The best picture books about women breaking barriers

The Books I Picked & Why

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

By Jess Keating, Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

Why this book?

I’ll admit, ever since I saw Jaws as a kid I’ve been terrified of sharks. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. But this book offers readers a much more reasonable view of these mighty creatures of the sea, thanks to the fearless scientist, Eugenie Clark, who studied them. When others doubted her and told her to be a secretary or a housewife instead of a scientist, Eugenie only dove deeper into her work, becoming one of the smartest students in her field. And when others thought sharks were nothing but mindless killers, Eugenie proved them wrong. The extensive back matter and Author’s Note round out this impressive biography.


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Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom

By Teresa Robeson, Rebecca Huang

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom

Why this book?

With a name (Chien Shiung) that means “courageous hero” how could this book about a brilliant female physicist be anything but great? This remarkable story is beautifully told through engaging and emotionally resonant text that has the reader routing for Chien Shiung from beginning to end. The level of physics referenced is approachable and the level of expertise Chein Shiung reached is unmatched. She was a true pioneer who was never deterred by discrimination based on her gender or ethnicity.


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Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

By Traci Sorell, Natasha Donovan

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

Why this book?

I love that this book starts with an introduction to Cherokee values so the reader is able to fully understand their importance and impact on the life of Mary Golda Ross. As a young girl, and the only female in her college math class, she was motivated to excel, and excel she did. In 1950 she became the first female engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Company and was assigned to top-secret projects related to space and weapons programs. This is an inspiring women-in-STEM book with the additional benefit of indigenous values education.


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Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues

By Leah Henderson, George Doutsiopoulos

Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues

Why this book?

The athlete in me was drawn to this story before I even opened the book. I hadn’t heard of Mamie Johnson and I imagine most kids haven’t either so I’m happy Leah Henderson decided to write about her. Ever since she learned about baseball at six years old, Mamie wanted to be on the mound more than anything. But “she already had two strikes against her: She was a girl. She was black.” Despite those challenges, Mamie was always ready to prove she deserved to play and eventually earned a spot pitching for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro League.


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Queen of Tejano Music: Selena

By Silvia López, Paola Escobar

Queen of Tejano Music: Selena

Why this book?

My first introduction to Selena Quintanilla was back in 1997 when Jennifer Lopez played her in the movie, Selena. So, when I saw Silvia López’s book I quickly picked it up. This book is as stunning as it is informative. The text is lengthier than many picture book biographies but it is so well done that the reader is eager to be immersed in this amazing life story. Not only did Selena break barriers within Tejano music, as it was traditionally performed by men, but she also crossed over into mainstream American music which helped open doors for future Latinx entertainers. One of Selena’s favorite sayings was, “Always believe that the impossible is possible,” and that’s definitely a message all kids need to hear.


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