Looking for the best picture books with strong female characters to read with your kids? Here are some great picture books for primary and upper elementary grades or for classroom read alouds with strong female leads. These children’s books include books with fictional strong women protagonists and real life female heroes for students to study. Ideas for elementary school teachers looking for children’s books with female protagonists including lesson plans and activities! Great for Kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth or fifth grade.
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Picture Books With Strong Female Characters
Books with True Female Heroines
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer
This book tells the story Mary Golda Ross’s journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the narrative highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all.
You Are a Star Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Dean Robbins
Make way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg! It’s RBG like you’ve never seen her before! Using a unique mix of first-person narrative, hilarious comic panels, and essential facts, Dean Robbins introduces young readers to an American trailblazer.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Inspired by the story of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. When Little Mae was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars floating gliding and discovering. Follow Mae as she learns that if you can dream it and you work hard for it, anything is possible. An amazing story about a diverse scientist!
Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra
During the nineteenth century, Sarah Josepha Hale dedicated her life to making Thanksgiving a national holiday, all while raising a family and becoming a groundbreaking writer and women’s magazine editor. Sarah Hale’s inspiring story, accompanied by luscious watercolor illustrations, tells the tale of one woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
The inspirational true story of Ruby Bridges. The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her.
Planting Stories: The Life Of Librarian And Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Denise
When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy.
Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle
Pura Belpre-winning illustrator Rafael Lopez brings us one of my favorite lesser-known narrative non-fiction books. As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too—the Civil War.
Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it most? This is also a great book for Hispanic Heritage Month!
She Made a Monster by Lynn Fulton
On a stormy night two hundred years ago, a young woman sat in a dark house and dreamed of her life as a writer. She longed to follow the path her own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, had started down, but young Mary Shelley had yet to be inspired.
As the night wore on, Mary grew more anxious. The next day was the deadline that her friend, the poet Lord Byron, had set for writing the best ghost story. After much talk of science and the secrets of life, Mary had gone to bed exhausted and frustrated that nothing she could think of was scary enough. But as she drifted off to sleep, she dreamed of a man that was not a man. He was a monster.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.
Pocket Full of Colors by Amy Guglielmo
Mary Blair lived her life in color: vivid, wild color. From her imaginative childhood to her career as an illustrator, designer, and animator for Walt Disney Studios, Mary wouldn’t play by the rules. At a time when studios wanted to hire men and think in black and white, Mary painted twinkling emerald skies, peach giraffes with tangerine spots, and magenta horses that could fly. If you want a great book for an art connection, this is a great choice!
She painted her world.
Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood
Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation. This is a truly inspiring diverse picture book that works for a variety of topics like Hispanic Heritage Month or Earthy Day.
The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins
Unearth the true story of green-thumbed pioneer and activist Kate Sessions, who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.
Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.
Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.
Shark Lady by Jess Keating
Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.
Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to. A great book about women in science and to encourage the budding marine biologist in your students!
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
We are resilience, We are hope, We are dreamers.
Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.
Dreamers is a celebration of making your home with the things you always carry: your resilience, your dreams, your hopes and history. It’s the story of finding your way in a new place, of navigating an unfamiliar world and finding the best parts of it. In dark times, it’s a promise that you can make better tomorrows.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca
When young Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism, no one expected her to talk, let alone become one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Yet, the determined visual thinker did just that. Her unique mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the globe!
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Once upon a time (but not that long ago), girls only wore dresses. And only boys wore pants.
Until one day, a young girl named Mary had an idea: She would wear whatever she wanted. And she wanted to wear pants! This bold, original picture book encourages readers to think for themselves while gently challenging gender and societal norms.
The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti
When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set-she had to be a part of it. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi. This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. A really heroic part of women’s history.
