The best picture books about women writers and artists

Who am I?

I am an award-winning author who grew up in a family of painters, poets, sculptors, and novelists; people who designed their lives around, and dedicated their lives to, artistic expression. I knew I wanted to be a writer at age three when I began dictating a poem every day to my mom. I first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where I read my favorite of her novels, Persuasion.

I wrote...

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

By Jasmine A. Stirling, Vesper Stamper (illustrator),

Book cover of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

What is my book about?

A Most Clever Girl tells the story of the world’s most beloved novelist, Jane Austen, and how she found her singularly witty, mischievous, and rebellious voice as a writer, despite losses that left her financially devastated, emotionally adrift, and unable to write for nearly a decade. 

I wrote this book to help my children, and all children, better understand the creative process—its fits and starts, its moments of exhilaration and frustration, and how it must be nurtured and tended to fully develop. I also enjoyed debunking the image of Jane as a dull spinster. Quite the contrary—Jane was a savage wit and proud rebel, who didn’t hesitate to put mighty men in their place with a few well-placed words. The book’s illustrator, also a devoted Janeite, visited all of the locations in the manuscript to create the artwork, which is lush and pitch perfect, making this book heirloom quality.

The books I picked & why

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The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

By Mac Barnett, Sarah Jacoby (illustrator),

Book cover of The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

Why this book?

I love this subversive, touching, and weird picture book biography about the author of Goodnight, Moon (and more than 100 other books). In 42 pages, Mac has managed to question the whole concept of biography and traditional notions about what children’s books (and all books) should be like—both sentiments reflected in Margaret life and work—while at the same time providing a perfect portrait of the aspects of the author’s life most relevant to her writing, and probing questions of censorship and tastemaking. Among other things, Mac shows young creators how to live in a celebratory manner even if the world seems to have turned its back on their work. He does all this while keeping the reader curious (there’s tension!), engaged (there’s storytelling!), and happy (it’s funny!)—but not too happy (the ending is tragic and philosophical!). This might be my favorite picture book biography of all time.

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott

By Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler, Melissa Sweet (illustrator)

Book cover of Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott

Why this book?

I loved reading this book to my kids, who were immediately drawn into the heartbreaking story of Judith, a girl with Down Syndrome, who was separated from her twin sister, Joyce, and institutionalized for many years. This separation led to great pain for both sisters, until decades later, when Joyce brought Judith home, and enrolled her in an art program for differently-abled people. Slowly, Judith flourished, going on to become an artist of renown, with work displayed in museums and galleries around the world. 

This tremendous story, of the bond between sisters, the therapeutic value of the creative process, and the potential for creating meaning and joy through artistic expression, helped my very young children develop empathy for and a deeper understanding of differently-abled people.

Girl on a Motorcycle

By Amy Novesky, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of Girl on a Motorcycle

Why this book?

I relished this chic, wondrous, adventuresome story of journalist and author Anne-France Dautheville's solo motorcycle ride around the world in the 1970s. As a longtime fan of Amy Novesky’s work, I learned about the project as Amy was developing it, and waited years for the book, which did not disappoint. Amy’s spare, inventive, and poetic prose takes readers on a vivid journey, with distinct, cinematic scenes that make you feel like you’ve taken the trip with Anne-France. 

As creators, we must sometimes seek to know the world in deeper, more intimate ways. My girls were, interestingly, shocked and amazed at Anne-France’s boldness. Although fifty years have passed, Anne-France’s trip seems as intrepid as ever.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

By Suzanne Slade, Cozbi A. Cabrera (illustrator),

Book cover of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Why this book?

This book inspired my family to start reading poetry together, to create playlists of poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and even to have a Calico Critters poetry reading with tiny dollhouse books (the elephants and hedgehogs are especially good poets). 

Exquisite’s extraordinary illustrations and playful prose, which honors Gwendolyn’s rhythms, take us through the poet’s childhood love of poetry—she begins writing as early as 7. Poetry is Gwendolyn’s world. Eventually, her poems are published—first in her neighborhood, then in her city and beyond—but they don’t pay the bills. Then one day a phone call delivers the news: She is the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize! I adored this book, about how art can elevate and bring joy to everyday life—with all its limitations—and gifted it to several families this year.

It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

By Kyo Maclear, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Why this book?

Kyo Maclear is one of my favorite authors—someone who can gracefully transition from biography to graphic novel to memoir without losing her signature style, which is lyrical without being heavy-handed and playful without being cute. Like another book on my list, this one is brilliantly illustrated by the incredible Julie Morstad, who similarly manages to perfectly capture the unique spirit of each subject while remaining singularly herself. 

This story of Gyo Fujikawa, the artist who created the first book featuring babies of all races tumbling and playing happily together, weaves together myriad themes—the women’s suffrage movement, the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII, the sexism in academia, and the racism that first plagued young Gyo at school, and later made it so difficult for the adult Gyo to get her first book published. It manages all this while being effortlessly readable and entertaining. Brava, Kyo!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in circumnavigation, Japanese Americans, and twins?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about circumnavigation, Japanese Americans, and twins.

Circumnavigation Explore 14 books about circumnavigation
Japanese Americans Explore 26 books about Japanese Americans
Twins Explore 38 books about twins

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Defending the Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler''s Aces if you like this list.