Inside: March is Women’s History Month and a great time to celebrate smart, strong, and successful women who made history. Here are a few of our favorite picture books to educate our kids and spark some juicy discussions about dreams, determination, grit, and diligence.
Until relatively recently in history, women were not allowed to vote (1920), participate in the Olympics (1984), divorce a husband (in South Carolina not until 1949), wear pants (the 1850s), go shopping without a chaperone, own property if they were married, or join the military (1948).
If it weren’t for some really tough ladies who were not afraid to stand up and fight, we wouldn’t have it as good as we do today. Everywhere we look, in science, art, architecture, sports, business, and many other areas, we find trailblazing women who changed the world for the better. So we put together a list of inspiring women and hit the library (multiple times!)
We ended up with a significant number of books, but not all of them were so great. Sometimes I liked the book, but my kids didn’t. Other times, the story’s subject was terrific, but the presentation style and/or illustrations prevented us from recommending it. Nevertheless, we ended up with quite a collection of fantastic picture books about remarkable women perfect for Women’s History Month.
Also, check out our Girls can do anything: a booklist to inspire your daughter. We discuss picture books about Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Patricia E. Bath, Katherine Johnson, and more.
I’ve divided our Women’s History Month books into rough categories purely for ease of navigation. It definitely doesn’t mean that a scientist couldn’t be a revolutionary or that a dancer wasn’t also an artist.
Without any further ado, here’s our little ode to girl power.
Fascinating Books to Read During Women’s History Month
Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia, D. Anne Love
Do you know that revolutionary ladies have challenged patriarchy since ancient times? If you are not familiar with Hypatia (born about 350-370), you definitely should be. At a time when women had very few rights, and most girls were raised to cook, clean, and run a home, Hypatia learned to do many other things. She learned how to ride a horse, row a boat, catch a fish with a spear, and (unthinkable at the time) become an expert in philosophy, advanced mathematics, and astronomy. (Here we should definitely give credit to her open-minded daddy, who taught her and encouraged her studies).
Sadly, as is often the case in history, as her fame grew, so did the opposition. There were some who couldn’t stand the idea of a female mathematician, especially a pagan, who was gaining such a strong following. One day, she was dragged through the streets by her hair and killed by a mob. Hypatia became a symbol of learned women for centuries to come, and she is someone your kids should know about.
(And don’t worry the dramatic death is not included in the book. You can talk about it with your kids if you want or skip it for now).
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, Alan Schroeder
How bad are your problems when you compare them to those of young children overworked on plantations, starved, threatened, and whipped with a lash? In this fictional account of Harriet Tubman’s childhood, we learn about one summer of her life. The story captures in great detail the horrors of slavery in general and its impact on an eight-year-old Harriet.
Schroeder’s writing is gripping and gives a powerful snapshot of a bad-ass lady with a rebellious spirit who resisted authority despite great personal peril. Striking watercolor illustrations by prolific, award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney are raw, emotional, and beautiful. This book will open your heart and soul and make you feel that anything is possible if you set yourself to the task.
Before Florence Nightingale became famous for her revolutionary ideas about nursing, she was a carefree girl growing up in splendid luxury (and yes, she was named for the town in Italy). When she first expressed her desire to become a nurse, her distinguished parents were horrified. They wanted her to grow into a proper society lady. Eventually, however, her resolve eroded their resistance, and they graciously gave in.
This picture book packs in a surprising amount of information. We especially enjoyed reading about her pioneering medical research (who knew!) and her tireless advocacy work to improve army hospitals. The illustrations by the award-winning author and illustrator Demi are bright and beautiful.
Elizabeth Started All The Trouble, Doreen Rappaport
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an American suffragist and a leading figure of the early Women’s Rights Movement. It’s hard to believe, but just over two hundred years ago, women couldn’t go to college or inherit property. Women had to give any money they earned to their husbands, wear uncomfortable petticoats that weighed as much as fourteen pounds, and there were no female doctors, politicians, or lawyers.
Lucky for us, there were energetic women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth who fervently believed that women deserved more.
These women organized conventions, made speeches, and many other “unladylike” things. The seventy-two-year journey from the idea to the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was a long one. Even though those who started the suffragist movement didn’t live to see the victory, they showed us what it means to stand up for one’s beliefs, even embracing a struggle that lasts your entire life.
