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Girl Power: Top Picks for Women's Equality Day

by Anita Silvey
August 15, 2012
During the recent Olympics, many observers commented on the incredible display of American girl power at the events. Over the years children’s books have supplied a lot of portraits of strong girls and women. In honor of Women’s Equality Day on August 26, here is a list of books that showcase “girl power” from The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac.

Picture Books

INDEPENDENT DAMES by Laurie Halse Anderson

“This short text lends itself to all kinds of activities or acts simply as a supplement for more traditional texts. Anderson’s research is thorough and her understanding of young readers, as always, is profound. When I conducted an informal poll of school librarians and teachers, INDEPENDENT DAMES emerged as their favorite book for Women’s History Month. Writing with passion and humor, Laurie Halse Anderson is on a mission to set the record straight. And she does!”

THE DARING NELLIE BLY by Bonnie Christensen

“In THE DARING NELLIE BLY: AMERICA’S STAR REPORTER, Bonnie Christensen creates an exciting portrait of the journalist who at the age of twenty-five captured the world’s fancy.”

YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER! by Shana Corey

“The picture book, YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER! by Shana Corey, focuses on Amelia’s rebellious nature… When she spied Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s cousin Libby wearing a costume that was not a dress—but pantaloons with a skirt over them—Amelia…used the power of the press to advocate for what became known as the ‘bloomer.’”

IMOGENE’S LAST STAND by Candace Fleming

“As Imogene says of her own adventure—‘That was totally fun!’ Celebrate local history by sharing this great read-aloud book with budding historians. After you do, you will probably agree with the words of an eight-year-old boy who loved the book—‘Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had at least a little Imogene in them?’”

ME…JANE by Patrick McDonnell

“September 1 has been set aside to celebrate International Primate Day. I can think of no better way to mark this day than look at the life of Jane Goodall, who has devoted herself to the study and the conservation of chimpanzees.... This message that your childhood dreams can, and do, come true will be welcomed by both parents and children.”

Novels

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott

“Jo March may have inspired more women over the years—including Hilary Clinton and French philosopher Simone de Beauvior—than any other character in a children’s book. As actress Julianne Moore says in EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK, ‘From Jo I learned that a woman could choose…[and] that she has a choice about her career.’”

THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE by Karen Cushman

“THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE is filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of a medieval village. Beetle, who has a single companion, a cat named Purr, makes a great protagonist. She has the liveliness, the spirit, and the determination to make a better place for herself. Ideal for fourth and fifth graders, the book has frequently been taught in classrooms and naturally leads to discussions of medieval villages and life—their fairs and inns and customs.”

THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly

“Living in Fentress, Texas, in 1899, eleven-year-old Callie Vee doesn’t excel in sewing or cooking, but she has a passion for science. Not really an acceptable calling for a girl in the nineteenth century, but her penchant truly makes her crotchety grandfather happy.”

PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren

“Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking, or Pippi for short, lives without parents. Pippi dictates her own rules and nags herself about going to bed at night. With endless money, time, and freedom, she certainly fulfills the fantasy of most children who often think about what life would be like if they had no one to boss them around.”

CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

“The daughter of an artist, Clementine is a true independent spirit. She cuts off all her best friend’s hair—and then destroys her own as well. A cyclone, she spends more time in the principal’s office than in her classroom. Everyone keeps telling her to ‘pay attention’ and she does—to all the things occurring outside the classroom window. But if you need someone with an out-of-the box idea, Clementine will come to the rescue.”

Narrative Nonfiction

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT by Russell Freedman

“As Eleanor Roosevelt began to find the causes of her life—the plight of minorities, the poverty of the disadvantaged—she turned from a shy person into a firebrand, the conscience of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Russell captures this complex marriage—its betrayals and its strength. He shows the final years of Eleanor Roosevelt as she worked in the United Nations and became, as President Harry Truman called her, ‘the First Lady of the World.’”

A BALLET FOR MARTHA by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

“Of all art forms, dance, which depends on movement, remains the hardest to convey in a book—particularly a book for children. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan took on this task in BALLET FOR MARTHA: MAKING APPALACHIAN SPRING and succeeded brilliantly.”

CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE by Phillip Hoose

“In CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE, winner of the National Book Award, author Phillip Hoose presents the life story of this unsung heroine of the Civil Rights Movement. In his fascinating account, told mainly in Claudette’s own words, readers get to see the events of 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, from a different perspective—as they were experienced by a young girl.”

ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM by Tanya Lee Stone

“With extensive research into the period and interviews with the Mercury 13 women— who thought they might actually get to travel into space during a time when only men were considered fit to do so—Stone explores little-known events of the NASA space program. In ALMOST ASTRONAUTS she brings to life the 1960s, a time when women had to think and act outside the box if they wanted to do something other than be a housewife.”

Looking for ways to use these books in your classroom? Check out the ReadWriteThink lesson plans Females in the Spotlight: Strong Characters in Picture Books and Girls Read: Online Literature Circles.

With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including HENRY KNOX: BOOKSELLER, SOLDIER, PATRIOT, I'LL PASS FOR YOUR COMRADE: WOMEN SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR, and, most recently, THE PLANT HUNTERS (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). In October, the print version of The Children's Book-a-Day Almanac will be published by Roaring Brook. Anita continues to add entries to the Almanac's interactive website, which she describes as a "daily love letter to a book or author."

© 2012 Anita Silvey. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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