There are some things we do a display for every year: Black History Month in February, National Poetry Month for April. In March, of course, we celebrate Women’s History month!
When I do a display on a subject like Women’s History Month, I use a mix of fiction and nonfiction books. Nonfiction books, like biographies and historical picture books, can provide little readers with true facts, while fiction books that are on the same theme can dramatize the concepts and make them feel like they apply to readers’ modern-day lives.
Here are some of my recent faves to include. Share your own in the comments!
The Rosa books, by Jessica Spanyol
These adorable board books feature Rosa, living her groovy toddler life doing some things that might be considered traditional “boyish.” The books don’t mention gender roles, they simply celebrate Rosa being Rosa. Check out Spanyol’s Clive series, to see the reverse – Clive plays with baby dolls, and pretends to be a nurse.
The adorable art and simple text make these ideal to read to your roving wiggle-worm in between play sessions. Rosa is depicted with brown skin, and Clive with white, and they have a variety of playmates in different skin tones.
Baby Feminists, written by Libby Babbot-Klein and illustrated by Jessica Walker
Okay, so your toddler may not understand the word “feminist” yet, or have much of a frame of reference for the famous figures inside. But baby Mae Jemison is adorable, and books like this can simply set the stage for conversations you will have every day as your kiddos grow into thinkers and wonderers, ready to grapple with who they might want to be when they grow up. Even Friday Kahlo started out in fingerpaints! (Frida Kahlo may not have actually fingerpainted, I am a terrible art historian and should not be trusted).
What’s important is that both girls and boys receive the message, early on, that they can become anything they want, and that they aren’t limited by their gender.
Ordinary People Change the World series, written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
These simple, picture book biographies cover a wide-range of diverse women from history and tell their stories in easy-to-read pages with one or two sentences at a time. The cartoon-style grabs little readers, and as a bonus, these books will be something your kiddo can circle back to when they are ready to read on their own, as well.
This series is one of the most-frequently requested at my library, so I know it works!
Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley
It can be tough to find a picture book for the preschool crowd that introduces a concept like gender roles, or how to challenge them. Too much historical description can bore a little reader, and too many depressing details of oppression can worry a kiddo who’s too young to understand the context.
Enter Mary Wears What She Wants. This picture book uses a bright color palatte and plain backgrounds to paint a lively picture of little Mary fighting the patriarchy in pants, without using so many words. Though this story doesn’t hew to history exactly, it communicates a message of freedom that any kiddo who has been forced to wear something they don’t want will understand.
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung helped unlock the secrets of the atom, written by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Rebecca Huang
Wu Chien Shiung was a physicist who made several amazing contributions to the field, and who I had never heard of until stumbling across this fantastic picture book biography one day in the stacks. Charming illustrations are paired with stories of the many obstacles Wu Chien Shiung had to overcome, from growing up in China at a time when few expected girls to even attend school, to being passed over for a Nobel prize that went to men.
As someone who does not really identify as a Science Person, I appreciate the kid-level explanations of physics – I learned a little about the atom and about an awesome woman scientist at the same time!
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence
Jasmine has a dilemma. In her family, when everyone comes together to make mochi, boys and girls have different jobs. The boys get to hit the mochi dough with an incredible hammer. The girls roll the mochi into balls. But Jasmine’s got her eye on that hammer, and she’s going to have to convince her family to loosen up their traditions if she’s going to get a chance to swing it.
One of the things I love about this book is, in addition to questioning gender roles, it provides young readers with a pathway for how they, too, can question some of the unfair assumptions they see in the world around them. This is a skill both boys and girls need, to respond not just to sexism, but to all kinds of obstacles they will encounter in life.
Full Cicada Moon, by Marilyn Hilton
If you haven’t read Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library. This is a stunning novel-in-verse that tells the story of a young girl (half black, half Japanese) who moves to rural Vermont in 1969 and confronts the ignorance of those around her as a mixed-race girl who wants to take shop and study space. Despite having themes of both sexism and racism, this is a warm, delightful read.
Full disclosure: I love Full Cicada Moon I’m almost constantly putting it on displays and recommended reading lists. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if you read one middle grade novel this year, make it this one.
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia Perez
One of the greatest middle grade novels about creatively expressing yourself, The First Rule of Punk introduces readers to punk, zines, and standing up for what’s right. What makes First Rule of Punk special is that it doesn’t feel preachy, or inauthentically “girl power!”-esque. Perez has a genuine writing style that allows her to create characters that feel real, and she puts them up against realistic obstacles. Expect any leftover newspapers or magazines to mysteriously disappear after your reader gets a look at some of the zines in this book!
What are your favorite books for Women’s History Month?
Help me find my new favorites in the comments below!