Brave Girl, Michelle Markel
Here is another inspirational story, this one about Clara Lemluch, a young Ukrainian immigrant at the turn of the 20th century. She arrived in New York hoping for a better life; instead, she found herself working impossible hours for low pay, lacking opportunities for advancement, and enduring humiliating treatment from supervisors.
She might have been just a 5-foot-tall teenager still learning the English language, but she led the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history. Why? Because she knew what was right and what was wrong. She was one tough lady: she was threatened, arrested (17 times!), beaten by the police and big company guards, yet she did not back down. Wow!
Your child has been on this earth only a few years; there might be days when he or she might feel small and powerless. This is an excellent opportunity to tell your kids that size doesn’t matter. Power comes from inside, and a powerful presence is a conscious choice.
We loved pencil and watercolor illustrations by Caldecott Honor nominee Melissa Sweet. (By the way, she is also the author and illustrator of New York Times Bestseller, Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White that I can’t recommend highly enough if you have older kids.)
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee, Marissa Moss
What does it mean to be fearless? Sometimes it means daring to follow your dreams. Even as a child, Maggie Gee dreamed of flying airplanes. When America entered WWII, she dropped out of the University of California, where she was studying physics, and trained to be a WASP pilot (Women’s Army Service Pilots).
WASP recruits were required to complete the same training courses as male pilots, spent 12 hours a day at the airfield, and learned Morse code, meteorology, navigation, physics, aircraft mechanics, and military law. Little Maggie went on to become one of only two Chinese American women to serve as airforce service pilots during WWII. “I was helping my country to win the war, but I was also helping myself – making my own stories and dreams come true.”
Thanks to Maggie Gee’s groundbreaking work and other tough ladies who paved the way, there are now over 50,000 female pilots in America today. Read this book if you and your children want to explore how extraordinary determination and hard work can make dreams come true. Plus, the lesson will go down smoothly with the accompaniment of gorgeous acrylic and colored pencil illustrations.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, Debbie Levy
This beautifully illustrated biography completely fascinated me. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, before reading this book. It turns out, as I find very often is the case with eminent people, that her rise to greatness started with frequent trips to the library. Reading Nancy Drew mysteries, Amelia Earhart’s biographies, and Greek myths, she formed a conviction that girls could do anything. She studied hard, worked harder, seized opportunities, followed her beliefs, and ended up as a powerful voice for gender equality and women’s rights.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only broke many barriers in her own life but also chose a career that allowed her to break barriers for other people. If you are worried that the book would be too intense for young kids, you are right. It might be. I got mixed reactions in my house. But if you want to raise kids who care about other people, definitely introduce them to this formidable lady. Favorite quote: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid, Jeanette Winter
Currently, only 36% of architects are women, but this number was far lower fifty years ago when Zaha Hadid finished her studies in mathematics and architecture and opened her own architectural firm in London. She had tremendously innovative and unusual ideas, and people said it wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be done, she was out of her mind. But you know what? She kept believing in the impossible and ended up proving them wrong.
From a fire station in Germany, a ski jump in Austria, and a museum building in Denmark to an opera house in China, an aquatic center for the London Olympics, and Vienna University of Economics and Business Library, Hadid’s designs literally cover the world. If you take the time to look at her buildings online, you will be astonished by how fluid and curvy her designs appear to be, as if they are made out of kid’s playdough or are still oozing out of tubes. She pioneered a whole new aesthetic for architecture.
If you learn one thing from Zaha Hadid, make it this: “Women are always told, ‘You’re not going to make it, it’s too difficult, you can’t do that, don’t enter this competition, you’ll never win it,’ – they need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them to get on.”
There’s nothing I love more than discovering inspirational women’s history stories. And here you got it all: wit, creativity, and boldness. When Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie invented the Monopoly game (Yes, that Monopoly, but she called it Landlord’s Game), it was for the sole purpose of shining light on the unjust landlord-tenant situation. A small number of wealthy people bought land and charged poor people huge rent to live there. Lizzie thought it was wrong.
