In honor of Women’s History Month, each day Social Justice Books is featuring a children’s book we recommend to highlight grassroots women’s history in the United States.
Find many more titles for children check out the booklist: women’s history and women’s lives.
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)
We begin the month with Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement about the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Beautifully written and illustrated, it is one of the too few books about a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement that is not about King, Parks, or Lewis.
By Phillip M. Hoose
Today is the anniversary of the day (March 2, 1955) when in Montgomery, Alabama, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman. This was nine months before Rosa Parks took the same action. Colvin was motivated by what she had been learning in school about African-American history (note this event follows Black History Month) and the U.S. Constitution. Parks knew Colvin from the NAACP Youth Council and was inspired in part to take her action by Colvin. Read more about Colvin in this upper elementary/middle school book and find more resources from Teaching for Change for teaching outside the textbook about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
By Duncan Tonatiuh
This book tells the story of Sylvia Mendez, who was the central figure in the Mendez v. Westminster school desegregation case in California that preceded Brown v. Board of Education. Author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh (we LOVE all his books) tells the story of how Mexican-born Gonzalo Mendez and Puerto Rican Felicitas Mendez challenged the separate and unequal school system in California. The award-winning book highlights the story of parent organizing. Winner of the Pura Belpre Award and the Américas Book Award.
By Katheryn Russell-Brown, Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
This book tells the story of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the New York state assembly, the first Black woman in Congress, and the first woman and first African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties. Chisholm was an outspoken voice for laws that that helped women, children, students, poor people, farm workers, Native people, and others who were often ignored.
Another book for children about a trailblazing politician is What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Jordan was the first African American congresswoman to come from the deep South and in 1966, became the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate.
By Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.
As reviewer Debbie Reese notes on her invaluable blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, “When most people think of civil rights, their thoughts turn to the 1960s. They may remember photographs of Martin Luther King and others who spoke, marched, or participated in sit-ins. Some people, however, have a different memory of people fighting for civil rights. Their memories are of the 1940’s when Native Alaskans fought for their rights.”
This book by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr. is a too rare title about the fight for civil rights by Native Alaskans. Elizabeth Jean Peratrovich was born in 1911 and a year later, a group of Native people from Southeast Alaska gathered in Sitka and formed the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and two years later, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS). Elizabeth’s father was a founder of the ANB, which is now recognized as the oldest Indigenous civil rights organization in the world. These events are at the forefront of Alaskan civil rights detailed in this book.
We also recommend Sharice’s Big Voice by Sharice Davids with Nancy K. Mays.
By Gretchen Woelfle, Alix Delinois (Illustrator)
Today marks the anniversary of the horrific SCOTUS ruling in Dred [and Harriet] Scott v. Sandford in 1857 that “Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution.” (Harriet Scott filed her own case for freedom that was eventually combined with her husband’s.) We do not know of a good children’s book about Harriet and Dred Scott, so today we highlight Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence. Readers are introduced to Mumbet, a Black woman enslaved in Massachusetts at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Knowing that the promise of freedom and equality should belong to her as well, Mumbet successfully brought a lawsuit against her owners to be free and chose the name Elizabeth Freeman. We highly recommend Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence and we suggest reading it to students of all ages before introducing the Dred Scott decision. It shows that people were appealing to the courts for justice throughout the history of slavery and later Jim Crow — and in some all too rare cases (such as Mumbet’s) the courts ruled as they should have — and in others (Dred Scott, Plessy, and many more) the rulings defied the laws of humanity and in fact international human rights laws. Read examples of how teachers used the book in a middle and upper elementary classroom here.
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, Susan Buckley
On this anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma (March 7, 1965), we share this book about Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who was jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday in her fight for voting rights. Her story shines a light on young people, local people, and women, too often left out of the master narrative about the Civil Rights Movement. We also recommend Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days narrated by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West who were 8 and 9 years old at the time. For these books and more on the history of the Selma to Montgomery Marches visit our recommended booklist for teaching about Selma.
We would also like to note that while there are numerous children’s books on two key men in the Selma to Montgomery Marches — Dr. King and John Lewis — there are no children’s books on many of the female leaders and strategists. Hopefully, Carole Boston Weatherford will be invited to write a series of books following her new title on Fannie Lou Hamer. We’d recommend titles on Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, and many, many more. Check out the book Hands on the Freedom Plow about women in SNCC for more names.
By Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl (Illustrator)
On this International Women’s Day, we feature Rad American Women A-Z. Written for middle grade, it includes illustrations and short bios of women from each letter of the alphabet from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston. Featured women include blacklisted musical prodigy Hazel Scott, Mexican-American journalist Jovita Idar and transgender performance artist Kate Bornstein. We need children’s picture books about each of the women featured in this book as well.
Rad Women Worldwide: Artists, Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History.
By Winifred Conkling
Today marks the anniversary of the 1841 Supreme Court ruling in the Amistad case. Less known is the Pearl incident when in 1848, 77 people in Washington, D.C., made a brave and carefully planned escape from slavery. Tragically, they were apprehended. However, the Pearl became a key event in the fight for the abolition of slavery. We highly recommend this book for middle school to adult. There is also a middle school book on the Amistad, Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad.
Take a Seat–Make a Stand: A Hero in the Family: The Story of Sarah Key Evans, a Civil Rights Hero Who Would Not Be Moved
By Amy Nathan, Sarah K. Evans (With)
The book of the day is about Pfc. Sarah Louise Keys. On Aug. 1, 1952, Keys traveled from Fort Dix, New Jersey, to her family’s home in Washington, North Carolina. During a stop to change drivers, she was told to relinquish her seat to a white Marine and move to the back of the bus. Keys refused to move, was arrested, and eventually, her case was brought before the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Never heard of her? Keys and biographer Amy Nathan tried to share her story, but the publishers said they weren’t interested because they already had a book on Rosa Parks, or that Sarah Louise Keys Evans wasn’t famous so nobody would be interested. So, Nathan published it herself. This means it gets none of the promotion nor distribution of a commercially published book.
We ask everyone to help spread the word about Take a Seat. And write a letter in the #StepUpScholastic campaign. Let them know that our children want to read stories about people who aren’t famous, but should be.
By Mary Cronk Farrell
This beautiful book about early 20th-century labor organizer Fannie Sellins begins with her murder by sheriff’s deputies, in broad daylight, at the age of 47. No one is prosecuted. Mary Cronk Farrell then jumps back 20 years to trace Sellins’ life organizing garment and mine workers. Full of photos and primary documents, Fannie Never Flinched puts Sellins’ story in the context of the struggles of workers and the labor movement during the “Gilded Age.” As Farrell, a skilled and engaging nonfiction writer, explains in the author’s note, during the research for the book she realized that the murder of Sellins is part of a much larger pattern of violence against working people.
By Jo Ann Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy
This dramatic story is told by one of the 12 students — Jo Ann Allen Boyce (in collaboration with children’s book author Debbie Levy), who desegregated their high school in Clinton, Tennessee, one year before the more well-known Little Rock Nine. To tell the powerful story, the authors use free verse interspersed with quotes from newspapers, white supremacist protest signs, preachers’ sermons, and other primary documents from the time. Read a review.
Another excellent book about school desegregation is The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield. Lessons on Brown v. Board of Education should not begin with the 1954 Supreme Court decision but, instead, with the decades of activism that led to the historic ruling. And there is no better way to hook students than with the school walkout led by 15-year-old Barbara Rose Johns in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1951.
March 12 is the anniversary of the Capitol Crawl in 1990, one the most influential protests of the disability rights movement. There is a children’s picture book about 8-year-old activist Jennifer Keelan-Chafins who participated in that event.
That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/¡No Es Justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia
By Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Teneyuca, Celina Marroquin (Editor)
This book for elementary age children is about Emma Tenayuca, born in born in San Antonio, Texas in 1916. Through her work as an educator, speaker, and labor organizer, Tenayuca became known as “La Pasionaria.” From 1934-48, she supported almost every strike in the city, writing leaflets, visiting homes of strikers, and joining them on picket lines.
By Jeanne Theoharis, Adapted by Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert
Rosa Parks is one of the most well-known Americans today, but much of what is known and taught about her is incomplete, distorted, and just plain wrong. Adapted for young people from the NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert shatter the myths that Parks was meek, accidental, tired, or middle class. They reveal a lifelong freedom fighter whose activism began two decades before her historic stand that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and continued for 40 years after.
For younger readers, we recommend Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Rosa is one of the very few children’s books on the Montgomery Bus Boycott to place the roles of Rosa Parks and Dr. King in the context of a movement with a long history and led by women.
More resources for teaching about Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott are available at our Civil Rights Teaching website.
