GeekMom: Women’s History Month Picture Book Round-Up

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So many incredibly picture books come across my desk, and there have been an increasing number of historical non-fiction ones in recent years, especially those profiling people. Here is a round-up of some recent books that are perfect for Women’s History Month, each one profiling a different important woman in history.

In addition, please check out some of GeekMom’s favorite books about women that we celebrated in 2020 and my review of the Little Guides to Great Lives series, which includes many women that are perfect to learn about this month. (The publisher’s website also includes resources and activity sheets to share the series with your kids!)

Nellie vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists’ Breakneck Race Around the World by Kate Hannigam and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

I’d definitely heard of Nellie Bly, but Elizabeth Bisland was a new name in history for me. I knew all about Nellie Bly as a journalist, and her trip around the world, aiming for doing it in fewer than 80 days, but I did not know about Elizabeth Bisland doing the same thing, in the opposite direction! (Apparently, neither did Nellie for most of her trip!) This book details the race between the women, gorgeously illustrated in a fun style, and including actual newspaper article snippets reporting on the race. Both ladies ran into difficulties along the way, but both also beat the 80 days set forth in the book Around the World in 80 Days. I’ll leave it to you to learn who actually won the race by reading this book. Learn more about both of these interesting women in the Author’s Note in the back, including a photo of each, along with a timeline of women investigative journalists. This book is a great jumping-off point to learn more about many important women in history.

BLAST OFF!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

This book tells the compelling story of the woman who designed the rocket fuel that launched the first U.S. satellite into space. I hadn’t heard of Mary Sherman Morgan before, and her story didn’t disappoint. It’s a story of a lone woman in a historically “man’s world” who used her creative thinking and intelligence to solve a problem that no one else, including none of the men on the team, could.

The back matter tells more about Mary and about early space flight and also includes a timeline of Mary’s life, including many important events in space history and women’s history of the 20th century. The illustrations were lovely, but it was the story that kept me turning the page. It’s written in a captivating manner that was unusually immersive for a picture book, and I kind of forgot where I was and what I was doing until I finished reading it.

Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Susan Reagan

With the men gone, off fighting for independence, the women left behind in Pepperell, Massachusetts fend for themselves, taking on the work of the men in addition to their already full workload. When new British trouble looms, though, the women dress in mens’ clothes and form their own minute women group—with Prudence Wright as their leader—to protect a strategic local bridge.

Gorgeous illustrations accompany this piece of history, which is considerably simplified for young audiences (but hopefully it will spark independence and curiosity in them!), but it still paints a clear picture of women ignoring traditional female roles and doing what needs to be done in a moment of crisis. The Afterword gives more factual context, and the Research Note indicates that historical records are incomplete, but even if this is a slightly fictionalized version of the events, it’s still inspiring and a way to learn about a woman who took a stand and organized others to protect her town.

TO THE FRONT!: Clara Barton Braves the Battle of Antietam by Claudia Friddell and illustrated by Christopher Cyr

This interesting book about the well-known Clara Barton weaves Clara’s actual words with those of the author, marking which are which. The book begins with Clara heading to the front during the Civil War, and tells the story of a woman who was instrumental in helping mend and comfort soldiers on the battlefield and in the camp; she was later referred to as “the angel on the battle-field.” The sometimes-lifelike illustrations in this book are lovely and really pull you into the story, and Clara’s words illustrate her experience well beyond the artwork. The author’s words within the story make an attempt at powerful poetry, but seem to not fit well with the illustrations or Clara’s words. But the Afterword paints a fuller picture of Clara Barton, giving a brief biography of her life before the Civil War to her years as a Suffragette, including a couple of photos of her at different ages. While I knew about Clara Barton, of course, this book, especially the Afterword, made me want to dig deeper.

Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes “The French Chef” by Alex Prud’homme and illustrated by Sarah Green

Julia Child, the big personality who changed the way people looked at fancy French food in the 20th century, didn’t start from humble beginnings, but she did follow her found passion for food and it took her in a direction that guided her career. This book takes us along on her journey from being a child with a big appetite to working during World War II to discovering delicious food in France with her husband to turning that newfound interest into the driving force behind the rest of her life’s work. The back of the book includes a wider narrative of her life, as well as a long resource list of books, shows, websites, and more, from which to dive deeper into Julia’s life and work. The back of the book also includes Julia’s recipe for scrambled eggs.

All of these books give us a glimpse into the lives of important and passionate women from history. Children’s picture books are a fabulous way to lay the groundwork with our kids (and sometimes ourselves) for further learning and exploration. And you might just inspire someone to follow their own passion or take up a cause they believe in.

Note: I received samples for review purposes.

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