From the Archives: Celebrating the Ladies

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By Kay Weisman

In North America, females outnumber males by about three percent, but books highlighting women’s contributions are not always so numerous. Share the following clustered titles with students to help them appreciate the accomplishments of women.

Butzer, Anna. Maria Mitchell. Great Women in History series. Capstone, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4914-0539-0; 24p., Gr. K-2.
This brief introduction to America’s first female astronomer explains how her interest in the stars developed and cites her professional accomplishments. Included are period photos, a timeline, and appended back matter.

Fertig, Dennis. Sylvia Earle: Ocean Explorer. Women in Conservation series. Heinemann, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4846-0470-0; 48p., Gr. 3-6.
Fertig discusses Earle’s early inspirations and details her many undersea achievements. Full-color photos, diagrams, and generous back matter supplement this very readable text. Other series titles include Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Rachel Carson.

Polacco, Patricia. Clara and Davie: The True Story of Young Clara Barton. Scholastic, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-545-35477-6; 40p., Gr. 2-4.
Polacco recounts an episode from American Red Cross founder Barton’s childhood detailing how older brother Davie protected, encouraged, and mentored her. Later, when Davie is hurt in a fall, Clara becomes his nurse, putting her healing powers to work.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman. Holt, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9048-2; 40p., Gr. K-2.
In the 1830s girls were encouraged to become wives and mothers. Adventurous Elizabeth Blackwell defied that expectation, becoming America’s first female doctor despite first being turned down by twenty-eight medical schools. An author’s note and source list append this inspiring biography.

Both Polacco and Stone employ narrative frameworks. Discuss the portions of Barton and Blackwell’s lives covered by these texts. Where is other information placed? How do the illustrations contribute to these biographies? Butzer and Fertig apply a more traditional chronological approach to their works on Mitchell and Earle. Where is additional information placed in these texts? What information is conveyed in illustrations and graphics? (RI: K-6.1; RI: 1-6.5; RI: K-6.7)

Fern, Tracey. Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud. Illus. by Emily Arnold McCully. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-374-31699-0; 40p., Gr. K-3.
Eleanor Prentiss grew up loving the sea. Her father’s decision to teach her to use a sextant helped her successfully navigate the Flying Cloud from New York to San Francisco in 1851. It is illustrated with precise watercolor and ink and concludes with an author’s note and glossary.

Macy, Sue. Sally Ride: Life on a Mission. Aladdin, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4424-8854-0; 160p., Gr. 4-7.
This fast-paced biography profiles America’s first female astronaut to travel in space. The author tells about her athleticism, her work on the Challenger and Columbia disaster investigations, and her efforts to promote careers in science and mathematics for girls.

Sherr, Lynn. Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space. Simon & Schuster, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4767-2576-5; 320p., Gr. 9-12.
This intimate and informative biography reveals much about the personal and professional life of Ride, who guarded her privacy throughout her life. Written for adults, this will still thoroughly engage teen readers. Extensive back matter is appended.

Wallace, Rich, and Sandra Neil Wallace.Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.Calkins Creek, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-59078-981-0; 272p., Gr. 5-8.
This accomplished athlete bucked tradition, broke records (in track, basketball, and golf), and paved the way for today’s female professional athletes. It is carefully sourced and illustrated with archival photos.

Each of these women had personality characteristics that made them successful in their adventurous careers. Using the text as evidence, make a list of traits mentioned for each woman. What traits overlap? (RI: K-12.1)

Sherr and Wallace make extensive use of quotations (based on personal interviews and letters) that help them to draw conclusions about their subject. How do these primary sources influence the authors’ points of view? How do Macy and Sherr’s perspectives differ? (RI:5-12.6; RI:4-12.9)


Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics. Chicago Review Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-61374-686-8; 256p., Gr. 7-10.
This finely sourced collective biography introduces women from the Central and Allied powers who served as spies, medical professionals, journalists, and soldiers. Atwood argues that fervent nationalism and the women’s suffrage movement led these women to volunteer.

Farrell, Mary Cronk. Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. Abrams, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4197-1028-5; 160p., Gr. 7-10.
Seventy-nine Army and Navy nurses, stationed in the Philippines, were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, yet throughout their ordeal they continued to care for those around them. Farrell makes good use of primary sources and archival photos in telling this courageous story.

Compare and contrast (in written, presentation, or visual format) the experiences of women involved in World War I and World War II based on the information presented by Atwood and Farrell. Consider these women’s reasons for becoming involved as well as the difficulties they encountered. Do the authors’ arguments seem valid? (RI: 7-10.1; RI: 7-10.2; RI: 7-10.3; RI: 7-10.9)

Reflect on the treatment these women received after the war. In what ways was their reception surprising? (RI: 7-10.8)


Bjorklund, Ruth. Aung San Suu Kyi. Leading Women series. Cavendish Square, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-7614-4957-7; 112p., Gr. 7-12.
The leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement won a Nobel Peace Prize despite much time spent under house arrest. Photographs, direct quotes, and a list of awards received are included.

Colich, Abby. Wilma Mankiller. Great Women in History series. Capstone, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4914-0540-6; 24p., Gr. K-3.
The first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, believed in gadugi — helping people in her community. A time line, glossary, and bibliography are included.

