A few years ago, my sweet little daughter was born (alongside her fantastic twin brother). It was a moment I’d dreamed about for years, and as I lavished upon my brand new little girl her very first snuggles, I wondered what mark she’d leave on the world. Would she be an astronaut? A surgeon? A teacher? A full-time mother? An artist? A construction worker? An architect? A librarian? A collector? A spender? A saver? As I listened to her little squeaks in those precious moments it dawned on me that it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. What I wanted, more than anything, was for her to be brave enough to dream, bold enough to imagine, and determined enough to never give up. Whichever road she traveled.
It also dawned on me how fortunate I was to be living in a moment in which I could posit such hopes for my daughter. Not so long ago, little girls like mine had a much tougher road to travel to accomplish what they dreamed. It’s largely because of the unyielding efforts of many amazing heroines that my sweet little girl can do whatever she sets her mind to. And though I know her road might not be easy, I’m forever indebted to the heroes of the past that have made her path easier. If you’d like to learn more about some of these incredible people I invite you to visit the National Women’s History Month website or come talk with a local librarian.
It’s in honor of my little girl and in honor of all the women who paved the way for her to dream that I present to you this list of picture books with strong, bold, and daring female characters. These stories appeal to boys and girls, so don’t hesitate to share them! I believe they will inspire all children. Until next time, keep reading together!
My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry (illustrations by Mike Litwin)
I love this little book because Isabella spends her day imagining herself as strong women from history like Sally Ride, Rosa Parks and Marie Curie. “My name is not Isabella,” she says. “I’m Sally. The greatest, toughest astronaut that ever was!” I love Isabella because she isn’t afraid to dream and imagine.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty (illustrated by David Roberts)
Ada Twist just can’t stop asking why. She’s like Sid the Science Kid, but markedly less annoying (sorry, Sid). Her character is strong because she doesn’t let anything stand in her way. She continues to ask why even when she faces unpleasant consequences and that’s what makes her a hero in my eyes.
Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (illustrated by Michael Martchenko)
Princess Elizabeth is one of the best characters in children’s literature, period. She falls in love with a prince, and then after a most unpleasant experience with a dragon, risks life and limb to rescue her true love. After outsmarting the dragon and coming to the rescue of the prince, she discovers something even more unpleasant than the dragon. And that’s when Elizabeth’s strength will really make you smile.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
I love this simple retelling of the life of Jane Goodall. Patrick McDonnel’s illustrations shine. They transport the reader to Goodall’s childhood and effectively communicate the joy Goodall must have felt as she soaked up nature. Jane Goodall is a hero because she dared to dream in a time when it was nearly impossible for a woman to have an adventurous career. Though her family didn’t have much money and most everyone said her dream was impossible, she worked hard, kept imagining the possibilities and eventually found herself in Africa, living her dream.
Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington
Most books for children portray men as farmers and women as sidekicks, but Annie is the sole proprietor of her farm. The simple illustrations portray her doing all the hard work of harvesting apples on her farm. This is a simple book for ages 3-5, but I love how Annie takes care of business on her farm without any help needed from dudes.
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
All Vashti can draw is a simple little dot. Eventually, she is able to find her self-confidence and begins painting in her own unique, dotty way. Vashti is a strong character because she solves her own problems. Though her art teacher gives a gentle nudge, Vashti is the one who does all the work. Plus, she shows generosity after she finds her self-confidence by helping another struggling artist see past his own self-doubt.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio (illustrated by LeUyen Pham)
While studying the past presidents of the United States, Grace has a question for her teacher: “Where are the girls?” Once she learns that there has never been a female president, Grace decides she is going to be the first. Mrs. Barrington thinks this is a star-spangled idea and decides to hold a mock presidential election. Grace is pitted against Thomas Cobb, the most popular boy in the school. Can she make history? Grace is a strong lead character because she works harder than anyone else for what she believes is right. Even with the odds stacked against her, she won’t give up. More than simple selfish ambition, however, Grace is fueled by advocacy for her fellow classmates while Thomas Cobb stands idle, assuming he’s already won the election.
Every Day Dress-Up by Selina Alko
This one is similar to My Name is not Isabella. It caught my attention because my little girl loves dressing up too. The little girl in this story “dresses up” like supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor, chef Julia Child, queen of jazz Ella Fitzgerald and many others in this wonderful meld of fiction and biography. With its simple appendix, this book provides a springboard to deeper conversations with children about each woman.
I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer (illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos)
The “I am…” series contains a number of really great biographies about historical figures. Rosa Parks is one of my greatest heroes, and this book does a nice job of summarizing some of the trials she endured in a kid-friendly format. I love Rosa Parks because she stood for what was right no matter how much humiliation and heartache it caused her. She emboldened and empowered her own generation do the same, and I’d like to think her boldness lives on in perpetuity through future generations.