I have a few friends who are homeschooling their children, and I love talking with them about the different themes they’re using in their curricula. Recently, they were talking about adding more books to their reading lists that would be good for women’s history topics because of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, and I came up with a few favorite picture books that seemed relevant.
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs (Author) and Paul O. Zelinsky (Illustrator)
Angelica “Swamp Angel” Longrider didn’t seem like much when she was born. I mean, she was barely taller than her mom, and she didn’t build her first log cabin until she was two years old! This tall tale is set in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, and I love to read it out loud because the rhythm feels like home to me as someone who grew up in east Tennessee. If you want to move beyond Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, Angelica Longrider is a perfect choice. Her story can also be used to talk about the real role of female pioneers.
Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner (Author) and Mark Buehner (Illustrator)
This is another story that could work with lessons about frontier women.
If you’re looking for a bit of a twist on a Cinderella theme, then you might enjoy Fanny Agnes, a farm girl in Wyoming. She’s convinced that if a fairy godmother helped one girl find Prince Charming, then a fairy godmother can also help her marry the mayor’s son and never farm again. As she waits in the garden for her fairy godmother to take her to the mayor’s ball, she instead gets a marriage proposal from the boy next door. She chooses her own happily ever after and when the fairy godmother does show up late, Fanny turns down her help.
Frida by Jonah Winter (Author) and Ana Juan (Illustrator)
If you’re familiar with Frida Kahlo, then you may be aware that she used her painting to deal with chronic pain and depression. You may feel that’s too heavy a topic for children, but I think Winter and Juan handle her story beautifully. This could be a springboard to talk to kids about sadness and artistic inspiration in addition to Frida Kahlo’s impact as an artist.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Author) and Frank Morrison (Illustrator)
Melba Liston was a musician who overcame gender barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. I’d never heard of her until I was introduced to this picture book through a segment on NPR. Kids will enjoy seeing Melba succeed after being told at the age of seven that the trombone is just too big for a little girl to play.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (Author) and Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)
Kate Sessions grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, and she loved trees and getting dirty. She eventually earned a degree in natural science and moved to San Diego. San Diego was a dry desert town, and she missed the big trees back home, so she introduced hundreds of trees through leasing agreements with the city. Today, she’s sometimes referred to as the mother of Balboa Park.