Pre-K

Growing Reader

5 Inspiring Picture Books About Women Who Changed History

by Tom Burns

Photo credits: Wangari Maathai (Mark Garten/UN via Flickr CC); Amelia Earhart (Underwood & Underwood via U.S. Library of Congress); Malala Yousafzai (Claude Truong-Ngoc via Wikimedia Commons); Billie Holiday (Carl Van Vechten, public domain via Wikimedia Commons); Jane Goodall (Think Out Loud via Flickr CC)

In the recent Dear Malala, We Stand with You, Rosemary McCarney offers a stirring picture book tribute to Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize who was shot by the Taliban after advocating for a young girl’s right to an education. Malala’s story is a powerful testament to the idea that one person can change the world, which is a wonderful message to share with young readers. With that in mind, here are five other picture books about inspirational women who all made the world a better place through their lives and their work.

  • Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

    by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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    This poetic look at the life of Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, reads like a folk tale, but her story is wonderfully true and inspiring. Known as “Mama Miti,” Maathi started the “Green Belt Movement,” which fights against environmental blight, and has resulted in the planting of over 30 million trees in Kenya alone. Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson’s beautiful biography will convince children that one person planting one tree can make a difference.

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  • I am Amelia Earhart

    by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

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    Brad Meltzer, best known for his mystery books for adults, turns the life of one of the most inspiring (and mysterious) women of the 20th century into an engaging picture book perfect for young readers. Christopher Eliopoulos’s illustrations bring a Charles M. Schulz-esque sense of childlike wonder to the story of the famous aviatrix, the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. I am Amelia Earhart is a standout in Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series, which also includes a biography of the civil rights leader Rosa Parks.

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  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps

    by Jeanette Winter

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    Author and illustrator Jeanette Winter does a noble job of contextualizing the life of primate researcher Jane Goodall for children, expertly showing how Goodall’s childhood interests eventually led to her acclaimed career as an anthropologist and activist. If you have a child who enjoys observing the natural world, The Watcher, with its gorgeous illustrations, will show them that with hard work a person can use their talents and interests to benefit the world around them.

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  • I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote

    by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

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    While not as famous as Susan B. Anthony, Esther Morris played a pivotal role in the history of American women. Morris was the first woman in U.S. history to hold political office and was instrumental in getting women the right to vote in her home state of Wyoming, the first state in the U.S. to give women the vote. Linda Arms White expertly employs Morris’s famous personal mantra —“I could do that!” — to make her a relatable and inspirational figure for young children.

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  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

    by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long

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    It’s a credit to the author that this book reads more like something written by the proud father of two daughters than something written by the President of the United States. While this picture book profiles both famous men and women, it’s hard to ignore the significance of a world leader calling out women like Georgia O’Keefe, Billie Holiday, Maya Lin, and Helen Keller as role models for his daughters.

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