Kids Books About Women Who Opened Doors and Made a Difference
Patricia O’Connell Pearson | The Children’s Book Review | March 16, 2018
Passion, Persistence, and Perseverance: Three Cheers for the Lesser Known Women of History
I’ve always been drawn to stories of people who make a difference, open doors, or don’t take “no” for an answer when they are sure their goals are worthwhile. So naturally, when I read about the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II a few years ago, I wanted to know more. As I learned what those remarkable women did and how they did it in the face of hardship, discrimination, danger, and doubt, I wanted to share their story. And as much as I believe that stories of passion, persistence, and perseverance are important for all of us, I think they are especially important for younger readers. Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018) is written for ages ten and up. It is the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP—1,102 women pilots who used their talent and skill to serve their country during its greatest crisis even as they were told women couldn’t do what they were doing.
It’s no surprise that many stories of passion, persistence, and perseverance are women’s stories. Throughout history, women have been told “no.” No to education, no to professions, no to political power—just no. In the United States, women of color have heard double “no.” Women have always fought back in both obvious and subtle ways, but not many of their stories are well known. In honor of Women’s History Month, then, here are some new and not so new books about lesser known women whose passion, persistence, and perseverance opened doors and made a difference.
Written by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
Daisy Bates grew up speaking her mind, a dangerous habit for a black child in 1920s Arkansas. As a young woman, she realized she had to do more than speak. She needed to make a difference in the lives of African Americans. That was her intent when she became president of the Arkansas NAACP in the early 1950s. She didn’t know that role would lead to mentoring and protecting the nine black students who integrated Little Rock, Arkansas’s Central High School in 1957. But when Bates found herself harboring, counseling, and training those brave young people, she did it with the courage and certainty of her cause that defined her life. She continued to champion equal rights for all until her death in 1999. Daisy Bates was a consummate activist, and The Power of One is a thorough and worthwhile look at Bates’s life and the tumultuous times in which she lived.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Clarion Books | 2004 | ISBN-13: 978-0618315567
Written by Andrea Pelleschi
From her earliest days, Grace (Murray) Hopper wanted to know how things work. She was lucky; her parents encouraged her to learn as much as she could, even in mathematics—not usually considered a subject for girls in 1920. Grace became a math professor, and during World War II she joined the women’s unit of the U.S. Navy Reserve. That’s how she came in contact with the earliest of computers or automatic digital calculators. Grace Hopper studied everything she could about the enormous, noisy machine known as Mark I, and decided there had to be a way to communicate with the thing in words. She was told that was impossible. Eventually though, Hopper—who rose to the rank of rear admiral—developed the beginnings of computer programming languages. A fine example of STEM innovation by a woman.
Ages 7-11 | Publisher: Lerner Classroom | 2016 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0618315567
Written by Carol Reed-Jones
Paper Crane Press, 2004
Ages 10 and up
Here is woman of multiple disciplines from a time few of us read about in depth. An author, poet, naturalist, healer, preacher, composer, and religious visionary, Hildegard of Bingen lived nine centuries ago. Though our knowledge of her as a personality is limited, her accomplishments and legacy indicate that she must have been a formidable, if gentle, woman. Carol Reed-Jones divides Hildegard’s life by her talents with one chapter on her work as a nun, another on her music and poetry, one on her scientific contribution, and so on. Enhanced with a timeline, map, printed music, and even a recipe based on Hildegard’s writings in natural science, this is a fascinating read.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Paper Crane Press | 2004 | ISBN-13: 978-0618315567
Written by Patricia O’Connell Pearson
Publisher’s Synopsis: In the tradition of Hidden Figures, debut author Patricia Pearson offers a beautifully written account of the remarkable but often forgotten group of female fighter pilots who answered their country’s call in its time of need during World War II.
At the height of World War II, the US Army Airforce faced a desperate need for skilled pilots—but only men were allowed in military airplanes, even if the expert pilots who were training them to fly were women. Through grit and pure determination, 1,100 of these female pilots—who had to prove their worth time and time again—were finally allowed to ferry planes from factories to bases, to tow targets for live ammunition artillery training, to test repaired planes and new equipment, and more.
Though the WASPs lived on military bases, trained as military pilots, wore uniforms, marched in review, and sometimes died violently in the line of duty, they were civilian employees and received less pay than men doing the same jobs and no military benefits, not even for burials.
Their story is one of patriotism, the power of positive attitudes, the love of flying, and the willingness to do good with no concern for personal gain.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1534404106
About the Author
Patricia O’Connell Pearson is a former history teacher with a B.A. in history and a master’s degree in education. She has contributed to and edited history textbooks and published articles in magazines and newspapers including The Washington Post. Always enthusiastic about sharing the stories of history, she earned her MFA in writing for young people from Lesley University and now writes both historical fiction and nonfiction. Her nonfiction for ages ten and up—Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII—was released by Simon and Schuster in February, 2018. When she is not writing about history, she can often be found talking about history as a volunteer with the National Park Service in Washington, DC. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
The article Books for Kids About Women Who Opened Doors and Made a Difference was written by Patricia O’Connell Pearson, author of Fly Girls (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018). For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Women’s History.