Helen’s Big World by Doreen Rappaport
This picture book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world’s most influential luminaries: Helen Keller. With her signature style of prose laced with stirring quotes, Doreen Rappaport brings to life Helen Keller’s poignant narrative. An unforgettable portrait of a woman whose vision for innovation and progress changed America—and the world—forever, despite being blind and deaf.
Rescue and Jessica by Jessica Kensky
Rescue thought he’d grow up to be a seeing eye dog — it’s the family business, after all. When he gets the news that he’s better suited to being a service dog, he’s worried that he’s not up to the task. Then he meets Jessica, a girl whose life is turning out differently than the way she’d imagined it, too. Now Jessica needs Rescue by her side to help her accomplish everyday tasks. And it turns out that Rescue can help Jessica see after all: a way forward, together, one step at a time. An endnote from the authors tells more about the training and extraordinary abilities of service dogs, particularly their real-life best friend and black lab, Rescue.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey
How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, one of the friends, Lord Byron, suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary Shelley has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley’s terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published — a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time. In creating this story, she also created the science fiction genre earning her much celebrity, making this one of my favorite children’s books about women in sports and entertainment.
Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker
You’ve likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe.
Brave Ballerina by Michelle Meadows
Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. It tells her story from her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera. An excellent book for Black History Month!
Storm Run by Libby Riddles
In 1985, Libby Riddles made history by becoming the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. This brand-new edition of Riddles’s timeless adventure story is complete with updated narrative details, sidebars on all aspects of the race, photographs, and all-new illustrations by beloved illustrator Shannon Cartwright. An inspiration to children and adults everywhere, this is a compelling first-hand account of the arctic storms, freezing temperatures, loyal sled dogs, and utter determination that defined Riddles’s Iditarod victory.
Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers as a young girl. She knew how many miles it was to the moon (and how many back). She loved studying algebra and geometry and calculus and using math to solve problems in the outside world. Soon math led her to MIT and then to helping NASA put a man on the moon! She handwrote code that would allow the spacecraft’s computer to solve any problems it might encounter. Apollo 8, Apollo 9, Apollo 10 and Apollo 11. Without her code, none of those missions could have been completed. An excellent book about women in STEM!
Miss Paul and the President by Dean Robbins
When Alice Paul was a child, she saw her father go off to vote while her mother had to stay home. But why should that be? So Alice studied the Constitution and knew that the laws needed to change. But who would change them? She would! In her signature purple hat, Alice organized parades and wrote letters and protested outside the White House. She even met with President Woodrow Wilson, who told her there were more important issues to worry about than women voting. But nothing was more important to Alice. So she kept at it, and soon President Wilson was persuaded. One of the great books for Women’s History as well!
Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff
As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too—the Civil War.
Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it most?
Frida Kahlo And Her Animalitos by Monica Brown
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, is based on the life of one of the world’s most influential painters, Frida Kahlo, and the animals that inspired her art and life.
The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, her dramatic works featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her work brought attention to Mexican and indigenous culture and she is also renowned for her works celebrating the female form.
My Name Is Celia Cruz by Monica Brown
This bilingual book allows young readers to enter Celia Cruz’s life as she becomes a well-known singer in her homeland of Cuba, then moves to New York City and Miami where she and others create a new type of music called salsa.
Solving The Puzzle Under The Sea by Robert Burleigh
Marie Tharp was always fascinated by the ocean. Taught to think big by her father who was a mapmaker, Marie wanted to do something no one had ever done before: map the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Was it even possible? Not sure if she would succeed, Marie decided to give it a try. Despite past failures and challenges—sometimes Marie would be turned away from a ship because having a woman on board was “bad luck”—Marie was determined to succeed. And she did, becoming the first person to chart the ocean floor, helping us better understand the planet we call home.
For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George
She grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent. Discover Malala’s story through this powerful narrative telling, and come to see how one brave girl named Malala changed the world.
I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.
Me…Jane by Patrick Mcdonnell
In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of “a life living with and helping all animals,” until one day she finds that her dream has come true. This is an amazing book to read during Women’s History Month or as a read aloud for Earth Day!
