If you’re studying biographies about women for Women’s History month, this list of children’s books will help you find the best book choices for ages 6 – 17. You’ll find amazing famous women from history or modern times who are (or were) scientists, activists, athletes, dancers, writers, and more.
Children’s Books Biographies for Women’s History Month
STEM: Scientists, Coders, Engineers, Mathematicians
Marie Curie by Isabel Tomas (beginning chapter book)
“The story of Marie’s life is like a fairy tale — with happy and sad times, struggles, and triumphs. Watch out for a metal called radium that is both the hero and the villain.” Doesn’t this make you want to keep reading? What an exciting introduction! (Mentor text, anyone?) Marie, a girl who loved to learn, married another scientist named Pierre Curie. Their work led to Marie inventing the word “radioactive” to describe polonium and the new element she and her husband discovered, radium. Winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, they continued their work, having no idea how dangerous radium was. “Marie Curie had all the ingredients of a great scientist: curiosity… creativity… grit.” She’s one of the most inpiring women in history I think.
The Watcher by Jeannette Winter
Beginning with Jane’s early life in England, see how her path took her to the Tanzanian jungle where she began her life’s work of studying and advocating for chimpanzees.
Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang
Genie loved all fish, especially sharks, and wanted to be a fish scientist. Even though she lived in the 1930s when that wasn’t a regular job for a woman, Genie found work — first as an assistant, then as a researcher for the US Navy, and finally, she opened up her own marine laboratory. She focused her research on sharks, discovering more about sharks than anyone knew before. Inspiring!
Ada’s Ideas The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson
Ada is becoming more famous now that her story is being shared! She lived in an era of burgeoning factories with a strict mathematician mother. As an adult, she used her brilliant mind to help her friend Charles Babbage improve his calculation machine so it would be more like what we know today as a computer. Although it wasn’t mass produced, Ada is credited with being the first computer programmer. I absolutely adore the GORGEOUS mixed-media illustrations in this book, too. You might also like: Ada Bryon Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Beautifully illustrated and inspirationally written, Little Mae dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Her parents told her she could do it if she worked hard. They take Mae to the library to find information as well as encouraging her astronaut pretend play after dinner. Despite her teacher’s belittling, “Nursing would be a good profession for someone like you,” Mae listened to her mom and stuck to her dream. She (Dr. Mae Jemison) succeeded, too, becoming the first African American female astronaut in space.
Miss Todd and Her Wonderful Flying Machine by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee
I love the unique, beautiful artwork in this story based on a short film about the life of the real Lily Todd. She was the first woman to build and design an airplane — despite that in the early 1900s no one believed a woman could or should do such a thing. Despite the many NOs she was told, Miss Todd built and flew anyway. Perseverance! Watch the award-winning film.
Out of School and Into Nature the Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca
Oh, my goodness I love the illustrations in this picture book so so so much. And the rhyming story is inspiring. Despite being a girl and African American, Patricia stood firm in her goal to become a doctor. She did and later invented the laser probe to heal eyes.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone
Despite growing up in a time when women were not viewed as equal to men, Elizabeth studied and worked hard to become the first woman doctor. She showed the world that women were just as smart and capable as men– and can be doctors, too. Elizabeth Blackwell became not just famous but a hero to many women who would follow her footsteps.
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh
Marie wanted to succeed where others had failed in mapping the ocean floor. This story tells of the challenges and setbacks Marie faced as well as her ultimate success in charting the ocean floor.
Little Great Lives Amelia Earhart by Isabel Thomas (beginning chapter book)
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins
Three girls lives, Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell, are showcased in this beautiful verse. Each girl’s interest is explained and elaborated. We see how these interests grew into something more, into the passions and discoveries that become their life’s work. I love the flow of the poems and the celebration of these ground-breaking women from history.
Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly (YA)
Untamed The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey
This is not your average biography for kids with small font and ugly black and white photos. No, it’s so much better. Untamed is an excellent depiction of Jane Goodall’s life with kid-friendly language using kid-appealing layouts of colorful photos. Interesting insets throughout describe tips for kids and information such as sign language. I love the Gombe Family Scrapbook at the end with some of the significant chimps in Jane’s life.
Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo (YA)
Sylvia Acevedo’s story shows her incredible intelligence, drive, and determination. She grows up poor in New Mexico greatly impacted by her Mexican-American heritage, Head Start, and the Girl Scouts. Sylvia credits the Girl Scouts with not just teaching her life skills but showing her that she could do hard things and that her life could be more than being a housewife. She is an amazing woman becomes a rocket scientist and influential leader. I highly recommend this chapter book memoir.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
When she was younger, Malala dreamed of the things she’d do if she had a magic pencil. She’d erase war, poverty, and hunger. Then she would draw girls and boys together as equals. Soon she began writing about her beliefs. Even after bad men tried to stop her, Malala wrote. She used her words as the magic to spread a message of hope. Beautifully illustrated and inspiring, this story shares Malala’s ideals with the youngest of readers.
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
There’s so much to love about this picture book — the captivating folk-art style illustrations with an earthy color palette, the repetitive text of “separate and unequal” and “someday was now,” plus the well-written, compelling true story!! It’s about an amazing woman named Clara who advocated for justice and equality during a time when black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible. Clara and her students went to the Katz drugstore and asked to be served — even though the store didn’t serve black people. She and her students returned day after day despite people yelling and throwing food. Eventually, the Katz store relented. They started to serve people of all races. Clara and her students finally could enjoy a Coke and a burger without trouble. (And then prepare for the next segregated store demonstration.)
Lilian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter
Blueish-tinted illustrations capture the somber mood of Lilian’s memories in this historical nonfiction picture book. Lilian’s memories begin with her great-great-grandparents who were slaves, sold and separated from each other. As Lilian remembers all people who struggled to gain equal rights, all gone before her, she walks slowly up a steep hill to cast her vote. Gaining the right to vote was a journey, somewhat like a steep climb up a hill.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
This is the true story of an immigrant from Ukraine with grit and perseverance. Clara worked in a shirtwaist factory and grew sick of how she and her coworkers were treated. So, she did something about it — she led a strike.
The Story of World War II Hero Irena Sendler by Marcia Vaughan (beginning chapter book)
Sendler’s story truly shows how much one person can make a difference. During WWII, she rescued Jewish children from the Ghetto, changed their names, and found them new families, so they’d escape sickness, starvation, and death. She saved almost 2,500 children!
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
While I’m not a fan of rhyming books usually, I liked how the author simplifies Dr. Grandin’s life story in a meaningful way. We see how Dr. Grandin didn’t fit in at school since her brain was different. When kicked out, Dr. Grandin went to stay at her aunt’s farm where she connected with the animals who were easier to relate to than people. Her story continued with a new school and an understanding teacher, inventions, and a life after college that included speaking about autism. “Each person is special– so UNIQUE are our minds. This world needs YOUR ideas. It takes brains of ALL kinds.” Engaging, beautiful illustrations.
Who Was Helen Keller? by Gare Thompson (beginning chapter book)
This is the inspiring true story of Helen Keller, a woman who was deaf and blind and who learned to speak and read then went on to help others.
Chasing Freedom by Nikki Grimes
I loved this nonfiction picture book about Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman — two women who changed the world!
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (YA)
Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World by Jessica M. Rinker, illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley
Gloria wanted to tell women’s stories. She started a magazine called Ms. because she believed that “Girls need to know they can break the rules.” The book explains that Gloria’s work began what is known as women’s liberation movement and feminism. I normally like the use of repeated text but I feel like this author overdoes it a bit — “Gloria listened. She watched. And wrote.” However, it’s a well-written biography that shows how one person can make a huge impact on the world.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey
Most young readers have heard of Frankenstein — but they probably don’t know it was a book written by a woman named Mary. This picture book biography shares about the life of Mary who wrote Frankenstein as part of a ghost story competition among her friends. Atmospheric, dark and gloomy illustrations.
