Where are the strong women in children’s books? Here are some favorites.

published in the Raleigh News and Observer 4/29/18

http://www.newsobserver.com/living/article208305924.html

The series of biographies I read as a child had more heroes than heroines.

Still I most relished the ones that featured women. They were some of few strong females I found in children’s books. My granddaughter is growing up differently. Her choices are rich with role models.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Last year, my daughter-in-law turned me onto Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli’s “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls,” a collection of biographies celebrating 100 women. Funded by a Kickstarter, it sold more than a million copies, and now there’s “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2″ (both from Timbuktu Books).

It has 100 additional illustrated short accounts of women, including writer Agatha Christie and North Korean activist Yeonmi Park. To me, these depictions seem more suited for children 8 and up, but it’s wonderful to snuggle and speak with my granddaughter about strong women.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2

Of late there have been a plethora of collections. My favorite, “Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World,” is a graphic novel by French cartoonist Penelope Bagieu (First Second, ages 13 and up). These 29 biographies have a cumulative power that transcends boundaries of time, race, region and race.

They are randomly sequenced, creating surprising juxtapositions and engaging reading. The short bio of Nzinga, a fierce 16th century warrior queen from Nodongo and Matmba, is followed by 20th Century American actress Margaret Hamilton, the green-faced witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Many women are less familiar like Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan rapper. Others are unusual in their telling. For example, actress Hedy Lamarr’s gift for invention is stressed more than her beauty.

There is originality in each text. The first heroine, Clémentine Delait, a bearded lady from 20th-century France, uses speech that is lively and relatable to present-day young women. As teen friends stare at Clémentine‘s whiskery face, she issues an anachronistic one-liner, “What? What? Do I have lipstick on my teeth?”

There is a poignancy and wit in each profile, colors carefully chosen to establish mood. After each portrait, a full-page color spread strongly expresses the women’s essences, giving a visual pause before the next bio begins.

As Bagieu brings out the power, pathos, verve and innovation of each woman, the reader is so immersed, it never feels as if Bagieu is trying to prove a point. She doesn’t shy away from the women’s sensuality, and their personal struggles are represented as well as the political.

This collection is far too old for my granddaughter and frankly, I’m rather a fan of individual picture book biographies for her age. There’s nothing like a woman portrayed in a picture book to begin discussions.

Mae Among the Stars

Consider books like Roda Ahmed’s “Mae Among the Stars” (Harper). Most of the book focuses on African-American astronaut Mae Jamison’s childhood. Raised by parents who teach her anything is possible, she’s decided to be an astronaut, but she faces gender stereotyping with her teacher.

The book provides a natural segue to how teachers and times have changed, Mae’s supportive family and her determination to achieve the life she imagined. Many of individual biographies are geared to older children and are also wonderful discussion starters.

Susie Wilde is a Chapel Hill-based writer. She can be reached through her website ignitingwriting.com.

Recommendations

Here are some recommendations for both collections and single titles for different ages of books with empowering women characters.

Biography collections of women for 5-8-year-olds

▪ “Amelia to Zora: 26 Women who Changed the World” by Cynthia Chin-Lee (Charlesbridge)

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World

▪ “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” by Vashti Harrison (Little Brown)

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

▪ “Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World” by Susan Hood (Harper)

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World
Biography collections of women for ages 8 and up

▪ “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” and “Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes who Played to Win” by Rachel Ignotofsky (both from Ten Speed Press; ages 7 and up)

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

▪ “More Girls who Rocked the World: Heroines from Ada Lovelace to Misty Copeland” by Michelle Roehm McCann (Aladdin; ages 7 and up)

More Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Ada Lovelace to Misty Copeland

▪ “Women who dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers & Rebels,” by Linda Skeers

Women Who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, and Rebels

▪ Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara,” by Kris Waldherr (Scholastic; ages 7 and up)

Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara
Individual Picture Book Biographies for Biography for 5-8 year-olds

▪ “Marie Curie” by Demi (Holt)

Marie Curie

▪ “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist” by Cynthia Levinson (Atheneum)

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

▪ “Libba: the Magnificent Musical life of Elizabeth Cotten” by Laura Veirs (Chronicle)

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

▪ “Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing” by Dean Robbins (Knopf)

Margaret and the Moon

▪ “The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid” by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane)

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

▪ “Malala’s magic pencil” by Malala Yousafzai (Little Brown)

Malala's Magic Pencil
Individual Picture Book Biographies for Biography for 8 and up

▪ “Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song” by Kathryn Erskine (FSG)

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

▪ “Strange fruit: Billy Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song” by Gary Golio (Millbrook)

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song

▪ “No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Kathleen Krull (Harper)

No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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