Caroline’s Comets by Emily Arnold McCully
With courage and confidence, Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) becomes the first woman professional scientist and one of the greatest astronomers who ever lived. Born the youngest daughter of a poor family in Hanover, Germany, Caroline was scarred from smallpox, stunted from typhus, and used by her parents as a scullery maid. But when her favorite brother, William, left for England, he took her with him. The siblings shared a passion for stars, and together they built the greatest telescope of their age, working tirelessly on star charts.
Using their telescope, Caroline discovered fourteen nebulae and two galaxies, was the first woman to discover a comet, and became the first woman officially employed as a scientist–by no less than the King of England. The information from the Herschels’ star catalogs is still used by space agencies today.
Leave It to Abigail by Barb Rosenstock
Everyone knew Abigail was different.
Instead of keeping quiet, she blurted out questions. Rather than settling down with a wealthy minister, she married a poor country lawyer named John Adams. Instead of running from the Revolutionary War, she managed a farm and fed hungry soldiers. Not to leave the governing to men, she insisted they “Remember the Ladies.” Instead of fearing Europe’s kings and queens, she boldly crossed the sea to represent her new country. And when John become President of the United States, Abigail became First Lady, and a powerful advisor.
So Tall Within by Gary Schmidt
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery but possessed a mind and a vision that knew no bounds. So Tall Within traces her life from her painful childhood through her remarkable emancipation to her incredible leadership in the movement for rights for both women and African Americans. Her story is told with lyricism and pathos by Gary D. Schmidt, one of the most celebrated writers for children in the twenty-first century, and brought to life by award winning and fine artist Daniel Minter. This combination of talent is just right for introducing this legendary figure to a new generation of children.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.
Ada Lovelace Poet of Science by Diane Stanley
Two hundred years ago, a daughter was born to the famous poet, Lord Byron, and his mathematical wife, Annabella. Like her father, Ada had a vivid imagination and a creative gift for connecting ideas in original ways. Like her mother, she had a passion for science, math, and machines. It was a very good combination. Ada hoped that one day she could do something important with her creative and nimble mind.
A hundred years before the dawn of the digital age, Ada Lovelace envisioned the computer-driven world we know today. And in demonstrating how the machine would be coded, she wrote the first computer program. She would go down in history as Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.
Elizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Lee Stone
Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood up and fought for what she believed in. From an early age, she knew that women were not given rights equal to men. But rather than accept her lesser status, Elizabeth went to college and later gathered other like-minded women to challenge the right to vote.Here is the inspiring story of an extraordinary woman who changed America forever because she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Danza!: Amalia Hernández And Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh
As a child, Amalia Hernández saw a pair of dancers in the town square. The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the beat inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.
Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier. She began traveling through the Mexican countryside, witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage. She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as el Ballet Folklórico de México. A great book for Hispanic Heritage Month!
Joan Procter Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez
Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!
When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.
Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark
Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English.” Throughout her life, Hopper succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly was “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys. An excellent story for Women’s History Month!
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life by Laurie Wallmark
Movie star by day, ace inventor at night: learn about the hidden life of actress Hedy Lamarr! To her adoring public, Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous movie star, widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world. But in private, she was something more: a brilliant inventor. And for many years only her closest friends knew her secret. Now Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu, who collaborated on Sterling’s critically acclaimed picture-book biography Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, tell the inspiring story of how, during World War Two, Lamarr developed a groundbreaking communications system that still remains essential to the security of today’s technology.
The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh
When American soldiers entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, knew she had to act. Some of the soldiers were her students and friends. Almost single-handedly, Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today.
Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford
I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free…
Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman hears these words from God one summer night and decides to leave her husband and family behind and escape. Taking with her only her faith, she must creep through woods with hounds at her feet, sleep for days in a potato hole, and trust people who could have easily turned her in. But she was never alone. This one can get a little preachy at times, but that was how Harriet Tubman was. Certainly a book worth of being one of the best read aloud books for 5th grade.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.
