Picture Books of Amazing Women in History

Parents may remember snuggling a soft, new baby in their arms and realizing—wait, I have to teach this person everything. EVERYTHING. The weight of the task can feel daunting and some topics might seem downright unfathomable to have to share: Holocaust. Racism. Homophobia. Residential schools. Everything.

Picture books, which have long been suggested as a tool for difficult conversations, can be used as a starting place for conversations that are messy, seemingly abstract and confusing.

During the last year, I made a conscious decision to focus on picture book biographies, but specifically true stories about strong women. Women’s contributions have largely been under-recorded in history and this seemed like a perfect place to start. Lucky for me, my kids soak up facts and love learning about true people so it was a perfect fit. 

After reading book after book where a woman was told not to pursue her passions because it wasn’t proper for a woman at that time, my kids began to connect the dots on their own. Discussions about how a woman wasn’t treated fairly led to the realization that women weren’t treated well for much of history. Once we established that concept, it was easier to expand the discussion and read more books about other groups facing discrimination.  

As my children continue to grow and learn more about the world, I know there are more detailed conversations about how women, people of colour, Indigenous people, disabled people, queer people, transgendered people, immigrants and more are STILL persecuted, ignored and bullied. I’m pretty sure my kids think this awful behaviour is in the past, despite my hints to the contrary. Again, it’s a task that feels daunting, but we’ve built the foundation for these discussions and I will continue to turn to books as a way to unpack the complexities of the world.

Here are seven of my favourite books to support the difficult but essential conversations with young children:

1. Hidden Figures, opens a new window by Margot Lee Shetterly

Based on the New York Times bestselling book and the Academy Award-nominated movie, author Margot Lee Shetterly and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award winner Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers!

Available as a book, opens a new window and eBook.

2. I Dissent, opens a new window by Debbie Levy

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has 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.

Add the book, opens a new window, to your shelf.

3. I Am Helen Keller, opens a new window by Brad Meltzer

The story of Helen Keller, who learned to read and write despite being deaf and blind, and became an activist who fought for the rights of disabled people

Available as a book, opens a new window and eBook

4. She Made A Monster, opens a new window by Lynn Fulton

This fascinating story gives readers insight into the tale behind one of the world's most celebrated novels and the creation of an indelible figure that is recognizable to readers of all ages.

Add the book, opens a new window, to your shelf.

5. Coco Chanel by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Following the death of her mother, Coco spent her early life in an orphanage, where she was taught how to use a needle and thread. From there, she became a cabaret singer, seamstress, hat maker, and, eventually, the world's most famous fashion designer. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back , including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the designer's life.

Add the book, opens a new window, to your shelf.

6. Me, Frida by Amy Novesky

Like a tiny bird in a big city, Frida Kahlo feels lost and lonely when she arrives in San Francisco with her husband, the famous artist Diego Rivera. It is the first time she has left her home in Mexico. And Frida wants to be a painter too. But as Frida begins to explore San Francisco on her own, she discovers more than the beauty, diversity, and exuberance of America. She finds the inspiration she needs to become one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Me, Frida is an exhilarating true story that encourages children to believe in themselves so they can make their own dreams soar.

Add the book, opens a new window, to your shelf.

7. Shaking Things Up by Susan Hood

Introduces fourteen revolutionary young women who, through persistence and determination, created change in the world and paved the way for the next generation of female trailblazers and activists.

Add the book, opens a new window, to your shelf.


Looking for more? View the complete list of Amazing Women in History: Picture Books.