She filed and received a patent to claim credit for her invention at a time when women received fewer than 1% of all U.S. patents. But who said life is fair? Who do you think really got to benefit from Lizzie’s invention? Charles Darrow, a guy who altered the game and claimed credit as an inventor. He earned millions, and Lizzie got $500. This was before trade names became a big deal, and all Lizzie got was the Washington Post story with her claim to authorship.
I admire women who fought to assert themselves as individuals (something that most men in the 1900s took for granted) Aas well as standing up to injustice. It’s the way to push the boundaries of women’s rights, education, and personal development.
There is a lot of text, but bright and fascinating illustrations help kids to stay engaged with the story. My kids love Monopoly, so both Lizzie Magie and the book about her were a huge hit in my house.
Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning, Laurence Anholt
This book tells an amazing true story about a little girl obsessed with dinosaurs in the 1800s. At the age of ten, after her father’s death, Mary Anning helped her mom financially by scouring the nearby cliffs for fossils. The fossils were then sold to tourists and scientists. She ended up uncovering Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaur, and Pterodactyl skeletons.
In the process, she taught herself anatomy, geology, and many other scientific disciplines, becoming a pioneer in the field of paleontology (the study of fossils). Although she wasn’t respected by “real” scientists during her time (she didn’t have an official science background and was poor), she is now heralded as one of the greatest fossil hunters of all time.
After reading this book, my kids wanted to know even more about her. We learned that this story skips some crucial points: the existence of her brother who searched alongside her (every hero needs a sidekick) and also that her dad and her dog died as a result of fossil hunting (which didn’t stop her). Our family had an interesting discussion about why the author might choose to write her biography this way and not another way. Dive into this book and see what discussions emerge for you and your family.
Ada Baron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, Laurie Wallmark
Are you familiar with an early English mathematician called Ada Byron Lovelace, daughter of a famous English poet Lord Byron? Ada’s mom hoped that rigorous academic studies and self-control exercises would prevent her daughter from taking after her dad (Byron is now believed to have been a psychopath). This lead to an excellent education, as Ada’s mom hired the best tutors to train her daughter’s mind. Thus, in the milieu of early Victorian high society, a girl appeared whose head was filled with numbers and computational possibilities rather than petticoats and suitors.
The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way is that in place of mentioning Ada’s marriage and three children, it says, “unfortunately, society and circumstances made it difficult for Ada to live the life she’d dreamed of, that of a professional mathematician.” In fact, Ada’s biographers state that her husband was supportive of her interest in math, and it’s common (and totally understandable) for women to temporarily slow down when they have very little kids. If she hadn’t died of cancer in her 30s, she might have become a professional mathematician just as she wanted. Even so, in her short life, she broke barriers and became an inspiration for generations to come.
Caroline’s Comets: A True Story, Emily Arnold McCully
This is the book you read to increase your gratitude and appreciation of your life. When illness scarred Caroline’s face and stunted her growth, her family wrote her off as spoiled goods. Who would marry her now? When her brother William wanted Caroline to come and live with him, he paid his family for a maid to replace Caroline. In William’s house, it was more of the same: “I did nothing for my brother but what a well-trained puppy dog would have done, that is to say, I did what he commanded me.”
Luckily for Caroline, her brother had a passion for astronomy, and that allowed her to become an assistant inventor. You’ll have to read the book to find out the details, but Caroline Herschel now lives in history as the first woman to discover comets, the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist, the first woman in English to hold a government position, and the first woman to be awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Just consider how far she came! From a childhood of no formal education, destined to be a house servant, to the royal scientist! There is really nothing stopping you from being the person you want to be. I’m absolutely in love with the watercolor and ink illustrations by the author.
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, Laurie Wallmark
Have you ever wondered where the expression “computer bug” came from? It turns out it was born out of Grace Hopper’s sharp wit. When Grace Hopper’s eyebrow tweezers were used to remove a dead moth from an early electromechanical computer, she made a joke and coined the term “computer bug.” Ha-ha! If you don’t know much about “amazing Grace,” you should definitely get this book.