This beautifully illustrated volume tells Malala’s story for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed Malala to hold on to hope even in the most difficult of times. A great book to read for Women’s History Month or for talking about activism and making a difference.
Malala A Brave Girl From Pakistan Iqbal a Brave Boy From Pakistan by Jeanette Winter
One country: Pakistan. Two children: Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousafzai. Each was unafraid to speak out. He, against inhumane child slavery in the carpet trade. She, for the right of girls to attend school. Both were shot by those who disagreed with them—he in 1995, she in 2012. Iqbal was killed instantly; Malala miraculously survived and continues to speak out around the world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her work. The stories of these two courageous children whose bravery transcended their youth, beautifully written and illustrated by celebrated author Jeanette Winter, are an inspiration to all.
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared. In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?
Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love. What I love about this book and what makes it one of the best read aloud books for 5th grade is how it helps students understand how Nasreen felt.
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
This picture book was banned or challenged by a few schools due to its positive portrayal of Middle Eastern cultures.
In the Spring of 2003, Alia Muhammad Baker was the city of Basra’s real-life librarian. She was the keeper of cherished books and her library was a haven for community gatherings. But with war imminent in Basra, Iraq, what could this lone woman do to save her precious books? This true story of one librarian’s remarkable bravery reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge knows no boundaries.
Frida by Jonah Winter
This stunning picture book is the perfect gift for art enthusiasts of all ages. When her mother was worn out from caring for her five sisters, her father gave her lessons in brushwork and color. Later, polio kept her bedridden for nine months, drawing saved her from boredom. When a bus accident left her in unimaginable agony, her paintings expressed her pain and depression – and eventually, her joys and her loves.
Over and over again, Frida Kahlo turned the challenges of her life into art. A playful, insightful tribute to one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists. Viva Frida!
Yeh-Shen by Ai-Ling Louie
Half-starved and overworked by her stepmother, Yeh-Shen’s only friend is a fish with golden eyes. When the stepmother kills the fish for dinner, poor Yeh-Shen is left with only the bones. But the bones are filled with a powerful spirit. When Ye-Shen is forbidden to attend the annual spring Festival, the spirit grants her a gown of azure blue and delicate golden slippers. That night, everyone marvels at the beautiful, mysterious young woman at the ball.
Selena: Queen of Tejano Music by Silvia Lopez
Selena Quintanilla’s music career began at the age of nine when she started singing in her family’s band. She went from using a hairbrush as a microphone to traveling from town to town to play gigs. But Selena faced a challenge: People said that she would never make it in Tejano music, which was dominated by male performers. Selena was determined to prove them wrong.
Born and raised in Texas, Selena didn’t know how to speak Spanish, but with the help of her dad, she learned to sing it. With songs written and composed by her older brother and the fun dance steps Selena created, her band, Selena Y Los Dinos, rose to stardom! A true trailblazer, her success in Tejano music and her crossover into mainstream American music opened the door for other Latinx entertainers, and she became an inspiration for Latina girls everywhere. In addition to being one of my favorite children’s books about women in sports and entertainment, this would also be an excellent book for Women’s History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Key From Spain by Debbie Levy
When Flory’s ancestors are forced to leave Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, they take with them their two most precious possessions―the key to their old house and the Ladino language. Later, when Flory flees Europe during World War II to begin a new life in the United States, she carries Ladino with her, along with her other precious possessions―her harmoniku and her music. But what of the key? An interesting story about a famous Jewish American!
The Turkey Girl
This is a truly Native American fairytale as told by Indigenous author Penny Pollock based on a Zuni Cinderella story. The lesson in the story even follows Native American story structure. This book would also be excellent for November’s Native American Heritage Month!
Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King
MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of Jim Crow, she couldn’t just go to any beach–most of the beaches in Jacksonville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather bought a beach that African American families could enjoy without being reminded they were second class citizens; he called it American Beach. Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It’s here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.
After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others, so determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home.
Strong Fictional Females Characters:
Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martínez-Neal
Zonia’s home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning, she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer? Acclaimed author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal explores the wonders of the rain forest with Zonia, an Asháninka girl, in her joyful outdoor adventures.
Watercress by Andrea Wang
Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.
At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress. A great book about Asian Americans and family history.
Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard
The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again. Spitballs stuck to the ceiling. Paper planes whizzing through the air. They were the worst-behaved class in the whole school.
So begins this quirky classic, first published in 1977 and still relevant today as a lighthearted reminder to show our appreciation to those we value. The students don’t proffer a shred of respect for their good-natured teacher Miss Nelson, but when the witchy substitute Miss Viola Swamp appears on the scene, they start to regret their own wicked ways.
Olivia by Ian Falconer
It’s everyone’s favorite pig…it’s OLIVIA! Join Olivia as she…dresses up,sings songs, builds sand castles, naps (maybe), dances, paints on walls, and—wears out her mom—
…finally goes to sleep at last.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie—stars of their own New York Times bestselling picture books Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer—Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Rosie Revere: currently the most famous children’s book engineer. Rosie Revere dreamed of becoming a great engineer. Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration. Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends. Hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats: Rosie’s gizmos would astound—if she ever let anyone see them.
Afraid of failure, she hides them away under her bed. Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose (AKA Rosie the Riveter!), who shows her that the first flop isn’t something to fear—it’s something to celebrate. And you can only truly fail, if you quit. This is one of the great books about perseverance and to inspire engineering activities for elementary students.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
Every morning, Abuelo walks Sofia to school . . . until one day, when Abuelo hurts his ankle at a local landfill and he can no longer do so. Sofia (aka Sofi) misses her Abuelo and wonders what she can do about the dangerous Mount Trashmore. Then she gets an idea—the town can turn the slimy mess into a park! She brainstorms and plans and finally works up the courage to go to City Hall—only to be told by a clerk that she can’t build a park because she’s just a kid! Sofia is down but not out, and she sets out to prove what one kid can do.
Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Climbing aboard the New York bound Silver Meteor train, Ruth Ellen embarks upon a journey toward a new life up North– one she can’t begin to imagine. Stop by stop, the perceptive young narrator tells her journey in poems, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge mountains.
Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view. As they travel, Ruth Ellen reads from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, reflecting on how her journey mirrors her own– until finally the train arrives at its last stop, New York’s Penn Station, and the family heads out into a night filled with bright lights, glimmering stars, and new possiblity.
Boxes For Katje by Candace Fleming
After World War II there is little left in Katje’s town of Olst in Holland. Her family, like most Dutch families, must patch their old worn clothing and go without everyday things like soap and milk. Then one spring morning when the tulips bloom “thick and bright,” Postman Kleinhoonte pedals his bicycle down Katje’s street to deliver a mysterious box – a box from America! Full of soap, socks, and chocolate, the box has been sent by Rosie, an American girl from Mayfield, Indiana. Her package is part of a goodwill effort to help the people of Europe. What’s inside so delights Katje that she sends off a letter of thanks – beginning an exchange that swells with so many surprises that the girls, as well as their townspeople, will never be the same.
Saturday by Oge Mora
How do you control yourself when everything goes wrong? Today would be special. Today would be splendid. It was Saturday! But sometimes, the best plans don’t work out exactly the way you expect….
In this heartfelt and universal story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong–ruining storytime, salon time, picnic time, and the puppet show they’d been looking forward to going to all week. Mom is nearing a meltdown…until her loving daughter helps her practice a calming strategy and reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all. A great book for social emotional learning!
