The best picture books on strong inspiring women

Who am I?

As a picture-book writer and illustrator as well as a mother and teacher, the most important goal I can think of is fueling a child’s imagination with possibilities by providing true stories of trailblazing women. My reviews highlight remarkable women in the arts, government, sports, social work, and history. I hope you enjoy these books!


I wrote...

Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights

By Jennifer Merz,

Book cover of Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights

What is my book about?

When Frances Perkins witnessed New York City’s Triangle Factory fire in 1911, her desire to help the American worker transformed into a lifelong mission. Determined to fix workplace injustices at a time when women were discouraged from speaking up let alone having careers, she became the first woman in a U.S. Presidential Cabinet and the force behind the New Deal, vast programs that protect workers to this day.

In Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers’ Rights, writer/illustrator Jennifer J. Merz introduces readers to Frances Perkins’ extraordinary life and legacy. This book will delight children and adults alike with handcrafted art and an engaging true story. Fully annotated back matter provides a perfect opportunity to learn more. This is the inspiring story of a heroic trailblazer, the most important woman you may not have heard of—yet!

The books I picked & why

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Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

By Michelle Markel, Melissa Sweet (illustrator),

Book cover of Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Why this book?

Brave Girl is the amazing story of Clara Lemlich and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Clara, a young Jewish immigrant who could not speak English upon arrival in New York, was instrumental in fighting against poor treatment of textile factory workers, leading the largest walkout of women workers in US history. Clara embodies ‘being able to do what you put your mind to,’ spending long hours studying, working, and advocating for downtrodden workers, fighting for fairness. This book not only inspires activism, but provides readers with a glimpse into the harsh realities of past working environments. Told clearly and sensitively, Brave Girl is a wonderful blend of historical content, engaging story, and imaginative illustrations. This book should not be missed!


Dangerous Jane: the Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace

By Suzanne Slade, Alice Ratterree (illustrator),

Book cover of Dangerous Jane: the Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace

Why this book?

This is a marvelous picture book on Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in 1889. Hull House was a Chicago settlement house for newly-arrived European immigrants. When we first meet Jane, she is a sad, sickly child who relates to those living without hope. She promises to help them when she grows up – and she does! Through her tenacity and grit, she studies, travels, and figures out how to help struggling families. 

Called “Saint Jane” when Hull House opened, she also formed the Women’s Peace Party during WWI. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jane Addams is an inspiration. The text of Dangerous Jane is spare, clear, and poetic; illustrations are beautifully drawn and carefully designed. This book is a treasure!


Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

By Kyo Maclear, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

Why this book?

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a visual feast! Pages are strewn with illustrations created in designer colors and, of course, Schiaparelli’s signature color: SHOCKING PINK! Entering this book, readers might have the impression of sniffing a fragrant bouquet of flowers or savoring an Italian pastry. Schiaparelli’s life was not easy, but her resolve to conquer her problems and become an artist/fashion designer is inspiring. She Blooms! The true story is engaging and fast-paced. The pictures are imaginative and exciting, just like Schiap herself. Get your hands on this book. You won’t be disappointed!


Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

By Selina Alko,

Book cover of Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

Why this book?

“Joni Mitchell painted with words,” begins this beautifully lyrical book on the well-known singer/song-writer. The colorful and imaginative collage illustrations jump off the page, telling the story of the girl from a small town in Canada who vanquished polio to go on to become a household name. Joni Mitchell used poetry to paint her feelings into song. We know her music and lyrics as a familiar soundtrack to our lives; now children can learn about the enigmatic spirit behind all that creative musicality.


Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams

Why this book?

Many people know of the Williams sisters, titans in the world of professional tennis. But do you know of their struggles to gain their top-rated spots in the sport? This book highlights Venus’ and Serena’s challenges to overcome racism, poverty, and neighborhood violence to take their places as women admired for their determination, courage, and sisterly love besides their excellence in worldwide championships. Masterful collage illustrations draw readers into this story like a riveting tennis match. Sports fan or not, you will love this book!


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Canada, social reformers, and 20th century?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Canada, social reformers, and 20th century.

Canada Explore 196 books about Canada
Social Reformers Explore 18 books about social reformers
20th Century Explore 696 books about 20th century

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty, and Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs if you like this list.