I often find that STEM books, written to encourage kids’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, are quite preachy and more entertaining for parents than kids, but this one is an exception. Even though it’s on the longer end, the fun illustrations move the story along, and the content is worth the read. Besides learning a lot about this pioneering computer scientist, you will also discover how unconventional thinking can be the key to solving problems.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, Laurie Lawlor
The Great Depression was certainly not a great time to find a job as a scientist. And Rachel Carson had yet another strike against her. She was a woman. A fresh graduate of John Hopkins University with a degree in biology, Rachel had many responsibilities on her shoulders. She had to help her mom keep up the family land as well as make money to support her poverty-stricken brother, his wife, and baby, AND her divorced sister with two toddlers. Talk about the weight of responsibility!
But Rachel Carson was a competent woman and a tremendously good researcher and scientist. She worked hard, wrote widely about environmental pollution, and became a respected authority on the natural history of the sea. If your kids learn one thing from this book, it would be to not let excuses get in the way of achieving things. Yes, sometimes we can’t control our life circumstances. But we can always control what we do with the time and the potential we are given.
Conditions will never be perfect, but we can still make a difference. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring awoke concern for the environment, led to the ban of DDT (a chemical used in agriculture), and served as an impetus for the modern environmental movement. She’s a legend.
What Miss Mitchell Saw, Hayley Barrett
A year before Caroline Herschel’s death, in 1847, another inspired woman far across the ocean found a comet. Ever since Maria Mitchell was a little girl growing up on the fog-wrapped island of Nantucket, she had loved using a telescope and knew all the stars, planets, and celestial phenomena by name. When she grew up, she became a librarian and devoted her time to studying advanced mathematics and celestial navigation.
One day Maria Mitchell saw something in the sky that was completely new; it was a comet that is still known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” The fame that followed her discovery allowed her to become an astronomy professor at Vassar College, where she championed education for women. If a woman in the 19th century could have a successful career in the science field, girls today have no excuse (assuming they have an itching for science)!
We love reading books about women in science, and this one has gorgeous gouache, watercolor, and ink illustrations by talented local artist Diana Sudyka.
The Shark Lady, Jess Keating
The Shark Lady is the powerful and inspiring true story of Eugenia Clark, a woman who devoted her life to studying sharks. The illustrations are beautiful – the moment we saw this book, we knew we had to buy it. Faced with enormous obstacles, Clark didn’t surrender but rather rolled up her sleeves and got to work breaking stereotypes about girls as well as sharks one myth at a time. She said, “In the beginning, I wanted to enter what was essentially a man’s field. I wanted to prove I could do it. Then I found that when I did as well as the men in the field I got more credit for my work because I am a woman, which seems unfair.”
One thing that struck me about our pioneer women scientists is that they often didn’t have children. Mary Anning, Caroline Herschel, Grace Hopper, Rachel Carson, Maria Mitchell, etc. But to prevent your kids from jumping to the conclusion that motherhood and science don’t mix, let them know that Eugenia Clark had FOUR children. I don’t know how successful she was in balancing the long and demanding hours of scientific work with raising children, but you can definitely use this as an opportunity to talk with your daughters about “having it all.”
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen, Deborah Hopkinson
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers. But it might surprise you to know that Jane lived a simple life.” Two hundred years ago, English middle-class parents kept their daughters at home while their brothers traveled the world and got a splendid education at fancy universities. But Jane didn’t let a lack of outside schooling and travel opportunities stop her from learning and writing. She read voraciously and became a student of human psychology through her acute observations of the people around her.
She became a bestselling author during her lifetime, a rare feat for any writer. The title page of the published books simply said “by a lady” rather than stating her name. The captivating soft pen and watercolor artwork by our favorite illustrator, Qin Leng, add richness and engages kids on many levels. This story, both sad and inspirational, is an excellent introduction to social stigmas and an individuals’ power to overcome them.
Author: a True Story, Helen Lester
This might be the funniest author’s autobiography of all time. And I’m speaking from experience since I have a whole bookcase dedicated to biographies and autobiographies!
Helen Lester’s storytelling – you might have seen her titles on our book lists before – is warm, witty, and waggish. Her life is a great example of overcoming challenges (early learning disabilities and multiple rejections from publishers), perseverance, and using humor to deal with life’s disappointments. It’s also about doing what you like, having fun, and learning. The cartoonish illustrations (also by the author) carry her delightfully cheerful spirit. It’s a great book not only for children who want to be writers but for everyone.
