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Rad Women Your Girls (and Boys!) Should Read About

by Laura Lambert

Illustration: Nathan Gelgud

If you Google it, the “Year of the Woman” was back in 1992, when an unprecedented number of women took U.S. Senate seats. That was the first election I ever voted in, and it makes me pretty proud.

That said, I have a feeling that 2016 might steal the crown. This is the year that Hillary Clinton made history as the first female presidential nominee from a major party. Theresa May took the helm of the U.K. post-Brexit, joining superwoman Angela Merkel in Germany. There’s the indefatigable Aung San Suu Kyi, who is steering the ship in Myanmar. South Korea just elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye — and across the Korea Strait, Renho Murata, the first female political opposition leader, the first female governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, and female defense minister Tomomi Inada are helping transform the role of women in Japan.

And that’s just politics.

Sisters are seriously doin’ it for themselves — and there’s a slew of books that prove how women have been making history since the beginning of, well, history. Here are notable nonfiction titles for early and middle grade readers.

  • Ages 4 - 8

  • What's the Big Deal About First Ladies

    by Ruby Shamir, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

    As the adage goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Ruby Shamir and Matt Faulkner’s book is about the women behind the men who hold the highest office in the nation — our first ladies. Let it be known that these women are not just picking out china patterns. Even before Hillary Clinton’s groundbreaking stint as First Lady, America’s first ladies were wielding substantial influence. From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama — and with blank pages currently awaiting the results of the 2016 election.
    To be released January 10, 2017

  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

    by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

    Oh, how I love the Notorious R.B.G.! I will admit, though, that in some ways she, to me, was in the shadow of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman elected to the Supreme Court. Today, Justice Ginsburg has evolved into her own cultural icon, warmly embraced by millennials. This picture book highlights the notion that you can disagree without being disagreeable — as illustrated by the surprising friendship between RBG and the late Justice Scalia.

  • Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution

    by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

    The “Hamilton” soundtrack reignited my interest in the Founding Fathers, and this book, which covers 22 revolutionary dames of the American revolution, offers a little gender parity. There’s Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, but also lesser-knowns, like Sybil Ludington, who rode longer than Paul Revere and didn’t get caught. This Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book award winner is for the slightly older early reader.

  • Ages 8 - 12+

  • Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women

    by Catherine Thimmesh, illustration by Melissa Sweet

    When my daughter had to dress up as an inventor in second grade, this is the book we turned to; the title says it all. From Ruth Wakefield and her chocolate chip cookie to 10-year-old Becky Schroeder, who became the youngest female to receive a U.S. patent when she invented Glo-sheet paper, women are consistently bringing something brand new into the world. The collages, by Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet, are gorgeous. A nice introduction for the older early reader or more timid middle grade reader.

  • Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

    by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

    Let It Shine is comprised of the collected biographies of 10 groundbreaking African-American activists — from Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad through Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress — beautifully illustrated, wonderfully told.

  • Rad Women Worldwide

    by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

    Rad Women Worldwide tells 40 biographies of amazing women, spanning centuries, continents, and sensibilities. There are contemporary Colombian graffiti artists, ancient poets, mountain climbers, Nazi resisters, polar explorers, punk musicians, female kings, female pirates and, of course, Malala Yousafzi, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.

    It’s an apt, globally-minded follow-up to Schatz and Stahl’s New York Times bestseller, Rad American Women A-Z, where, natch, A stands for activist Angela Davis, B stands for tennis player Billie Jean King, and C stands for comedian Carol Burnett.

  • Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies

    by Cokie Roberts, illustrated by Diane Goode

    One of my favorite things about Mondays is listening to Cokie Roberts’s measured take on American politics on my drive to work. So I have a special fondness for this book — based on Roberts’s adult book of the same name — which highlights the roles of the expected (Abigail Adams, Martha Washington) and unexpected (Mercy Otis Warren, Catherine Littlefield Green) sheroes who attended to the birth of our nation.

  • Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women

    by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

    A collection of 100 stories about real women — from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams — who have changed the world, from the lady creators of Timbuktu Magazine, the first iPad magazine for children. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls emerged from a landmark crowdfunding campaign, which reached 1689% of its funding goal on Kickstarter. To date, they’ve reached over $1 million in pre-orders via another crowdfunding site, Indiegogo.

    “Why a book for girls?” the authors ask on their Indiegogo site. “Because we are girls. Our entrepreneurial journey made us understand how important it is for girls to grow up surrounded by female role models.” They add, “But, by any means, read these stories to your sons!”
    To be released Christmas 2016

  • Hidden Figures

    by Margot Lee Shetterly

    If you’ve never heard of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darde, that’s going to change very soon. Between this forthcoming young readers book, Shetterly’s adult book, and the major motion picture coming in January 2017, all of the same name, these forgotten women’s stories, and their contribution to NASA and the Space Race, will be common knowledge — and deservedly so.
    To be released November 29, 2016

  • Women in Science: 50 Fearless Female Pioneers Who Changed the World

    by Rachel Ignotofsky

    Girls in STEM is a hot topic these days, but it ain’t brand new. Women in Science features familiar pioneering women like Madame Curie but also lesser-known astronomers, paleontologists, mathematicians, philosophers, and the like. The illustrations, also by Ignotofsky, are so whimsical they are bound to inspire the next generation of professional artists.

  • Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

    by Ann Shen

    Not a kids’ book, per se, but also not not a book that might appeal to a mature-enough reader, Bad Girls Throughout History is dedicated to “Girls of all ages who dare to be bad, and for the people who stand behind us when we are…”  Written and illustrated by a self-described good girl, Ann Shen, and based on her ‘zine by the same name, Bad Girls Throughout History covers the likes of Lillith, Joan of Arc, Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen, Mae West, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer — and celebrates women who broke rules, broke down barriers, and paved the way for women to break glass ceilings, everywhere.

  • 100 Women Who Made History

    by DK

    In 100 Women Who Made History kids learn how vital women have been to the world's evolution, milestones, and progress. Be it through art, science, leadership, or entrepreneurship, this book highlights great women who made a mark on history. Funky “bobble-head” illustrations and photos are mixed with fun facts to profile well-known women like Rosa Parks and Catherine the Great and lesser-known ladies like Wu Zetian, the only female to ever rule China, and Sarah Breedlove, America’s first female self-made millionaire.

What other great books about women in history would you recommend to young readers?

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