Monday, March 05, 2018

Celebrating Women! Books for Women's History Month

As someone who loves reading history and biography, February and March are two of my favorite months for blogging purposes: Black History Month and Women's History Month! Here are my top favorites for learning about women from all walks of life:

Want something that's possibly the most (visually) cheerful and adorable children's book about the suffragist movement? Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, A Kitten, And 10,000 Miles  is for you. Nell Richardson and Alice Burke traveled the country in their little yellow car with a typewriter, a sewing machine, a tiny kitten, and much determination to fight for women's right to vote. Along the way, they dealt with uncooperative weather, car issues, and backlash--but also people who believed in their cause.

I haven't read Before She Was Harriet (2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor recipient) yet, but this gorgeous picture book biography written in verse is next on my to-be-read list. Harriet Tubman was many names in her lifetime: as Minty, she was a young enslaved woman; as "Moses," a leader of hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and as General Tubman, a spy for the Union Army. Older readers would find Who Was Harriet Tubman? and Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent fascinating; Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom is a fabulous biography for adults (especially if you're only familiar with her Underground Railroad work).

Count on Us: American Women in the Military is a bit dated (2004 publication), but it's still a great overview of American women military history, starting with the Revolutionary War (time for an update, National Geographic!). If women's military history interests you, also check out Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II or Angels of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II; adults should read Ashley's War (heartbreaking story, but one of my favorite reads in the past several years).

Duncan Tonatiuh is one of my favorite author-illustrators, so I was excited when his latest, Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico was another outstanding read. Combining elements of traditional Mexican dance, Amalia Hernandez created the famed El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico; as it is with many new artistic endeavors, there were many who did not approve. However, the company is now celebrated worldwide. Tonatiuh continues his immediately recognizable and unique illustration style modeled after Pre-Columbian art (Mixtec code).

In the late 1950s, Chinese cuisine was largely unknown outside of Chinese-American communities.  After fleeing the Communist takeover in China, Joyce Chen opened her first restaurant in Cambridge, MA, popularizing the concept of a Chinese buffet (she also promoted healthy cooking techniques and refused to use food coloring). Later, she wrote a popular cookbook and had her own show on PBS. Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling From Beijing to Cambridge  is the inspiring story of the Chinese-American immigrant who expanded other Americans' taste buds.

We just received The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science , so I haven't had a chance to read it. It's received outstanding reviews and is by one of my favorite poet-illustrators for children, Joyce Sidman. This biography of the artist who discovered and documented metamorphosis sounds fantastic; cannot wait to read it.

Collected biographies are great for quick read alouds; Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters features profiles on Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, and others, written by one of the best children's nonfiction authors writing today. Other superb collected biographies: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, The Book of Heroines: Tales of History's Gutsiest Gals, and Lives of Extraordinary Women.

I'm ready for a knockout full-length biography of Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut. In the meantime, Mae Among the Stars is an enchanting introduction to this incredible astronaut, engineer, and physician. The obstacles and discrimination that Dr. Jemison faced is only hinted at in this story; her Caucasian teacher is doubtful of her dreams of going into space. Instead, this is a moving story of Jemison's aspirations and her parents' love and support. For a very basic biography, try the recent Rookie biography. Interested in the history of women astronauts? Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream and these biographies of Sally Ride are available: Who Was Sally Ride? and Sally Ride: America's First Women in Space (adult biography). To the Stars! The First American Women to Walk in Space is a great picture book biography of Kathryn Sullivan. For general books about women scientists, try Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World  or Women Who Launched the Computer Age. Of course, don't miss the two Hidden Figures books for young readers (picture book and middle grade adaptation).

If you love A League of Their Own (raises hand), Mama Played Baseball is right up your alley. This fictionalized story of a young girl observing her mother play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is darling. Older readers would enjoy A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League .

If your reader is too young for Malala Yousafzai's memoir (or its adaptation for middle grade readers), Malala's Magic Pencil is a beautiful introduction to the youngest Nobel Prize laureate in history.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines is a poignant picture book biography of the architect most famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Adults interested in the full history of the long (and controversial) process of creating the memorial should check out A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, And the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial. .

Need a great biography read aloud? Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson is one of my favorites. This vibrant biography of the first African-American to win the Wimbledon Cup is a charmer and shows the value of mentorship. Tennis fans should also check out Who Are Venus and Serena Williams? 

Not only is One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia  an inspiring selection for Women's History Month, but it's also a winning read for Earth Day! This picture book biography of the founder of the Recycling Center of N'jau not only found a way for her community to recycle plastic bags that were littering their habitats, but also created a way for local women to generate an independent income.

America's first prima ballerina was an Osage Nation member and lived on a reservation until she was eight. American ballet was at its height of popularity in the 1950s, with Tallchief's performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker and the lead in The Firebird  establishing the ballets as classics in American ballet.   Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina is a gorgeously illustrated picture book, with Tallchief's simple narrative making it an excellent read aloud for young listeners. Ballet fans should also read Traiblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, Misty Copeland's young readers adaptation of her intriguing memoir, or the recent biography of Misty Copeland for young readers.

Did you know that the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian Trail was 67 years old when she accomplished that feat? When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike is an upbeat tribute to this remarkable woman.

Adult Fiction/Nonfiction:

Want something written for adults? Here are some of my favorite reads in the past several years that would be outstanding reads for Women's History Month!

American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton

The Astronaut Wives Club

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

The Girls in the Picture (fabulous story from one of the best historical fiction writers out there; if you're tired of war and despair in your historical fiction, get this glam read about two superstars of the silent movie era)

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Victoria: The Queen

The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (have not read, but will soon! Cannot wait!)

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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