By Dee Romito
This beautifully illustrated picture book highlights a hidden figure of the civil rights movement who fueled the bus boycotts. It tells the story of Georgia Gilmore and the Club from Nowhere — a grassroots project of maids, service workers, and cooks who provided food and funds for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Georgia Gilmore was an excellent cook and baker who used her skills to fight injustice. When the citywide boycott began, Gilmore supported the cause using her remarkable culinary ability and creative thinking, along with other women, they sold their food, using proceeds to support many aspects of the boycott.
By Walter Dean Myers, Bonnie Christensen (Illustrator)
Born into slavery during the Civil War, Ida B. Wells fought hard to better the lives of African Americans and women. “I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it has done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I have said.” This book follows her life from her schooling, raising her siblings after the death of her parents, to her rise to national fame as a journalist, speaker, and anti-lynching activist. In 1881, Wells refused to move from the ladies’ coach on a train, was forcibly removed, then sued the railroad. In 1892 she organized one of the first economic boycotts after three Black men, who owned a grocery store, were murdered by a mob of white men. “This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was. An excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property.” Wells fought for the right of women to vote and at the 1913 suffragette march at Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, she sternly refused to march in the separate colored section.
Another great children’s book about Ida B. Wells is Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader. This is her true story, as told by her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster and brought to life by Coretta Scott King Award Honoree artist Laura Freeman.
By Connie C. Miller, Steve Erwin (Illustrator), Charles Barnett, III (Illustrator)
For Saint Patrick’s Day, the Woman’s History Month Book of the Day is the graphic novel, “Mother Jones: Labor Leader.” Mary Harris “Mother” Jones learned firsthand about injustice when she was a young girl living in Cork County, Ireland. As the potato blight starved the poor, their landlords exported grain and meat–food that could have prevented those deaths. Learn more.
Her family immigrated to North America in the 1850s. After her husband and four children died from yellow fever, Mother Jones dedicated her life to workers’ rights. Jones earned the label “the most dangerous woman in America” by using new organizing strategies that involved women and children in strikes. She organized miners’ wives into teams armed with mops and brooms to guard the mines against scabs and staged parades with children carrying signs that read, “We Want to Go to School and Not to the Mines.”
We also recommend On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights. “Troubled by all she had seen, Mother Jones wanted to end child labor. But what could she do? Why, organize a children’s march and bring the message right to President Theodore Roosevelt at his summer home in Oyster Bay, of course!” Written by Monica Kulling, with illustrations by Felicita Sala, this nonfiction picture book uses an entertaining story about fictitious characters to bring a real event in history to life.
By Eloise Greenfield, Daniel Minter (Illustrator)
This unique picture book begins with an essay on the history of midwives, written in prose that is accessible to young readers and accompanied by archival photographs. The book then switches to poetry and stunningly beautiful illustrations — with vignettes from lives of midwives during slavery, emancipation, and today. Greenfield closes with a poem about Miss Rovenia Mayo of Parmele, North Carolina, the midwife who “caught” her when she was born.
Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese-American Experience during and after the World War II Internment
By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston
Born in California, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was seven years old when her family was forced into the Manzanar internment camp near the Sierra Nevada mountains in Nevada, along with more than 11,000 other Japanese Americans. The memoir describes the Wakatsuki family’s strategies for surviving internment and the harmful effects it had on their family.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom/El Arbol de La Rendicion: Poemas de La Lucha de Cuba Por Su Libertad
By Margarita Engle
Today’s Women’s History Month Book of the Day, in English and Spanish, is about the life of legendary nurse Rosa la Bayamesa during Cuba’s long fight for independence in the 19th century. The book includes the seldom told story of the reconcentration camps that led to the death of 400,000 Cubans. Too often, popular knowledge of Cuba begins and ends with name recognition of the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Fidel Castro. Spanning the years 1850–1899, Engle’s poems tell the story of Cuba’s Wars for Independence. Our thanks to Margarita Engle for this and many more invaluable books for elementary and middle school on Cuba, including Drum Dream Girl.
By Janet Halfmann, London Ladd (illustrator)
Lilly Ann Granderson was an enslaved woman born around 1821. After her mother’s death, she was sent to Kentucky where the plantation owners’ children often played school with Granderson. As a result, she learned to read and went on to teach others in secrecy. After the plantation owner’s death, she was sold to a cotton plantation in Natchez, Mississippi, where it was illegal for people who were enslaved to learn to read. Undeterred, Granderson expanded her education efforts.
By Annette Bay Pimentel
In this book, children are taken on Pura Belpré’s journey of how she came to be a transformational figure in the library system by pioneering bilingual storytelling and making library services accessible to the Latinx community.
By Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve
“This book, the young readers’ version of Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught — a 2017 National Book Award finalist in nonfiction — is a welcome, compelling corrective to the whitewashed version of Revolutionary-era history…a story in which the Anglo men were heroes, the black people were nameless, and slavery was simply, unquestionably, The Way Things Were.” – Anndee Hochman, Broadstreetreview.com
Born into slavery, Ona Judge made a courageous (and dangerous) escape from the most powerful couple in the country, George and Martha Washington. This is her bold and brave story.
By Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson
In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.
By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Jade Johnson (Illustrator)
Introduce students to the activism of Clara Luper, an African American high school teacher who organized lunch counter sit-ins for her students to protest segregation in 1958. The narrative functions as a history lesson and as a guide for when and how to challenge injustice (now and with nonviolent direct action). The author does not shy away from describing the humiliating abuse the children suffered during the sit-in. The artist shows images of Black children covered in food while white patrons yell, throw, and shake their fists. The art is simple but stunning.
By Andrea L. Rogers
On this day, the anniversary of the day in 1839 when the Cherokee came to the end of the forced death march from their ancestral home to the Oklahoma Territory, we share Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story. Written by a Cherokee citizen and featuring nonfiction support material, this story explores the tragedy of forced removals following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory.
By Vanessa Nakate
In today’s book, A Bigger Picture, Vanessa Nakate shares her story as a young Ugandan woman who sees that her community bears disproportionate consequences to the climate crisis. At the same time, she sees that activists from African nations and the global south are not being heard in the same way as activists from white nations are heard. Inspired by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, in 2019 Nakate became Uganda’s first Fridays for Future protestor, awakening to her personal power and summoning within herself a commanding political voice.
By Michelle Markel, Melissa Sweet (Illustrator)
The book of the day is about Clara Lemlich, born March 28, 1886 in Ukraine who said:
I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.
Read about Clara Lemlich at Women and the American Story via the New York Historical Society. The profile begins,
Clara Lemlich Shavelson was born in 1886 in Gorodok, Ukraine. She did not receive a formal education because there were no Jewish schools for girls. But Clara did not let this stop her. She borrowed books from neighbors and hid them in her attic. She was fascinated with Karl Marx and communism. By the time she was a teenager, Clara had formed her own beliefs about the challenges of working-class people.
When Clara was 17, her parents decided to move to America and escape the violence against Jews spreading in Europe. Within two weeks of arriving on New York’s Lower East Side, Clara was working in a garment factory. Because her father found it hard to find a permanent job, Clara was often the primary breadwinner for her family. Continue reading.
Leah Henderson, George Doutsiopoulos (Illustrator)
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was a talented baseball player, but she wasn’t welcome in the segregated All-American Girls Pro Baseball League due to the color of her skin. In 1953, she signed to play ball for the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns, becoming the first female pitcher to play on a men’s professional team. During the three years she pitched for the Clowns, her record was an impressive 33-8. But more importantly, she broke ground for other female athletes and for women everywhere.
Three women played Negro league baseball (women never played in the white major leagues). You can read about Marcenia Lyle Toni Stone, the first woman to play in the Negro leagues, in Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.
By Nancy Churnin, Felicia Marshall (Illustrator)
Another wonderful children’s book about an artist is Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead. Born in 1886 in Louisiana, Clementine Hunter picked cotton on the Melrose Plantation and was a talented artist. She was the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art). The book describes how a friend brought Hunter into one of her own exhibits when the gallery was closed because as an African American, Hunter was not allowed to enter.
By Andrea Davis Pinkney, Stephen Alcorn (Illustrator)
Through the stories of ten freedom fighters, including Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm, this book inspires the reader to be courageous and determined in the face of oppression and fear.
In searching for the daily title to feature, our Teaching for Change staff face the stark reminder of how many stories remain untold. Last year we were overjoyed to see Carole Boston Weatherford’s book on Fannie Lou Hamer. But where are the children’s books on Ella Baker, Yuri Kochiyama, Berta Caceras, and countless other women who can inspire and inform our next generation?
The lack of representation is profound. There are a five children’s books on Wangari Maathai and one each on Isatou Ceesay and Miriam Makeba, but not one we could find of any other woman of note from contemporary Africa. There is not one children’s books about a Central American historic figure (female or male) — despite a large number of children coming to the U.S. from Central America. This is why we are collaborating on the #StepUpScholastic campaign. As one of the largest publishers and distributors of children’s books, they need to fill these gaps.