Women have been changing the world for centuries, but many times they’ve had to overcome bias and hardship to do so. There is much to be learned from the stories of amazing women who were able to break down barriers and make a difference.
Books about awesome women are not just for girls! We all gain things from learning more about other people’s experience. Every child benefits from having a diverse bookshelf.
30 Picture Books About World-Changing Women
Here are some excellent books about amazing women that I think your family will love. Many of these women’s stories were brand new to me! In addition to this list, I recommend checking out 15 Children’s Books About Women in Science. There are also some excellent biographies about world-changing women in our list of 19 Children’s Books About the Civil Rights Movement.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy — This is such an awesome book. It tells the story of Ginsberg’s career and the obstacles she overcame, while at the same time explaining how equality benefits all of us, not just those seeking to be treated fairly. My two boys really enjoyed listening to this story, and it led to some great discussion.
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone — “What would you do if someone told you you can’t be what you want to be because you’re a girl?” Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not content being treated as “less than” to men, and that drove her to become a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage. Kids will love the straightforward storytelling and bright illustrations in this book.
Malala Yousafzai: Warrior With Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya — Every child has a right to an education; Malala went so far as to risk her life for one. This book brought tears to my eyes, but it’s such an important story that all of our children should know. There are many great books about Malala, but this one is my favorite.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton — (Available May 2017) I’m so excited for this book! Chelsea Clinton takes a closer look at 13 women who persisted; women who wouldn’t back down in the face of adversity. Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, and Ruby Bridges are among the women previewed. This one isn’t available until May, but you can lock in a great price by pre-ordering on Amazon now.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter — As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, Sonia Sotomayor did not have a lot of money. But she did have a strong work ethic and a mother who believed in her. This helped her become the first Latino appointed to the Supreme Court. This excellent book is in both English and Spanish.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick — Before finding this book in our local library, I had never heard of Effa Manley. I am so glad her story is being told! Effa always loved baseball, and that love led her to eventually become the owner of the Newark Eagles, and the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This gorgeous book is an especially great read for little ones who love sports!
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell — I always knew that Josephine Baker was well-known as a performer, but until I read this book, I didn’t know that she was also a civil rights activist. This compelling story of Baker’s life drew us all in, and the boys enjoyed it as much as I did.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Women Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel — All her life, Hillary Clinton was warned against being too loud, too smart, too strong. She was told women shouldn’t be lawyers. But Hillary ignored these warnings and followed her dreams, paving the way for future generations of women. This book encourages growing leaders to un-apologetically be themselves.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone — When Elizabeth Blackwell was a little girl, there were few career options available for women, and becoming a doctor was definitely not on the list. However, Elizabeth ignored the common belief that girls weren’t smart enough, and she followed her dreams. This bright and colorful read speaks to kids in a way that they will easily understand, but adults will enjoy it, too!
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel — Clara Lemlich had a hard time when she came to the United States from the Ukraine. She didn’t speak English, and had to take a job in a garment factory to help support her family. However, Clara was determined and believed in doing what was right. She went to night school to learn English, and when her co-workers were being mistreated, she stood up and arranged a protest. Clara’s story is a powerful, fascinating, must-read.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson — Florence Mills had a gift for song from a young age, and that gift took her far — all the way to Broadway. However, she still dealt with injustice and prejudice, and that led to a devotion to civil rights and helping other black artists. I didn’t know Florence’s story before I read this book, but I’m so glad I found it!
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul — When the roads of Gambia were overtaken with the litter of plastic grocery bags, Isatou Ceesay had an idea for recycling them. Her idea cleaned up the area and created a new industry for her community. This is an inspiring story of how one woman can make a difference!
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle — For many years, only boys in Cuba were allowed to learn the drums. But Millo Castro Zaldariagga, the drum dream girl, changed all of that. She had to hide her gift and practice in secret, but with hard work she was able to break down barriers and achieve her dream.
Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley — This is a beautiful biography of the young girl who is credited with saving France and helping them win the Hundred Years War. This is an in-depth look at Joan of Arc’s life, journey, and tragic martyrdom, and is best for children in second grade or older. The book includes lots of recommendations for further study, maps, and a pronunciation guide.