Thank You Omu by Oge Mora
Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
A young girl and her box of magical yarn transform a community in this stunning picture book. With spare, gently humorous illustrations and a palette that moves from black-and-white to a range of color, this modern fairy tale has the feel of a new classic. This is an amazing book about how one person can change a community completely. With the snowy setting, it makes it one of my favorite winter read alouds!
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Alice made a promise to make the world a more beautiful place, then a seed of an idea is planted and blossoms into a beautiful plan. Barbara Cooney’s story of Alice Rumphius, who longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, has a timeless quality that resonates with each new generation. The countless lupines that bloom along the coast of Maine are the legacy of the real Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, who scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went. Miss Rumphius received the American Book Award in the year of publication.
Grace For President by Kelly DiPucchio
“Where are the girls?” When Grace’s teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school’s mock election. But soon, she realizes that she has entered a tough race. Her popular opponent claims to be the “best man for the job”–and seems to have captured all the male votes–while Grace concentrates on being the best person. In this timely story, author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought–and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.
Nadia’s Hands by Karen English
When Nadia is chosen to be a flower girl in Auntie Laila’s traditional Pakistani wedding, her hands are decorated with beautiful designs made with mehndi, and she comes to understand the rich culture she has inherited.
Teach Us Your Name by Huda Essa
Embracing the diversity of our names is one of the first steps we can take to show our appreciation of diversity and inclusion. Everyone has a name and every name has a story. Teach Us Your Name focuses on the many stories and ways we can all connect by helping children take pride in their many identities and to utilize the opportunity to learn from others. This book lends itself to countless invaluable discussions about cultural norms, languages, unconscious bias, and much more.
Marching With Aunt Susan by Claire Rudolph Murphy
An inspiring story of the fight for women’s suffrage, based on the experiences of a real girl.
All Bessie wants is to go hiking with her father and brothers. But it’s 1896, and girls don’t get to hike. They can’t vote either, which Bessie discovers when Susan B. Anthony comes to town to help lead the campaign for women’s suffrage. Stirred to action, Bessie joins the movement and discovers that small efforts can result in small changes―and maybe even big ones. A great book for Women’s History Month.
Hum and Swish by Matt Myers
It’s a glorious summer day at the shore, and all Jamie wants is to finish her art project in the sand. A little time to herself is all she needs. But everyone around keeps asking her pesky questions she doesn’t know how to answer: what are you making? Aren’t you clever?
Jamie does her best to tune it all out and focus on her creation . . . until she finds a like-minded friend, who’s as happy to work quietly as she is. A great book about creating art.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
“I am the queen!”
Lilly loves all sorts of things. She loves school, she loves dressing up, she even grows to love her stinky baby brother, Julius. In fact, Lilly loves everything! But when Lilly brings her purple plastic purse to school and can’t wait until sharing time to show off the purse and her movie star sunglasses, her teacher, Mr. Slinger, has to take away her prized possessions.
Lilly’s fury leads her to draw a mean picture of her favorite teacher. It isn’t until Mr. Slinger gives her belongings back to her with a kind note and snacks that Lilly realizes she owes Mr. Slinger an apology. A great book for back to school!
Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes
Lilly’s favorite teacher, Mr. Slinger, is getting married, and Lilly is going to be his flower girl! Well, Lilly, thinks she is going to be his flower girl. It turns out that Mr. Slinger’s niece Ginger is the official flower girl. But Lilly rises to the occasion as only Lilly can, turning heartbreak into wedding cake (a delicious three-tiered frosted Swiss cheese, no less), and disappointment into friendship! A #1 New York Times bestseller by Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Grace loves stories, whether they’re from books, movies, or the kind her grandmother tells. So when she gets a chance to play a part in Peter Pan, she knows exactly who she wants to be. Remarkable watercolor illustrations give full expression to Grace’s high-flying imagination. Amazing Grace is an amazing diverse picture book!
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
The girl has a wonderful idea. “She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look, and she knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Eventually, the girl gets really, really mad. She is so mad, in fact, that she quits. But after her dog convinces her to take a walk, she comes back to her project with renewed enthusiasm and manages to get it just right.