Big Machines The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel and Friends Came to Life) by Sherri Duskey Rinker
El Deafo by Cece Bell
A multiple award-winning graphic novel, Cece Bell shares the story of growing up with a hearing impairment, using a very bulky hearing aid, and finding her place in the world. Funny and moving, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story of courage and determination.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson
Delicate pen and ink watercolor illustrations accompany this simple story about Jane Austen, an ordinary girl who loved books. She loved to read the books in her father’s library and began writing her own books. After rewriting and working hard at her craft, her books were published, although they didn’t say her name which was common at the time for women. I found this to be a delightful introduction to the author.
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Kull
After having polio as a child, Wilma was told she wouldn’t walk again, let alone run. But Wilma was determined and she worked hard, becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympics.
The Girl Who Ran Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee
Nadia The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray
This lovely biographical picture book introduces a new generation to the hard-working Nadia Comaneci of Romania . . . how she loved to move, discovered gymnastics, failed, practiced and eventually won seven perfect 10s at the Olympics in 1956. The lively illustrations are absolutely spot-on for this sweet, true story about one of the most famous female gymnasts in the world.
Martina & Chrissie The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner
Dramatic, Musical, & Artists
Along Came Coco by Eva Byrne
Coco grew up in an orphanage run by nuns where she learned to sew but didn’t much like all the rules. After she left, she started designing hats and clothes that broke the rules. She used menswear and practicality (who needs corsets anyway!) to create chic, revolutionary fashion. Coco became a well-known, successful designer known worldwide. Whimsical, gorgeous illustrations capture her creative spirit.
I Am Lucille Ball by Brad Meltzer
Meltzer captures the most fascinating elements of Ball’s life with his narrative and comic-style illustrations which hooked me from page one. It makes a great addition to an already stellar series. *See more of this biography series here.
Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth by Barb Rosenstock
Polio left Dorothea with a limp and the desire to hide in the background. But this challenge actually helped her find her path in life — to be a photographer and show what she saw, the people affected by the Great Depression.
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs
Read this picture book and you’ll learn about the life of a famous folk artist who didn’t start playing music until over the age of 60. She always loved music though. And when she was a maid or worked in a department store, she kept that music in her heart. Later, when she worked for the Seeger family, she surprised them with her self-taught musical talent. Listen to her most famous song, “Freight Train,” here. What an amazing woman!
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood
Ada lives in a South American slum next to a landfill of garbage. When Ada’s grandmother learns about free music lessons, she signs Ada up but there aren’t enough instruments to go around for all the kids. Fortunately, the adults are creative and invent instruments from everyday things — water pipes into flutes, packing crates into guitars, and so on. Ada chooses to play a paint can and wooden crate violin. She practices and gets good, becoming one of the star musicians of the Recycled Orchestra. This is an inspiring true story of hope and the power of the arts. For more information visit recycledorchestracateura.com.
Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins
Kate Sessions helped plant San Diego with a variety of trees that would grow in the city’s climate. She worked hard to make sure that by the World’s Fair, there were enough trees for shade that the attendees wouldn’t be too hot. Beautifully written and illustrated.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeannette Winter
Based on the true story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, read how Wangari helped her country of Kenya whose forests were destroyed while she lived abroad. She started planting trees, starting a movement that encouraged others to plant trees as well. Also read Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson.
Swan The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder
Anna sees her first ballet on a snowy winter’s day. She longs to join ballet school but must wait years until she finally is accepted. When she is, she works hard to become a celebrated, lovely swan ballerina. She travels the world to show people the beauty of the music and dance. Her story is beautifully told with exquisite illustrations in muted colors.
