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Tween

Well-Behaved and Not So Much: Stories of Women Who Made History

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

stories-of-women-in-history
Photography by Seana Williamson

Since the first “International Women’s Day” in 1911, the contributions of women and girls in every aspect of life have demanded attention. Every March, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to share those stories with our children, remind ourselves of the incredible work that has been done, and be inspired to continue and build on it. “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less,” wrote gender studies scholar and advocate Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker. It’s vital that all children know the stories of the women of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, and from across the globe who have been among the great thinkers, doers, artists, scientists, explorers, leaders, teachers, movers, and shakers who have made history, well-behaved and not so much. Here are a few titles that can help you immerse your family in some of those stories.

  • Change-Makers

  • Rad Women Worldwide

    by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

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    This wonderfully diverse collection features women from 31 countries around the world, from 430 BCE to 2016, more familiar names like Malala Yousafzai and Venus and Serena Williams, to less well-known but incredible accomplishments of women like Nanny of the Maroons, Sophie Scholl, Queen Lili’uokalani, and Fe Del Mundo. Then there’s an index of 250 more women from around the world! This beautifully designed book is as bold and transformative as the women whose stories it tells.

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  • Who Was the Girl Warrior of France?: Joan of Arc

    by Sarah Winifred Searle and Who HQ, illustrated by Maria Capelle Frantz

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    Introduce your young reader to one of the fiercest girls in history — Joan of Arc. This graphic novel captures her incredible story and unbreakable courage. Vibrant storytelling and stunning artwork draw readers in and keep them enchanted from cover to cover.

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  • The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor

    by Sonia Sotomayor

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    This story of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice is a triumphant tale, shared in Sotomayor’s own words. Readers will be enthralled by her groundbreaking story, from growing up in the Bronx, New York, with immigrant parents and her childhood struggle with diabetes to her historic appointment by President Barack Obama. Written with skill and grace, Sotomayor’s memoir is a must-read. Parents and educators can read along with the original version for grown-ups, My Beloved World.

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  • Super Women

    by Laurie Lawlor

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    Super Women features six trailblazing women scientists: Katherine Coleman Johnson, a NASA mathematician who helped put the first astronaut in space; “The Shark Lady” Eugenie Clark; Marie Tharp, who helped create the first map of the Atlantic Ocean floor; Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Gertrude Elion; Florence Hawley Ellis, one of the first anthropologists to work on tree-ring dating; and Hall of Fame-astrophysicist Eleanor Margaret Burbidge. If you’re looking to inspire young readers to pursue STEM fields, look no further than this eye-opening read.

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  • Women in Science

    by Rachel Ignotofsky

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    The design of this gorgeous book immediately makes it irresistible, and the stories inside, featuring women across the STEM spectrum like Nobel-prize winner Marie Curie and Katherine Johnson (of Hidden Figures fame) to the fourth-century astronomer and mathematician Hypatia and geneticist Nettie Stevens. Chock full of infographics, statistics, and vivid illustrations, this meaty volume gives readers a lot to chew on and is sure to inspire more in-depth research in a variety of directions.

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  • Becoming Billie Holiday

    by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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    This captivating biography-in-verse of Jazz singer Eleanora Fagan (who performed under the name Billie Holiday) is perfect for music lovers. New York Times bestselling author Carole Boston Weatherford takes readers through Eleanora’s childhood, struggles, and triumphs. It’s an inspiring and insightful story about a legendary singer who fought for her dreams.

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  • Roses and Radicals

    by Susan Zimet and Todd Hasak-Lowy

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    Created in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which finally granted women the right to vote, Roses and Radicals offers a stunningly comprehensive yet accessible account of the seventy-plus years that suffragists spent lobbying America — despite ridicule and very real dangers — and the women who fought tirelessly for democracy. The authors don’t shy away from the flaws of the movement and conflicts among the suffragists; rather, they offer context for an incredibly complex era and group of activists, painting an authentic and rousing portrait.

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  • Warrior Queens

    by Vicky Alvear Shecter

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    Get acquainted with six extraordinary queens from history with this fascinating book for middle grade readers. It offers fun facts, photos, and puns to bring these fierce and intelligent women to life. It’s perfect for young readers interested in learning about female rulers who made history.

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  • Brave. Black. First.

    by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

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    A beautifully illustrated celebration of over fifty Black women who have changed the course of American history, Brave. Black. First. is an essential addition to Women’s History Month (not to mention fascinating year-round reading). Familiar names share pages with the unfamiliar; the women are artists, athletes, activists, politicians, and writers — changemakers, each and every one. Complement your reader’s study with the accompanying postcard set. With two cards of each figure, they can send a piece of history to women they admire and keep a set to proudly display as artwork.

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  • Lady Icarus: Balloonmania and the Brief, Bold Life of Sophie Blanchard

    by Deborah Noyes

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    Take a step back in time to the earliest days of human flight. Sophie Blanchard was the first female aeronaut in France and became famous for her legendary flights and untimely death. Blanchard was beloved by fans and royals alike, and her influence carries on in this scrapbook-style biography.

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  • Ten Days a Madwoman

    by Deborah Noyes

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    In the 19th century, at a time when women journalists were usually limited to writing about fashion or domestic life, Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) faked mental illness and went undercover and spent ten days in an “insane asylum” for women, then reported on the inhumane and unjust conditions women lived under there. And the drama doesn’t stop there — Bly continued to do pioneering work as an investigative journalist and went on to circumnavigate the globe in 72 days, and become a leading American industrialist as the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. Noyes’s journalistic style doesn’t embellish (no need!) and the numerous photographs and illustrations make this a real page-turner.

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  • Amelia Lost

    By Candace Fleming

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    This riveting nonfiction title reads like a thrilling cinematic drama. From childhood to her fateful last flight, Amelia Earhart's life is captured in prose, with photos, maps, and Amelia's own handwritten notes. Middle grade readers will find much to keep them engaged, informed, and entertained as they dart back and forth between discovering Amelia's history and keeping pace with the search for her missing plane. Winner of an impressive array of awards, Amelia Lost captures the excitement, gusto, and guts of this remarkable woman.

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  • DK Life Stories Marie Curie

    by Nell Walker

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    Pre-teen readers will enjoy learning about Marie Curie and her contributions to science. Her discoveries pushed science and medicine into the modern age. Illustrations, photos, quotes, and facts make this biography an educational and entertaining read.

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  • Noisemakers

    by Kazoo Magazine, edited by Erin Bried

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    Twenty-five extraordinary women are profiled in this remarkable graphic novel anthology, and each comic was created by a contemporary woman or non-binary comic artist making waves in their field. In the opening letter from the editor — written by Kazoo Magazine editor, Erin Bried — readers are encouraged to be noisemakers: to use their voices to make a change in the world, just like the scientists, chefs, artists, activists, explorers, and engineers who populate the pages.

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  • Who Was Ida B. Wells?

    by Sarah Fabiny and Who HQ, illustrated by Ted Hammond

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    One of my favorite stories of Ida B. Wells, the daughter of enslaved people, is how she refused to comply with the organizers of the 1913 suffrage march on Washington, DC when they ordered her to follow segregation rules and walk behind the White marchers. Instead, Wells joined the march from the crowd and walked proudly alongside Whites. Wells took bold action throughout her life as an activist, journalist, and publisher, writing about race and politics in the South, particularly the brutal practice of lynching. She also established the National Association of Colored Women and was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2022.