
published in 2016 by Orchard Books

Frederick Douglas, amidst his great struggle for African American rights, and Susan B. Anthony, in her epic struggle for women’s rights, met for tea one evening in Susan’s parlor, in Rochester, New York.

What a meeting! What a pair of battle-weary friends. Wouldn’t you love to have been there?!

two friends interior robbins, qualls, and alko

Beautifully written in a perceptive, parallel structure, with Qualls’ and Alko’s  vibrant illustrations incorporating text and image — this book offers a unique perspective on these individuals and their friendship. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

freedom in congo square cover imageFreedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2016 by Little Bee Books

Congo Square, in New Orleans, was a small patch of earth known around the world because of what took place there on Sunday afternoons during the days of slavery.

Not auctions. Not whippings. Not labors of any kind. But dancing.

freedom in congo square interior weatherford and christie

Anticipate that one day of freedom, celebration, community, and the music of home, in this jubilant story. Strikingly illustrated by Christie in gorgeous, graceful, leaping line and pulsating color.

An Author’s Note tells more about this uncommon piece of American history. Ages 3 and up.

henry's freedom box cover imageHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2007 by Scholastic Press

Henry “Box” Brown was enslaved in Virginia. As a young boy he was sold away from his beloved family, and as a young married man with three dear-as-life-itself children, he was again left bereft, his wife and children ripped away from him in one searingly-painful blink of an eye. All. Gone.

henry's freedom box illustration kadir nelson

So, when an idea came to Henry of a way to escape to the north, to freedom from the unspeakable griefs of slavery, what did he really have to lose? 

henry's freedom box illustration2 kadir nelson

His method: shipping himself in a wooden crate 350 miles to Philadelphia. Henry’s story is at once heartbreaking and triumphant. The magnificent illustrations of Kadir Nelson very deservedly won him a Caldecott Honor. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 or 5 and up. A short Author’s Note adds a few more details to Henry’s story.

freedom river cover imageFreedom River, by Doreen Rappaport, pictures by Bryan Collier
published in 2000 by Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children

In this riveting story, you’ll meet an almost unbelievably brave named John Parker. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to forget him.

He lived in Ripley, Ohio, just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky. John had been born a slave, earned enough money to buy his freedom, and become a successful businessman. That’s the short version, skipping over a whale of a lot of misery, clamor, and initiative which you can learn in the book’s Historical Note.

freedom river illustration bryan collier

But John wasn’t content with only freedom and comfort for himself. Instead he became one of the most active, bold conductors on the Underground Railroad. This book tells of his relentless pursuit of one young family and how he risked his life again and again to usher them to freedom. Incredible. 

One of the things I love about Bryan Collier is that in his Illustrator Notes he shares rich insights about how and why he pieces together the elements of his commanding, award-winning collages. Don’t miss reading these Notes! You and your kids will learn a lot about the subject, and become more art-literate at the same time. Ages 4 and up.

night boat to freedom cover imageNight Boat to Freedom, by Margot Theis Raven, pictures by E.B. Lewis
published in 2006 by Melanie Kroupa Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux

Here’s another story of a young man risking all to bring slaves across the river from Kentucky to Ohio. It is inspired by accounts taken down by WPA writers who compiled slave narratives during the 30s.

night boat to freedom illustration e.b. lewis

This young man, Christmas John, is far younger than John Parker, though. Just 12 years old when he ferries his first passenger across in the dead of night, quieting the oars, straining to see the light of the stationmaster who waits on the far shore. After that first success, John keeps up his rescue work for years, until it’s finally too dangerous for him and dear Granny Judith to stay a moment longer.

night boat to freedom illustration2 e.b. lewis

Margot Raven has constructed some beautiful, winning characters here after immersing herself in hundreds and hundreds of fascinating interviews of ex-slaves. E.B. Lewis is one of my favorite illustrators, and here again his masterful watercolor work brings these people and scenery and emotions to life with strength and beauty. Ages 5 and up.

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