Women’s History Month: A Book Every Day
In honor of Women’s History Month, each day Teaching for Change is featuring a children’s book we recommend to highlight grassroots women’s history.
Check back for our recommended titles here, and follow us on Facebook for daily posts.
See our complete list of recommended titles for children on women’s history and women’s lives here. Please support Teaching for Change by ordering books from our non-profit, indie bookstore–20% off with code Women2017.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)
We begin the month with Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement about the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Beautifully written and illustrated, it is one of too few books about a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement that is not about King, Parks, or Lewis. Find more children’s books on women here and the Civil Rights Movement here.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
By Phillip M. Hoose
Today is the anniversary of the day (March 2, 1955) Montgomery, Alabama fifteen year old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman. This was nine months before Rosa Parks took the same action. Colvin was motivated by what she had been learning in school about African-American history (note this event follows Black History Month) and the U.S. Constitution. Parks knew Colvin from the NAACP Youth Council and was inspired in part to take her action by Colvin. Read more about Colvin in this upper elementary/middle school book and find more resources from Teaching for Change for teaching outside the textbook about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
This book tells the story of Sylvia Mendez, who was the central figure in the Mendez v. Westminster school desegregation case in California that preceded Brown v. Board of Education. Author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh (we LOVE all his books) tells the story of how Mexican-born Gonzalo Mendez and Puerto Rican Felicitas Mendez challenged the separate and unequal school system in California. The award-winning book highlights the the story of parent organizing. Winner of the Pura Belpre Award and the Américas Book Award.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
By Michelle Markel, Melissa Sweet (Illustrator)
The book of the day is about Clara Lemlich who said:
I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.
This book is featured on the anniversary of Frances Perkins becoming the U.S. Secretary of Labor in 1933. Perkins’s commitment to labor rights came from having personally witnessed workers jump to their death during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
By S. D. Nelson
As reviewer Debbie Reese notes on her invaluable blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, “The subject of most biographies of Native women are Pocahontas and Sacajawea.” This book by S.D. Nelson about Waheenee (Buffalo Bird Woman in Hidatsa) is an all too rare exception. Reese adds:
I want teachers who use the book to introduce students to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. Teach the book by teaching children about Waheenee’s people–as they are today. Teach them what sovereign nation means. Show them the pictures [from the nation website.] And while you’re at it, teach them about Nelson’s tribe, too. Visit the website of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence
By Gretchen Woelfle, Alix Delinois (Illustrator)
Today marks the anniversary of the horrific SCOTUS ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 that “Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution.” (Harriet Scott filed her own case for freedom that was eventually combined with her husband’s.) We do not know of a good children’s book about Harriet and Dred Scott, so today we highlight Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence. Readers are introduced to Mumbet, a Black woman enslaved in Massachusetts at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Knowing that the promise of freedom and equality should belong to her as well, Mumbet successfully brought a lawsuit against her owners to be free and chose the name Elizabeth Freeman. We highly recommend “Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence” and we suggest reading it to students of all ages before introducing the Dred Scott decision. It shows that people were appealing to the courts for justice throughout the history of slavery and later Jim Crow — and in some all too rare cases (such as Mumbet’s) the courts ruled as they should have — and in others (Dred Scott, Plessy, and many more) the rulings defied the laws of humanity and in fact international human rights laws.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock (Retold by), Susan Buckley (Retold by)
On this anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma (March 7, 1965), we share this book about Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who was jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday in her fight for voting rights. Her story shines a light on young people, local people, and women, too often left out of the master narrative about the Civil Rights Movement. We also recommend Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days narrated by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West who were 8 and 9 years old at the time. For these books and more on the history of the Selma to Montgomery Marches visit our recommended booklist for teaching about Selma.
We would also like to note that while there are numerous children’s books on two key men in the Selma to Montgomery Marches—Dr. King and John Lewis—there are no children’s books on many of the female leaders and strategists. Hopefully Carole Boston Weatherford will be invited to write a series of books following her new title on Fannie Lou Hamer. We’d recommend titles on Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, and many, many more. Check out the book Hands on the Freedom Plow about women in SNCC for more names.
Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History
By Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl (Illustrator)
On this International Women’s Day, day of the #InternationalWomensStrike and #DayWithoutAWoman, we feature Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. Written for middle school, it includes illustrations and short bios of women from 31 countries. Featured women include the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Sophie Scholl, Malala Yousafzi, Nanny of the Maroons, and Poly Styrene. We need children’s picture books about each of the women featured in this book as well.
Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery
By Winifred Conkling
Today marks the anniversary of the 1841 Supreme Court ruling in the Amistad case. Less known is the Pearl incident when in 1848, 77 people in Washington, D.C., made a brave and carefully planned escape from slavery. Tragically, they were apprehended. However the Pearl became a key event in the fight for the abolition of slavery. We highly recommend this book for middle school to adult. There is also a middle school book on the Amistad, Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad.
Take a Seat–Make a Stand: A Hero in the Family: The Story of Sarah Key Evans, a Civil Rights Hero Who Would Not Be Moved
By Amy Nathan, Sarah K. Evans (With)
The book of the day is about Pfc. Sarah Louise Keys. On Aug. 1, 1952, Keys traveled from Fort Dix, New Jersey, to her family’s home in Washington, North Carolina. During a stop to change drivers, she was told to relinquish her seat to a white Marine and move to the back of the bus. Keys refused to move, was arrested, and eventually her case was brought before the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Never heard of her? Keys and and biographer Amy Nathan tried to share her story, but the publishers said they weren’t interested because they already had a book on Rosa Parks, or that Sarah Louise Keys Evans wasn’t famous so nobody would be interested. So, Nathan published it herself. This means it gets none of the promotion nor distribution of a commercially published book.
We ask everyone to help spread the word about Take a Seat. And write a letter in the #StepUpScholastic campaign. Let them know that our children want to read stories about people who aren’t famous, but should be.
I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala
By Rigoberta Menchu, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray (Editor), Ann Wright (Translator)
This book about the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú is recommended for high school students. In the book Menchu, a Guatemalan Quiche Indian woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. We select this book today in honor of Menchu’s fellow Central American, environmental activist Berta Cáceres who was murdered in Honduras in March 2016. Visit our website, TeachingCentralAmerica.org for biographies of these and many other Central Americans.
Bread and Roses, Too
By Katherine Paterson
Today marks the anniversary of the victory of the 1912 Lawrence textile strike. During the first week 14,000 workers walked off the job in Lawrence and were followed by 9,000 more in the coming weeks. The strike was led largely by immigrant women who communicated and strategized among their 25+ languages. This book is ideal for grades 7+. For younger readers, see Lyddie.
That’s Not Fair!/No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La Lucha de Emma Tenayuca Por La Justicia
By Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Teneyuca, Celina Marroquin (Editor)
This book for elementary age children is about Emma Tenayuca, born in born in San Antonio, Texas in 1916. Through her work as an educator, speaker, and labor organizer, Tenayuca became known as “La Pasionaria.” From 1934-48, she supported almost every strike in the city, writing leaflets, visiting homes of strikers, and joining them on picket lines.
By Nikki Giovanni, Bryan Collier (Illustrator)
Rosa is one of the very few children’s books on the Montgomery Bus Boycott to place the roles of Rosa Parks and Dr. King in the context of a movement with a long history and led by women. For example, in March of 1954 the Women’s Political Council, led by Jo Ann Robinson, met with the Mayor to outline the demands for justice on the buses. This was eight months before Parks refused to move on the bus in what other books describe as a “spontaneous act” that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement. That master narrative erases the earlier organizing and strategizing. We highly recommend Rosa because it tells a more complex and accurate story. More resources for teaching about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott are available at our Civil Rights Teaching website.
One Plastic Bag was selected by Children’s Africana Book Awards for 2016 Honorable Mention. Africa Access noted:
In Njau, Gambia, discarded plastic bags littered the roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. But Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community.
Find more Africa Access 2016 award winners. Please encourage your school or library to order these titles. We need to send a message to publishers that we want many more books that present true images of the people of Africa.
Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told (Paperback)
By Walter Dean Myers, Bonnie Christensen (Illustrator)
Born into slavery during the Civil War, Ida B. Wells fought hard to better the lives of African Americans and women. “I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it has done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I have said.” This book follows her remarkable life from her schooling, raising her siblings after the death of her parents, to her rise to national fame as a journalist, speaker, and anti-lynching activist. In 1881 Ida B. Wells refused to move from the ladies’ coach on a train, was forcibly removed, then sued the railroad. In 1892 she organized one of the first economic boycotts after three black men, who owned a grocery store, were murdered by a mob of white men. “This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was. An excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property.” Wells fought for the right of women to vote and at the 1913 suffragette march at Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, she sternly refused to march in the separate colored section.
Mother Jones: Labor Leader
By Connie C. Miller, Steve Erwin (Illustrator), Charles Barnett, III (Illustrator)
In celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, the Woman’s History Month Book of the Day is the graphic novel, “Mother Jones: Labor Leader.” Mary Harris “Mother” Jones learned firsthand about injustice when she was a young girl living in Cork County, Ireland. As the potato blight starved the poor, their landlords exported grain and meat–food that could have prevented those deaths. Her family immigrated to North America in the 1850s. After her husband and four children died from yellow fever, Mother Jones dedicated her life to workers’ rights. Jones earned the label “the most dangerous woman in America” by using new organizing strategies that involved women and children in strikes. She organized miners’ wives into teams armed with mops and brooms to guard the mines against scabs and staged parades with children carrying signs that read, “We Want to Go to School and Not to the Mines.”
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement
By Teri Kanefield
Lessons on Brown v. Board of Education should not begin with the 1954 Supreme Court decision but, instead, with the decades of activism that led to the historic ruling. And there is no better way to hook students than with the school walkout led by 15-year-old Barbara Rose Johns in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1951. Carefully planned with a sworn-to-secrecy group of fellow high school students, Johns arranged to have the principal called out of the building and then held a high school assembly to announce the walkout to demand a new school building. The preparation and the years of struggle that ensued are told in this well-written and beautifully illustrated book for middle school.
Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese-American Experience during and after the World War II Internment
By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston
Born in California, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was seven years old when her family was forced into the Manzanar internment camp near the Sierra Nevada mountains in Nevada, along with more than 11,000 other Japanese Americans. The memoir describes the Wakatsuki family’s strategies for surviving internment and the harmful effects it had on their family.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom/El Arbol de La Rendicion: Poemas de La Lucha de Cuba Por Su Libertad
By Margarita Engle
Today’s Women’s History Month Book of the Day, in English and Spanish, is about the life of legendary nurse Rosa la Bayamesa during Cuba’s long fight for independence in the 19th century. The book includes the seldom told story of the reconcentration camps that led to the death of 400,000 Cubans. Too often, popular knowledge of Cuba begins and ends with name recognition of the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Fidel Castro. Spanning the years 1850–1899, Engle’s poems tell the story of Cuba’s Wars for Independence. Our thanks to Margarita Engle for this and many more invaluable books for elementary and middle school on Cuba, including Drum Dream Girl.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
By Margarita Engle, Rafael Lopez (Illustrator)
Today we feature this book about Chinese-African-Cuban Millo Castro Zaldarriaga for our Woman’s History Month Book of the Day. Zaldarriaga not only loved the sound of drums, she wanted to play them. Persistent in her pursuit of this dream, Zaldarriaga broke the gender barrier in the early 1930s at the age of 10 and went on to become a world-famous musician. Engle’s true story of Zaldarriaga and Lopez’s gorgeous illustrations make Drum Dream Girl engaging and informative for all ages. Not only is it a beautiful book in and of itself, it is one of the all too rare picture books about a person of color who is not on the short list of well-known figures.
