The best picture books about women who shaped history

Nina Nolan Author Of Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens
By Nina Nolan

The Books I Picked & Why

Eleanor Makes Her Mark

By Barbara Kerley, Edwin Fotheringham

Book cover of Eleanor Makes Her Mark

Why this book?

This delightful picture book opens with Eleanor Roosevelt’s firm footing in the White House. Then it transports us back to her childhood, where we see the foundation for that footing: Eleanor cultivating her own character, way before she met her husband. The wonderful backmatter asks children how they might make their own mark, to enhance their lives…and the world.


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Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

By Alicia Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara

Book cover of Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

Why this book?

The life of Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary novelist and first female African-American anthropologist, was bigger than words. But this picture book catches the uncatchable. The words are gorgeous. And the illustrations further illuminate the portrait, including delightful hats on the endpapers (a hat-tip to Ms. Hurston’s “HATitude”).


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Me... Jane

By Patrick McDonnell

Book cover of Me... Jane

Why this book?

It feels so perfect that Jane Goodall had a stuffed toy chimpanzee, named Jubilee, as a child! This charming picture book uses clear, concise, language and illustrations to portray Jane Goodall realizing her childhood dream (while making history). There’s a message from Ms. Goodall at the end, and she can even be seen reading the book on YouTube.


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Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

By Bethany Hegedus, Tonya Engel

Book cover of Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

Why this book?

Soaring words honor the phenomenal wordsmith, Maya Angelou. Tough topics are tackled with compassion. The broad range of colors in the illustrations echo the broad range of emotions in this beautiful tribute to a national treasure. A forward by Ms. Angelou’s grandson and helpful backmatter cradle the text (like the cover art cradles).


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Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride

By Pam Muñoz Ryan, Brian Selznick

Book cover of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride

Why this book?

This heart-warming picture book celebrates the real-life friendship of two great women, reminding us that greatness doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And their adventure, while unprecedented in history, feels very relatable since it’s essentially a sleepover. At the White House! (With the bonus of the freedom of flying and driving.) The illustrations, while reflecting the time in history, also feel timeless.


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