Cooper, Ilene.A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country.Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. Abrams, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4197-1036-0; 144p., Gr. 5-8.
Cooper profiles women who have served in the United States Congress, beginning with Jeannette Rankin, who served from 1917-19 and 1940-42, and continuing through 2012. Well-chosen anecdotes, strong writing, and elegant design distinguish this work.

Krasner, Barbara. Goldie Takes A Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade. Illus. by Kelsey Garrity-Riley. Kar-Ben, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4677-1200-2; 32p., Gr. K-3.
At the age of nine, future Israeli President Golda Meir organized her friends to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant kids. An inspiring and accessible look at the development of Meir’s social conscience.

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies. Illus. by Diane Goode. Harper, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-06-078002-9; 40p., Gr. 3-6.
Roberts spotlights the women of the American Revolution, who wrote letters, ran farms and businesses, and sometimes fought alongside men. Goode’s sepia-tone artwork perfectly complements the text. The book concludes with a list of websites.

Colich and Krasner introduce women who may be unfamiliar to students. Before reading, preview the covers and illustrations. Then brainstorm to predict answers to questions such as: Who is this woman? When and where did she live? What were her accomplishments? Why is she important? After reading, discuss the effectiveness of the illustrations in conveying information. (RI: K-3:1; RI: K-3.7)

Bjorklund, Cooper, and Roberts introduce politically inclined women—some who served officially and others whose accomplishments remained in the shadows. Select a woman and identify vocabulary representing her from the text. Then construct a concrete or shape poem that exemplifies this woman’s achievements. (RI: 3-12.4)


Kanefield, Teri.The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement. Abrams, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4197-0796-4; 56p., Gr. 5-9.
In 1951, this 16-year-old student led her classmates in a peaceful boycott to draw attention to the horrible conditions in their school. Clearly written text, informative sidebars, and numerous archival photos distinguish this important account.

McCarney, Rosemary, and Plan International. Dear Malala, We Stand with You. Crown, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-5535-2121-4; unpaged, Gr. 2-4.
This communal letter addressed to Malala Yousafzai expresses appreciation for her bravery, courage, and her ongoing work to help girls obtain an education. Included are full-color photographs and the text of Yousafzai’s UN speech.

Markel, Michelle. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. Balzer & Bray, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-06-180442-7; 32p., Gr. K-3.
This picture book biography of Clara Lemlich emphasizes the horrible working conditions endured by New York City clothing factory workers who tried to unionize in 1909. Appended with a discussion of the garment industry, bibliography, and primary sources.

Pinborough, Jan. Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children. Illus. by Debby Atwell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-547-47105-1; 40p., Gr. 2-4.
Librarian Anne Carroll Moore devoted her life to establishing children’s services in public libraries, and while she could be somewhat difficult to work with, her dedication resulted in many library services we appreciate today.

Winter, Jeannette. Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan,and Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan. Beach Lane, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4814-2294-9; 40p., Gr. K-4.
Two stories profile Pakistani children, each of whom challenges injustices around them. Although Iqbal’s story is not as well known (and ends tragically) both offer sensitive and age-appropriate introductions to these humanitarian heroes. Direct quotes and an author’s note round out this offering.

Woelfle, Gretchen. Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence. Illus. by Alix Delinois. CarolRhoda, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-7613-6589-1; 32p., Gr. K-4.
In 1781, this slave successfully sued her owner to gain her freedom, citing the new Massachusetts constitution as her defense. Delinois’s sumptuous artwork showcases Mumbet’s courage; an author note clarifies what is known about Mumbet.

Yousafzai, Malala, with Patricia McCormick.I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.Little Brown, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-316-32793-0; 230p., Gr. 5-9.
This memoir of Malala, an adaptation for young readers, details the development of her activism, her shooting, and recovery. Teens may prefer the original: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Little Brown, 2013).

Read aloud several picture books, including those by McCarney, Markel, Pinborough, Winter, and Woelfle. Then create a classroom chart that includes reformers, problems addressed, strategies, obstacles, and end results. Note similarities and differences among these activists. (RI: K-4.1; RI: K-4.9)

Both Malala and Barbara Rose Johns confronted educational inequalities. Compare and contrast their situations and actions. Ask students to suggest new strategies for Malala Yousafzai, based on Johns’ successes or other reformers’ efforts. (RI: 5-9.1; RI: 5-9.9)

Compare and contrast the two Malala texts—one by Malala and one by another author. Cite evidence from the text to identify Malala’s perspective. How does the other author’s perspective differ? In what circumstances might another author’s work be preferable to a memoir? (RI: 5-9.1; RI: 5-9.6; RI: 5-9.9)

C = Connect ⇔ W = Wonder ⇔ I =Investigate ⇔ CST = Construct ⇔ E = Express ⇔ R = Reflect
Used with permission.
Common Core State Standards addressed: RI = Reading Informational texts and W = Writing; K-12 indicates grade level; numbers refer to individual standards

  author-Weisman_KayKay Weisman, MLIS, is a former Information Matters columnist for School Library Monthly and has worked as both a school and public youth services librarian. She earned her master’s from the University of Illinois and a children’s literature degree from the University of British Columbia. She now reviews for Booklist and Canadian Materials, contributes to NoveList, and chairs Canada’s Children’s Literature Roundtables’ Information Book Award.


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