The House that Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone — Jane Addams is one of my personal heroes, and I love this thoughtful story about her life. This book chronicles Addams’ life, and what led her to buy a house in the poorest area of Chicago to open Hull House, a refuge for those in need. A compelling biography of the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Freedom by Duncan Tonatiuh — Sylvia Mendez was an American citizen. She spoke perfect English. And yet, she was denied access to a “whites only” school in California because she was of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. She took action with her family, and their efforts ended school segregation in California. My boys really enjoyed this story, and especially liked the bold illustrations.
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren — Dolores Huerta was a teacher who was worried about her students. They are too hungry to pay attention in class. They are sick and they don’t have shoes. When Dolores discovers that the reason for these problems is the low pay their parents receive as migrant workers, she works and organizes to stand up for their rights. I was so inspired by Dolores and her determination, and I think more people need to know her story.
Dolley Madison Saves George Washington by Don Brown — Dolley Madison’s life was typical for a First Lady of her time: throwing parties, decorating, and being a good hostess topped her list of duties. But when war came, Dolley took it upon herself to protect an important part of America’s history: a portrait of George Washington.
Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez — Georgia O’Keeffe saw things differently than most people, and her unique vision led her to become one of America’s greatest artists. This book follows her from childhood, to art school, to her life in the wilds of New Mexico.
Fly High: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden — As a young girl, Bessie Coleman couldn’t go to school, but she sought out learning wherever she could. She faced obstacle after obstacle, but never gave up, and eventually she became the first African-American to obtain a pilot’s license. This story is guaranteed to inspire!
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Randolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull — Talk about inspiring! This book taught me many things I didn’t know about Wilma Rudolph, including how she overcame polio to become the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Molly By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree — I hadn’t heard of Molly Williams before I read this book, but now I want to know more about this amazing woman! Molly was a cook in a firehouse, but when the firefighters are down with influenza, it’s up to her to save the day and put out a fire. She is considered by many to be America’s first female firefighter.
I Am Sacagawea by Brad Meltzer — (Available October 2017) I can’t say enough about Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series, and this book promises to be just as good as the rest. This world-changing woman helped lead Lewis and Clark across the United States, and her efforts helped form the nation we live in today. Meltzer does a great job of highlighting the importance of Sacagawea’s role and the hard work it took for her to complete the journey.
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell — Sojourner Truth was born a slave, and for many people that meant that she had no worth outside of the work she could do. However, she didn’t let this stop her from becoming one of the most prominent voices in the abolitionist movement. This books weaves the facts of Sojourner’s life into a compelling story that young children will understand and embrace.
A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart by David A. Adler — You can’t go wrong with David A. Adler’s biographies, and I especially love this one. Amelia Earhart ignored the things she was told girls were “supposed” to do, and instead forged her own path. Though the end to her story is tragic, there is still much inspiration to be found in her life and achievements!
Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself by Margaret Frith — With lovely illustrations from Tomie dePaola, this beautiful book in itself a work of art. It also does a fantastic job of introducing children to this influential artist. Learn more about Kahlo’s life, and what makes her work unique.
Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief and Rosemary Wells — Maria Tallchief was a talented dancer and pianist, but as a member of the Osage Tribe, she was not allowed to dance because she was a woman. For many years, her parents allowed her to pursue her love of dance, but at the age of 12 she was forced to make a difficult choice. A truly captivating story!
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown — Melba Dixon loved jazz music, and as a child taught herself to play the trombone. This eventually led to a prolific career in music, but she faced many obstacles along the way due to both her race and gender. We loved learning more about this great musician, and finding some of her music after we read the book!
Eleanor by Barbara Cooney — How did a quiet, lonely girl become known as one of the most intelligent and confident women of all time? This book tells the story of Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she discovered the inner strength for which she became so well known. I’ve read several juvenile biographies of Eleanor, and this one is by far my favorite.
The Women Who Broke the Rules Series — I couldn’t pick just one book from this awesome series, so I had to include them all. You won’t want to miss these profiles of amazing women, which includes:
For more reads about world-changing women, be sure to follow our Women’s History Month board on Pinterest:
It was a bit like a punch in the gut to learn that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in September 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Justice Ginsburg is a hero for...
I was so sad to hear of the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for his role as King T'Challah in the Marvel Black Panther films. Boseman died at the age of 43 after a battle with...