Alabama Spitfire, Bethany Hegedus
You might not know it, but the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, only ever wrote one novel. (There was a second book published 55 years later, but it was a mere draft to her famous novel and included many of the same passages). Why did she not write another novel? In her own words, she had already said all she wanted to say.
I hesitated a moment before including this book. I enjoyed it, but my kids not so much, and I only like to share books that we all loved. Still, I think the book is really awesome for Women’s History Month, and this is why.
Harper Lee led an eccentric life, and it worked for her no matter what anybody said. The main message of Alabama Spitfire is that you should stand up for what you believe, take risks, and always be you. But you will have to help your kids understand that. The text is pretty dry and seems to be geared towards adults. Kids who are still too young to appreciate Mockingbird, know who Truman Capote was, and don’t yet deeply comprehend the haunting themes of race, injustice, and hypocrisy, might just get bored reading it. But the book inspired my two oldest kids to read Mockingbird. That’s a good enough reason to read it, right?!
It Began With a Page, Kyo Maclear
This biography is about many things, the most prominent of which is surviving hard times. When Gyo’s whole family was rounded up and sent to a prison camp, she was a young artist working for Walt Disney Studios in New York. It was 1942, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had just signed an order to send Japanese Americans living on the west coast to internment camps. Gyo’s artistic work helped her deal with the painful emotions and internal conflict.
Gyo Fujikawa will live in history as a prolific author, illustrator, and designer of children’s books. If you have an interest in children’s literature, definitely pick up one of her works. I’m pretty sure you will be (like us) struck by her creative spirit, artistic talent, and unbelievable color palette. One of my daughters signed up for a live drawing class from the Cornell Lab the moment we finished reading one of her books!
The magnificent drawings in this biography by Canadian artist Julie Morstad are a pure treat and a great accompaniment to the story.
Jump at the Sun, Alicia D. Williams
Here is another magnificently illustrated biography of a great author, this one about Zora Neale Hurston, a path-breaking novelist, pioneering anthropologist, and one of the first black women to enter the American literary canon. Reading this book filled me with awe. Despite many setbacks and difficult circumstances, she pursued learning and story-telling with passion and tenacity. It’s heartbreaking to learn that despite all her achievements, at the end of her life, she worked as a maid to survive, died in a welfare home, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Still, she re-emerged after her death as a star of American literature.
The illustrations by critically acclaimed artist Jacqueline Alcantara are done with gouache and edited in photoshop. Each page is filled with color, positive energy, and movement. This is a great book to discuss the joy and wonder of learning, as well as perseverance in the face of adversity.
Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, David McPhail
For over one hundred years, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has delighted parents and children all over the world. But did you know that when Helen (Beatrix) Potter wrote it, several publishers rejected the book? Miss Potter ended up self-publishing a small number of copies. They disappeared so fast that one of the big publishers reconsidered. When it was officially launched in 1902, the book became an instant bestseller.
The tale of a naughty bunny who didn’t listen to his mommy has a universal appeal, but how did Miss Potter come up with this story? Who is Miss Potter anyway? And how did she learn to illustrate her own work so beautifully? In the picture book biography Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, we learn a lot of interesting things about her childhood—her love of nature, writing, drawing, homeschooling, and the pets that would inspire her charming stories.
Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington, Michelle Markel
Leonora Carrington was one of those pioneering women who didn’t let societal constraints cramp her style. Born into a wealthy and proper English family, she was expected to become a society lady and marry well. But all Leonora wanted to do, ever since she was four years old, was paint, scribble, and sketch. Boarding schools (she was expelled from a couple) couldn’t reform her, World War II didn’t stop her, and even motherhood and struggles to make money didn’t take away her passion.
Carrington’s art is as imaginative as it is intriguing. For me, it’s like walking into a dream where all your preconceived expectations fly out of the window. The best way to enjoy her art is to relax your mind and let your imagination roam. The same painting can produce different emotions depending on the day because it’s open to broad interpretation.
I expect that for any artist asked to illustrate a biography of an artist, there is a choice between reproducing the artist’s style and creating something else. Amanda Hall did a good job, though I wish there were examples of Carrington’s work in the book. Of course, you can always visit the internet with your children and study her work online.
