Women's History and Children's Books

It's Women's History month and we've approached the subject through some great picture books that feature females in a variety of roles. From these works of fiction, it's an easy step to the biographies that tell us about the women who made history.

Try sharing the picture books with audiences of any age before sending them on to the facts and the activities.


Picture Book:

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Buehner, Caralyn and Mark. Fanny's Dream (Dial, 1996 ISBN 0803714963. Order Info.)
Like lots of females raised on fairy tales, Fanny dreams of attending a fancy ball, marrying a prince or at least the mayor's son but as she dreams by the cabbage patch, it's local farmer Heber Johnson who proposes. Throughout their not-always-easy life together, Fanny takes an equal share in the work on the farm and, when the chance comes to change it all, she elects to stay with Heber.


Colman, Penny. Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II (Crown, 1998 ISBN 0517885670. Order Info.)
Here's a great overview of the challenge presented to women in the forties when the men who previously held the factory jobs went off to war. There are lots of good photos and quotes to bring the time into focus.

We Also Like:

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. (2009, Holt. ISBN 9780805088410. Order Info.) Novel. 340 pages. Gr 4-8.
Set in 1899 Texas this is the coming of age story of Calpurnia, the lone daughter in a family with six brothers. She longs to be a naturalist and is fascinated by the development of species while the gender roles set out for her continually thwart the discovery of her ambitions in science. Read More.

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McClafferty, Carla Killough. Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium. (2006, Farrar Straus Girous. ISBN 9780374380366. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 134 pages. Gr 5-10.

Interspersed with photos this engrossing narrative goes into great detail about Marie Curieís life and work. Thereís lots of material here for topics such as famous women, science, ethics, economics and radiation. Includes source notes, bibliography and recommended web sites.

Blumberg, Rhoda. Bloomers! (Aladdin, 1993 ISBN 0689804555. Order Info.)
The clothing that restricted women's activities frustrated Ms Bloomer who came up with something else.

Krull, Kathleen. Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman (Voyager, 2000 ISBN 0152020985. Order Info.)
One of the first female track stars started out almost totally disabled from polio.

Welden, Amelie. Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Sacagawea to Sheryl Swoopes (Beyond Words, 1998 ISBN 1885223684. Order Info.)
The neat part is that they all accomplished something outstanding before they reached adulthood.

Possible Activities about Female Roles in Society:

  • Make a list of things the females in your household do that would have been frowned upon a century ago.
  • Look at the clothing worn by females in family photos. How did that clothing restrict or enable women to do certain activities.
  • Look at some collective biographies such as those about great inventors, artists, explorers, and elected officials. How many are females? Then find out about some women you think should have been included.


Picture Book:

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Kesselman, Wendy. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Emma (Yearling, 1993 ISBN 0440408474. Order Info.)
This book gives us an elderly woman whose children and grandchildren present her with a painting of the village where she grew up. Although she appreciates the gift, that isn't how Emma remembers that village. Soon she is painting her own memories and a new career is launched. (See also our Featured Book article on Emma with review, discussions, activities, related books and links.)


Winter, Jeanette. My Name is Georgia: A Portrait (Silver Whistle, 1998 ISBN 015201649X. Order Info.)
This is the picture book life of Georgia O'Keeffe. Not truly an autobiography, the book is nevertheless told as if it were a self-portrait and we learn about the woman who knew from the age of twelve that she was going to be an artist.

We Also Like:

Sweeney, Joan. Suzette and the Puppy (Barrons, 2000 ISBN 0764152947. Order Info.)
This is a fictionalized account of a meeting with Mary Cassatt.

Stotts, Stuart. Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005 ISBN 0976537206. Order Info.
This is a quiet, fictionalized biography about the work of Lutie Stearns. Around the turn of the century she traveled throughout Wisconsin providing boxed sets of books which circulated from town to town. Funded by state taxes these were the first free libraries for many communities. This is a good nonfiction companion to novels and picture books set in the time period.

Possible Activities about Women in the Arts:

  • Prepare an exhibit of prints by women artists. Comment on your favorites.
  • Look at classical paintings and note the different ways in which women are portrayed by men artists and by women artists. Is there a difference?
  • Brainstorm for a list of ways in which people can discover their voice through creativity as Emma did. Play around with some of the things on that list that you have not previously tried.


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Picture Book:

Wells, Rosemary. Noisy Nora (Puffin, 2000 ISBN 0140567283. Order Info.)
Although there are many picture books which feature very vocal females, one of the most memorable and funniest is Noisy Nora. A very busy household is a hard place in which to command attention and although Nora makes plenty of noise, she has to wait for the attention she knows she deserves.


Parks, Rosa. Rosa Parks: My Story (Puffin, 1999 ISBN 0141301201. Order Info.)
Rosa Parks is aimed at the upper elementary audience. It places Parks' protest in the context of her life and also in the context of the time of Jim Crow laws and legally sanctioned segregation.

We Also Like:

Bridges, Ruby. Through My Eyes (Scholastic, 1999 ISBN 0590189239. Order Info.)
The story of the little girl who became the first African American student in an all white elementary school in New Orleans.

Kraft, Betsy. Mother Jones: One Woman's Fight for Labor (Clarion, 1995 ISBN 0395671639. Order Info.)
Lots of stories and photos about her confrontation with mine and factory owners.

Possible Activities about Women Who Protested:

  • Create an illustrated time line of women activists.
  • Discuss what protest is and what it means to speak up for something. What do you consider appropriate and inappropriate protest? How do you personally decide when and how to speak up for what you believe in?
  • Decide as a class upon one issue about which you would like to raise your voice. How will you do this: fund raiser, letters, press conferences, etc? Take action.


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Picture Book:

McCully, Emily Arnold. The Ballot Box Battle (Dragonfly, 1998 ISBN 0679893121. Order Info.)
This book is a good place to start. It's a fictionalized biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton as told by Stanton to the little girl next door.


Fritz, Jean. ..You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? (Putnam, 1995 ISBN 0399227865. Order Info.)
Jean Fritz manages to put us into the time and even into the shoes of one of the loudest voices in the fight for women's suffrage. The friendship between Stanton and Susan B. Anthony is stressed.

We Also Like:

Davis, Lucile. Susan B. Anthony (Bridgestone, 1998 ISBN 1560657502. Order Info.)
Amply illustrated with photos and newspaper clippings.

Possible Activities About Women's Rights

  • Role play your favorite activist in the women's rights movement. Use costumes, posters, signs and appropriate arguments to present the time, the causes and the arguments.
  • Argue the pros and cons of the Equal Rights Amendment.
  • Put up a photo or drawing of a woman you admire. Surround it with words and phrases about how her work changed your life.

More Books

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Dolley Madison Saves George Washington by Don Brown. (2007, Houghton. ISBN 9780618411993. Order Info.) Biography Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr 1-3.
A strong and playful biography of first lady Dolley Madison including her valiant and successful effort to save a painting of George Washington when the White House was under attack by the British during the War of 1812.


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