Women’s History Month is a time to honor those women who fought to give girls the opportunities they have today. However, we tend to forget that history happens every day. History happens when a young woman enters the science lab, runs for city council or joins the football team. History happens when a teenager looks at her body and smiles instead of judging herself.
These eight books are essential reading for any young person—girl, boy, or nonbinary. They show how women are fighters who make mistakes and fall but get back up. Check out our top recommendations for your elementary school classroom.
The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure
The Gutsy Girl by Caroline Paul and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton helps girls learn to shake off their fears and insecurities to live their lives embracing challenges and adventure. Paul herself says she used to be a scaredy-cat, but grew up to fly planes, fight fires, and stare fear in the face. This book has even spawned a Gutsy Girl movement, where young girls across the world can share what they are doing to live an epic life.
“Paul does a remarkably thoughtful job of pointing out the line between adventurousness and recklessness,” Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings. “Her brushes with disaster, rather than lionizing heedlessness, are the book’s greatest gift precisely because they decondition the notion that an adventure is the same thing as an achievement—that one must be perfect and error-proof in every way in order to live a daring and courageous life.”
Paul is also the author of You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World, in which she tells stories and shares ideas for kids who want to make a difference in their communities.
Grace for President
Kelly S. DiPucchio introduces readers to the story of Grace, a young girl who learns that the United States has never had a female president. When her teacher holds a mock presidential election, Grace decides to run against one of the most popular students in her school. DiPucchio uses this book to explain the electoral process, as Grace tries to develop a platform and hold her promises, while her opponent sits back and figures all the boys in the class will vote for him.
“In the story’s climax–the election held in the school auditorium–Grace does not win by a landslide, but by a single vote,” explains Katie Seitz at Social Justice Books. “There is a certain rueful understanding to that margin of victory, and it adds an element of realism to what might otherwise be a conventional hard-work-pays-off narrative.”
While Seitz praises DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham for making Grace a person of color, she notices that race does not play a role in the election. Additionally, all the authority figures are depicted in the book’s illustrations as white (or could be perceived that way). Considering this book was published in 2008, Seitz thought the illustrator could have been more considerate. For these reasons, she gives “Grace for President” a moderate recommendation for teachers.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy tells the story of the second female (and first Jewish) Supreme Court justice. Readers travel through Ginsberg’s childhood as she looks at what girls are “supposed” to do versus what she wants to do.
“[This book] provides a historical lesson which depicts the ever-changing face of societal norms and gender roles which Ruth challenged personally and professionally,” Jillian Bietz writes at the Jewish Book Council. “For example, Levy describes how people found it strange that Marty cooked the family dinners while Ruth argued in the Supreme Court.”
The book can serve as a jumping off point for educators to discuss American history, anti-Semitism, or even the changing roles of women in the world. As Levy writes on her site: “This picture book about the first female Jewish justice of the U.S. Supreme Court shows that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable and that important change can happen one disagreement at a time.”
Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves
Strong is the New Pretty is a photography collection by Kate T. Parker that serves to show what modern girls look like. Being a girl doesn’t necessarily mean pink flowers, dolls, and tutus. Today’s girls kick butt on the soccer field, explore the world, and pick themselves up when they are down. This photo essay provides a visual representation of what girls can be, and allows women and girls in front of the lens to be who they really are.
Parker recently followed up this book with a second one, which is a sort of roadmap for girls to gather their thoughts and turn ideas into actions. This book is called Strong Is the New Pretty: A Guided Journal for Girls. “Studies have shown that adolescent girls are at greater risk than boys of developing poor self-esteem and low expectations in life,” Shelia M. Poole writes at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The goal of both books is to fuel confidence in girls, teaching them how to build up their self-esteem through adolescence and the teen years.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Vashti Harrison is author of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Her debut book was a New York Times ‘Best Seller’ for young readers and was based on her Instagram posts shared during Black History Month in 2017. The book profiles 40 African American women who changed history.
“Apart from the captivating and gorgeous illustrations, the thing I love the most about this book is the amount of lesser-known Black women featured throughout, like chemist Alice Ball and educator/sculptor Augusta Savage,” Charnaie Gordon writes at Here Wee Read. “It shows us their paths were just as difficult and their fights were just as courageous as some of the more well-known women.”
Harrison recently followed up her Little Leaders book with Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World. This book features the true stories of 40 more women, “ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists” from across the world. The book is both accessible and inspirational, celebrating diversity along with the accomplishments of inspiring women.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by co-authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo has 100 bedtime stories, each about a strong woman or girl. Illustrations are by more than 60 artists from around the world, so each is unique. This book has spawned a movement: There are now second and third volumes of Rebel Girls stories, a calendar, a podcast, a coloring book, and greeting cards.
The Rebel Girls company started through a crowdfunding series. The first book was created with the help of 20,000 backers from 71 countries. They raised more than one million dollars through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. “It took us a long time; it took us six years to build something this successful,” Favilli told Michelle King in a Forbes interview. “It’s so hard sometimes you just want to give up and you think you’re never going make it but keep in mind that it takes a lot of mistakes to make it.”
Favilli and Cavallo continue to use their success and space to highlight inspiring women everywhere.
I Am Enough
I Am Enough was written by Grace Byers of Empire and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. It follows the narrator as she explores what she likes about herself, her body, and her family. The brown-skinned girl with a large Afro uses rhymes and similes to share her message. While the writing has received mixed reviews, critics agree that Bobo’s descriptions shine.
“Bobo creates an inclusive world of girls in which wearing glasses, using a wheelchair, wearing a headscarf, and having a big Afro are unconditionally accepted rather than markers for othering,” one review at Kirkus reads.
This young readers’ book is valuable for parents and teachers who want to instill self-love in their children and students. It serves to counter the many forces pressuring young girls to behave certain ways or choose certain paths in life.
A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights
Written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alison Jay, this book is about the activist Belva Lockwood, who fought for women’s rights and representation. Lockwood even ran for President of the United States, becoming the first woman on the ballot. She ran in 1884 and 1888 as part of the National Equal Rights Party. She received about 4,100 votes in 1888, despite critics warning male voters of the dangers of “petticoat rule.”
“Lockwood is often overshadowed by her feminist sisters Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton but, as this informative and delightful biography proves, she was in the forefront of the fight for women’s rights,” Ilene Cooper at Booklist Online writes.
Hannigan has another book coming out in August 2019 called Cape: The League of Secret Heroes (Book One). Described as “Hidden Figures meets Wonder Woman,” it’s about a young girl who is good at puzzles and uses her skills as part of a superhero team.
These books are a great place to start if you want to inspire young women in the classroom and keep them riding high in their home life. These stories can inspire young girls and stick with them into their teenage years and adulthood.