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince (YA)
An orphan who was thought never to be adopted due to her skin condition, Michaela was adopted from an orphanage in West Africa. Even at the orphanage, she wanted to be a ballerina — and her determination and hard work paid off. Her hard work paid off. Now she’s the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland (YA)
Misty Copeland doesn’t even start taking ballet until she’s a teenager — and it was at a community center, not a prestigious dance studio. Follow her struggles as she finds her passion and works hard to achieve her dreams.
More Biographies of Inspiring Women in History (or Now)
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter
Before Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latino to be nominated to the US Supreme Court, she grew up poor and struggled to overcome stereotypes. Which she did.
Lighter than Air by Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares
How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
You’ll love this picture book story about the first female to work for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her name was Kate Warne. When she discovered a plot to assassinate President Lincoln on the train ride to his inauguration, this smart-thinking detective figures out how to trick the would-be murders and get the President safely to his destination. Well done, Ms. Warne!
Eleanor Roosevelt: Fighter for Justice by Ilene Cooper
What struck me about this compelling biography was Eleanor’s real-life story arc, particularly in regards to her attitudes about race. Because according to this book Roosevelt, someone who saw poverty and cared deeply about her community, was a racist. But she didn’t stay that way! I loved reading how she took criticism and learned from it, eventually becoming an advocate for civil rights. Her life was very interesting and one from which we can learn.
Messenger The Legend of Joan of Arc A Graphic Novel by Tony Lee and Sam Hart
Tween and teen readers probably don’t know the true story of Joan of Arc. While the authors don’t claim that this is anything but fiction, I would say it’s closer to nonfiction since it’s based on historical facts. It’s amazing to see Joan never waver in her convictions and stand strong in the face of doubt and eventually death. This is an excellent depiction of her life.
Biography Collections of Women in History and Now
Heroes for My Daughter by Brad Meltzer (ages 8 – 12)
The featured 60 individuals are a few familiar faces (Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin, Sally Ride) but many new, unique people that deserve to be recognized and highlighted. I’m thinking of Joan Ganz Cooney who helped create Sesame Street, Carol Burnett who made it big and gives back big, and Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister. The writing is easy to read, includes dialogue, quotes, and short stories. The author’s intention is to show kids that if you take a chance and work hard “you can do anything in this world.”
Little Dreamers Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison (ages 8 – 12)
Harrison’s artwork is stunning– framable I think. This book features the biographies 35 women; women like Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Grace Hooper. Each biography is one page paired with an illustration. The information shares more about the woman’s contributions to the world like the physicist who experimented with subatomic particle decay.
Little Leaders Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (ages 8 – 12)
Beautifully designed and illustrated, Little Ladies shares 40 one-page biographies of inspiring African-American women. I can’t believe how many new women I learned about from this book! Women like Marcelite Harris, Mamie Phipps Clark, and Phillis Wheatley. It’s a superb, inspiring must-read book.
First Ladies by Ruby Shamir, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (ages 8 – 12)
Once I got to reading this informational picture book, I couldn’t stop because it was so interesting! It covers the first ladies job, the difference the first ladies make, travel, projects, and tons of specific details pertaining to many of the U.S. first ladies.
The Book of Heroines by Stephanie Warren Drimmer (ages 8 – 12)
Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz (ages 8 – 12)
Once I started reading these biographies (which I read in random order,) I got very hooked. Hopefully, this book will inspire kids as much as it did me. It’s really interesting to read about other people, especially ordinary people who did amazing things.
Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Joan of Arc to Mother Teresa by Michelle Rohm McCann and Amelie Welden (ages 8 – 12)
Students will find growth mindset inspiration with any story in this collection about women who made the most of their lives.
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh (ages 8 – 12)
Sometimes happy accidents, sometimes deliberate plans, all these inventions have affected our lives. Learn the story behind each invention — diapers, windshield wipers, the chocolate chip cookie, and interlocking bricks, just to name a few.
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (ages 13+)
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