Aani & the Tree Huggers
By Jeannine Atkins, Venantius J. Pinto (Illustrator)
This book, published by Lee & Low Books, is based on the true story of the Chipko movement in northern India. When loggers come to cut down trees near their village, Aani and the village women explain that the trees provide food and fuel; offer homes for animals; and prevent erosion—but to no avail. In an act of environmental activism, the girls and women wrap their bodies around the trees and save the forest so integral to their way of life.
Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream
By Crystal Hubbard, Randy DuBurke (Illustrator)
Marcenia Lyle Toni Stone was the first of three women (along with Connie Morgan and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson) to play Negro league baseball. (Note that women never played in the white major leagues.) With spirit, spunk, and a great passion for the sport, the young Stone struggled to overcome the objections of family, friends, and coaches, who felt a girl had no place in the field. When she finally won a position in a baseball summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals, she was on her way to catching her dream. Published by Lee & Low Books.
Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition
By Margot Lee Shetterly
The true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program is now available in a format accessible to young readers. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted a Million Trees
By Franck Prevot
On March 25, 2005, Wangari Maathai was elected the first president of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council. Today’s Women’s History Month Book of the Day, “Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted a Million Trees,” is our favorite children’s book about the environmental and political activist, who founded Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird
By Renee Watson, Christian Robinson (Illustrator)
In today’s Women’s History Month Book of the Day, Renee Watson (who also writes for Rethinking Schools) tells the story of Florence Mills, a singer who used her voice to fight against racism in the early 20th century. The story of Jim Crow and the Harlem Renaissance are told in age appropriate ways that encourage young readers to ask questions about the times.
Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson
By Amy Ehrlich, Wendell Minor (Illustrator)
Today’s book explores the life of Rachel Carson. Ehrlich explains that Rachel Carson was attacked for exposing the dangers of DDT in her seminal book, “Silent Spring.” This can help create a healthy skepticism among children when contemporary truth tellers are attacked in the mainstream press. This is an ideal book for beginning (elementary school) chapter book readers.
Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights
By Mary Cronk Farrell
This beautiful book about early 20th-century labor organizer Fannie Sellins begins with her murder by sheriff’s deputies, in broad daylight, at the age of 47. No one is prosecuted. Mary Cronk Farrell then jumps back 20 years to trace Sellins’ life organizing garment and mine workers. Full of photos and primary documents, Fannie Never Flinched puts Sellins’ story in the context of the struggles of workers and the labor movement during the “Gilded Age.” As Farrell, a skilled and engaging nonfiction writer, explains in the author’s note, during the research for the book she realized that the murder of Sellins is part of a much larger pattern of violence against working people.
Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl
By Tonya Bolden
This book for upper elementary, based on a memoir by Maritcha Remond Lyons, describes what it was like to be a Black child born free (in New York) during the days of slavery. Included are everyday experiences as well as the Draft riots of 1863, her family’s role in the Underground Railroad, and her graduation as the first Black student from her high school in Providence, RI.
Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter
By Kathy Whitehead, Shane W. Evans
Born in 1886 in Louisiana, Clementine Hunter picked cotton on the Melrose Plantation and was a talented artist. She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art). The book describes how a friend brought Hunter into one of her own exhibits when the gallery was closed because as an African American, Hunter was not allowed to enter.
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters
By Andrea Davis Pinkney, Stephen Alcorn (Illustrator)
Through the stories of ten freedom fighters, including Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm, this book inspires the reader to be courageous and determined in the face of oppression and fear.
In searching for the daily title to feature, our Teaching for Change staff face the stark reminder of how many stories remain untold. Last year we were overjoyed to see Carole Boston Weatherford’s book on Fannie Lou Hamer. But where are the children’s books on Ella Baker, Yuri Kochiyama, Berta Caceras, and countless other women who can inspire and inform our next generation?
The lack of representation is profound. There are a five children’s books on Wangari Maathai and one on Isatou Ceesay, but not one we could find of any other woman of note from contemporary Africa. There is not one children’s books about a Central American historic figure (female or male)—despite the large number of children coming to the U.S. from Central America. This is why we are collaborating on the #StepUpScholastic campaign. As one of the largest publishers and distributors of children’s books, they need to fill these gaps.