Besides her paintings, Leonora Carrington’s gift to us is the example that you can always become the woman you want to be. The recipe is simple: stay true to yourself, and you can be as powerful and influential as you want.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, Jeanne Walker Harvey
When your kids feel too small and too insignificant to make a difference, read about this inspiring American architect and sculptor from Ohio, Maya Lin. When she was an undergraduate in college, a U.S. Commission for Fine Arts announced a contest to design a memorial to honor the soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. To avoid bias, the jury couldn’t see the names and credentials of the 1,421 entries submitted.
Well, guess what? Maya Lin won! When it became known that world-famous architects and artists of international repute lost to a young college girl, there was a lot of controversy. There were hearings, debates, protests, and whatnot. But in the end, her design was chosen because it was worthy, and it became a reality. I hope your kids finish reading this book feeling a wonderful sense of possibility and the desire to dream really big. Because as many ladies in history show us, anything is possible. Just shoot for the moon, what do you have to lose?
Wilma Unlimited, Kathleen Krull
I think this story of overcoming a life-threatening ordeal will leave a lasting imprint on your child. It’s a striking example of the human capacity to find a way through despite all odds. And the rich acrylic, watercolor, and gouache illustrations juxtaposed against sepia-toned photographs are eye-catching and remarkable.
Wilma Rudolph, the world’s fastest woman and the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics game, did not have an easy start in life. In fact, you might say that the odds were stacked against her. Born prematurely, the 20th child of a poor family in a small town (that is now part of Clarksville, Tennessee), she was stricken by polio at the age of five and was not expected to walk again. But nothing could stop Wilma, not the debilitating effects of polio, not high school pregnancy, nor gender barriers (until her all track-and-field events were men’s domain).
I think there is something pretty powerful that separates great athletes from everybody else. It’s the ability to push themselves to their limits, which is something we all need from time to time.
America’s Champion Swimmer, David A. Adler
Gertrude Ederle, nicknamed Queen of the Waves, was a gold medal winner in the 1924 Summer Olympics and a former world record-holder in five events. But her most memorable accomplishment is that she was the first woman to swim across the English Channel, and she did it in fourteen and a half hours, two hours faster than the existing men’s record.
I was thrilled to get acquainted with this historical personage. Gertrude was one of the first women to show her power in swimming and proved journalists wrong when they said that “women must admit they would remain forever the weaker sex.”
Picture books about female athletes are especially valuable today when childhood obesity is the highest it’s ever been (18.5%), and girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys. This is a great book to talk about tenacity and discipline. Favorite quote from the book: “I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”
As American aviator Eddie Rickenbacker once said, “Aviation is proof that given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.” One of the people who lived up to this challenge was Sophie Blanchard, a shy girl from a sleepy village by the sea in eighteenth-century France. Even as a child, she wanted to fly like a bird, but the men around her jeered that the sky was too fierce for a woman. Well, it just goes to show that they didn’t know what they were talking about!
Sophie Blanchard became the first female pilot in the world when she made her solo ascent in a balloon in 1805. Despite society’s desire to put limits on women, she earned her living by doing air shows and was even named Chief Air Minister of Ballooning by Emperor Napoleon. I don’t know why this historical figure is not more widely known! She is as fascinating as she is inspiring.
Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, Leda Schubert
We all know that ballet dancing is demanding, intense, and requires a lifetime of dedicated training. Would it be fair if you trained as hard as all the other dancers but couldn’t have a leading role just because your skin color was dark?
Raven Wilkinson was the first African American ballerina to ever dance with a major American touring troupe. It was a great achievement, but even that was bittersweet. When her company was performing in the South in 1957, it was still illegal for black dancers to share the stage with white dancers. During the tour, Raven had an Atlanta hotel manager kick her out because of her race and had a man jump on stage screaming insults. After six years with the Ballet Russe, Raven made the dramatic decision to join a convent, though not for long. Read the book to find out about her second act.
As Raven herself says in the afterward, her story is about the “hope that lights our way. It’s a story we all share.” It’s also a great story to help kids talk about charting their own course.