- Darcie Caswell
Children are big dreamers, but it can be hard for them to sustain those dreams when faced with adversity or even just plain apathy they sometimes face. I am especially reminded of this now, during Women’s History Month, when I am reading about women throughout history who had to fight hard to achieve their goals and dreams, and thinking about how hearing these stories can inspire children today to keep pursuing their dreams. Children can see in these tenacious women examples of what is possible with hard work and dedication.
For the preschool and early elementary crowd, the Little People, Big Dreams series presents the life stories of several influential women from arts, politics, and science, including Marie Curie, Maya Angelou, Coco Chanel, and Emmeline Pankhurst. These women’s decades of work and accomplishments are difficult to boil down into a minimal number of words across only a few pages, but these books engage young readers by capturing the essence of each woman’s work in words young children can understand. In the biography of Emmeline Pankhurst, for example, author Lisbeth Kaiser explains, “Emmeline and her daughters became the leaders of a new group of women, a group that would stop following the rules and would fight for their rights.”
Like Little People, Big Dreams, Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World is written in a way that young children understand, concisely conveying key information and using dynamic illustrations to bring the stories to life. In each two-page spread, young readers learn about an American woman who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, with a short paragraph succinctly describing the challenges each faced and how she persisted to achieve her dream, along with an inspiring quote from each woman. Some of the women in She Persisted are not those typically featured and may be new to children: Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman nine months before Rosa Parks; Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman “to serve as both a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator”; Florence Griffith Joyner, who still holds track and field records for the 100- and 200-meter races, which she set at the 1988 Olympics.
For young readers keenly interested in science and ready to step beyond picture books, Rachel Ignotofsky has written Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. The book considers women’s contributions to the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), beginning with the ancient Egyptian philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician Hypatia and concluding with women who are making contributions today. Many women who worked in these fields were not recognized at the time, had their work claimed by others, or have been forgotten. Women in Science seeks to correct the record of scientific accomplishment by acknowledging these 50 women’s accomplishments, as well as the challenges they faced in their lives. The stories are illustrated, and complemented by features like a timeline of events in the advancement of women, and charts showing how the numbers of women in STEM studies and careers have changed over time.
While What Would She Do? 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women, by Kay Woodward, presents biographies of 25 trailblazing women such as Catherine the Great, Harriet Tubman, and Jane Goodall, it is the “What would she do?” question at the end of each story that uniquely ties the lives of these historical women to today’s readers. The questions relate to challenges today’s girls face and are addressed by including advice on what the trailblazing women would do in these modern situations. Cleopatra’s story is followed by a question about wearing clothes that get ridiculed by peers, and the question, “What would Cleopatra do?” The answer is that “Cleopatra would carry on wearing what she loved... and know that as long as she felt great, she’d look great too.”
This article originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star.