The best picture books about women breaking barriers

Who am I?

Ever since I was a kid, I felt a strong desire to do the unexpected: A 9-year-old girl watching the World Wrestling Federation on TV and then recreating the action with her neighbors, a 5’2” volleyball player itching to play the front row, that same petite player wanting to join the army after high school. That last one didn’t end up panning out but I’ve always wanted to break out of whatever box I felt society put me in as a female. I love to write stories about women who broke barriers and made it possible for me, and the next generation, to continue to challenge expectations.


I wrote...

Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer's Historic Boston Marathon

By Kim Chaffee, Ellen Rooney (illustrator),

Book cover of Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer's Historic Boston Marathon

What is my book about?

Kathrine Switzer changed the world of running. This narrative biography follows Kathrine from running laps as a girl in her backyard to becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with official race numbers in 1967. Her inspirational true story is for anyone willing to challenge the rules.

The compelling collage art adds to the kinetic action of the story. With tension and heart, this biography has the influential power to get readers into running. An excellent choice for sports fans, New Englanders, young dreamers, and competitive girls and boys alike.

The books I picked & why

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

By Jess Keating, Marta Álvarez Miguéns (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


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

By Teresa Robeson, Rebecca Huang (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


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

By Traci Sorell, Natasha Donovan (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


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

By Leah Henderson, George Doutsiopoulos (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


Queen of Tejano Music: Selena

By Silvia López, Paola Escobar (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Cherokee, Chinese Americans, and Negro league baseball?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Cherokee, Chinese Americans, and Negro league baseball.

Cherokee Explore 6 books about Cherokee
Chinese Americans Explore 29 books about Chinese Americans
Negro League Baseball Explore 9 books about Negro league baseball

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like My First Book of Quantum Physics, Finding Winnie, and Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor if you like this list.