The Water Princess by Susan Verde
With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is a beautiful land. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village. And try as she might, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well. Instead of a crown, she wears a heavy pot on her head to collect the water. After the voyage home, after boiling the water to drink and clean with, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own.
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
Water is the first medicine.
It affects and connects us all . . .
When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth
And poison her people’s water, one young water protector
Takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.
Four Feet Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams
When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one.
As the girls go about their routines — washing clothes in the river, waiting in long lines for water, and watching for their names to appear on the list to go to America — the sandals remind them that friendship is what is most important.
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard. With the focus on an array of time periods in American history, this book is definitely one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin
Kameeka yearns to continue her hula hooping competition with her rival, Jamara, rather than help prepare for Miz Adeline’s birthday party, and “the itch” almost ruins the party before the girls learn who the real winner is.
That Book Woman by Heather Henson
Cal is not the readin’ type. Living way high up in the Appalachian Mountains, he’d rather help Pap plow or go out after wandering sheep than try some book learning. Nope. Cal does not want to sit stoney-still reading some chicken scratch. But that Book Woman keeps coming just the same. She comes in the rain and in the snow. She comes right up the side of the mountain, and Cal knows that’s not easy riding. And all just to lend his sister some books. Why, that woman must be plain foolish—or is she braver than he ever thought? If you want to talk about the importance of libraries and reading, this book is perfect!
Journey by Aaron Becker
A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire?
An amazing wordles picture book!
Quest by Aaron Becker
A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two friends sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. An amazing wordless picture book about sharing a quest with a friend.
Return by Aaron Becker
Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It’s her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. This time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall. An amazing wordless picture book!
Emily by Michael Bedard
What if your neighbor were the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson? And what if one day she sent a letter inviting your mother to pay her a visit? A little girl who lives across the street from the mysterious Emily gets a chance to meet the poet when her mother goes to play the piano for her. There, the girl sneaks a gift up to Emily, who listens from the landing, and in return, Emily gives the girl a precious gift of her own—the gift of poetry.
Ruby’s Wish by Bao Phi
Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who’s full of ambition and the family who rewards her hard work and courage.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.
Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess—she’ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.
Unfortunately, they don’t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol—can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.
Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
From Algonquin Indian folklore comes one of the most haunting, powerful versions of the Cinderella tale ever told. In a village by the shores of Lake Ontario lived an invisible being. All the young women wanted to marry him because he was rich, powerful, and supposedly very handsome. But to marry the invisible being the women had to prove to his sister that they had seen him. And none had been able to get past the sister’s stern, all-knowing gaze. Then came the Rough-Face girl, scarred from working by the fire. Could she succeed where her beautiful, cruel sisters had failed? This Cinderella tale is one my favorite fractured fairy tale books for kids!
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell.
Flossie and the Fox by Patricia McKissack
A wily fox, notorious for stealing eggs, meets his match when he encounters a bold little girl in the woods who insists upon proof that he is a fox before she will be frightened.
Someday by Alison McGhee
A mother’s love leads to a mother’s dream — every mother’s dream — for her child to live life to its fullest. A deceptively simple, powerful ode to the potential of love and the potential in life. A book about teaching kids that no matter how young or old, we always need our mothers. The perfect book for Mothers’ Day! Literally everyone will be in tears by the end of the book.
Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann
It’s the first day of school, and Ruby is new. When her classmate Angela wears a red bow in her hair, Ruby comes back from lunch wearing a red bow, too. When Angela wears a flowered dress, suddenly Ruby’s wearing one, too. Fortunately, Ruby’s teacher knows a better way to help Ruby fit in–by showing how much fun it is to be herself!
Best Picture Books With Strong Female Characters
What are some of your favorite picture books with strong female characters? Are there any must read picture books with strong female characters that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!