March is Women’s History Month, an annual recognition of the contributions of women to American History. But anytime is a good time to introduce your children to some groundbreaking ladies throughout history. Equality begins at home when we’re raising the strong female leaders of tomorrow, so not only should we celebrate trailblazers past, but we can also inspire our girls –and boys! – to live authentic lives to their fullest potential with books that impart a feminist message.
From toddlers to teens, here are some of my favorites:
For Babies and Toddlers:
My First Book of Feminism (For Boys) by Julie Merberg — rhyming text introduces concepts like “no means no” and the idea that girls and boys are equal in simple ways.
Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz — Feminist Baby resists baby gender norms dictating what colors she should like and toys she should play with!
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison — a board book version of the popular Little Leaders series, this primer introduces children to 18 trailblazing women in Black American history.
For Preschoolers Through Grade 2:
Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch — this fun, laugh-out-loud classic depicts a bold, self-confident princess saving a prince and then, when he criticizes her appearance, tells him off and skips happily off alone into the sunset. There’s no escaping the Disney Princess machine, but this at least provides a small counterpoint.
Feminism means not only celebrating women achieving in traditionally male-dominated fields (although that’s important!), but also respecting traditionally women’s work as truly vital and valuable. Two books that do just that are The Women Who Caught the Babies: The Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, which describes in poetry the history of Black midwives in America beginning with the trans-Atlantic journey aboard slave ships through to the present, and How Mamas Love Their Babies, which shows an inclusive cast of mothers engaged in a variety of caregiving tasks.
By the same token, boys should be encouraged to engage in traditionally feminine pursuits like caregiving — girls “doing things boys do” seem to have an easier time of it than the reverse. One book that upends this misogynistic tendency is the 1970s classic William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, in which William pines for a doll (which his grandmother eventually buys him), despite his father’s and brother’s discouragement. Another is Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, which affirms one boy’s desire to dress fabulously.
To round out this section, a few picture book biographies about historical figures who I love: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell; Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone; Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating; and Water Walker by Joanne Robertson.
For Kids in Grades 3-6:
Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai — A young readers’ adaptation of the inspiring memoir written by a young Pakistani woman whose outspokenness about the importance of access to education for girls made her the target of an assassination attempt.
Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams — In this graphic novel, a group of friends raise each other up and set out to correct an injustice. When the girls discover there are no free pads or tampons offered at school, they are determined to end the taboo surrounding menstruation in their school and get free supplies for all. Read the classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, and then this book.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson — Another graphic novel, this one a coming-of-age story with beautiful rainbow-colored artwork about a girl dealing with changing friendships in middle school and facing her fears to try out for junior roller derby.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu — A high-schooler fed up with sexist double standards and hallway harassment starts a feminist revolution at her school via old-school zines and walkout protests. Girls supporting each other is a theme.
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles — This novel takes on teen attitudes toward sex, relationships, and gender power dynamics when Del, the male main character, pursues a newly-single girl he’s long crushed on for a romantic relationship without considering what she wants. Toxic masculinity is powerfully addressed in a complex, thought-provoking way.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson — Super weird things happen at Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types. This graphic novel series follows a great group of confident female friends creating adventures.