As the holiday season approaches, we’re paying tribute to the visionaries of the past with a collection of books that honor the leading ladies who paved the way for generations to come. Whether you’re shopping for a girl with a change-the-world attitude or a woman in search of gifted role models, these books are sure to inspire.
BRAINS AND BRAWN
Mathematicians and physicists, smugglers and spies, suffragettes and explorers—you’ll find them all in Wonder Women, Sam Maggs’ spirited tribute to 25 pioneering females. Maggs, the bestselling author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, has put together an intriguing roundup of thinkers and doers who forged new paths in their chosen areas. Notables include algorithm whiz Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), daughter of Lord Byron and creator of code for an early computer, and inventor Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914), designer of—among other devices—a machine that mass-produced flat-bottomed paper sacks.
Maggs provides brief bios for each of her subjects, and her off-the-cuff prose style and winning sense of humor keep the proceedings lively. Maggs’ lineup of influential females is well curated and inclusive, while smart illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino bring the ladies to life. Wonder Women is a must-read for the girl who’s a bit of a geek.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
Featuring an epic roster of female athletes, Molly Schiot’s Game Changers is a stirring tribute to the record setters, barrier breakers and milestone makers who opened the way for the women competitors of today. Inspired by Schiot’s popular Instagram account, @TheUnsungHeroines, this adrenaline-infused photography book focuses on overlooked but outstanding women athletes—20th-century sports greats who aren’t household names but should be.
Schiot shares the stories of luminaries like mountain climber Annie Smith Peck, who caused a scandal in 1895 when she ascended the Matterhorn in pants instead of a skirt, and Bernice Gera, pro baseball’s first female umpire, who was harassed by the men in her class at the Florida Baseball School. From bullfighting to boxing, every corner of the sports world is represented. Discussions between legendary ladies like soccer player Abby Wambach and Title IX advocate Margaret Dunkle provide background on the place of women in a male-dominated industry. Packed with classic photographs, Schiot’s book is a gold-medal gift idea for the sports fan.
INK, TYPE AND INSPIRATION
Grassroots gals Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring create art with the power to incite—and unite—women of every age and stage. They’re the team behind Dead Feminists, the broadside series they crank out (literally) via printing press, using hand-drawn lettering and imagery to highlight quotes from famous feminists. A new book based on the series captures the duo’s crisp press work and knack for making bold statements through innovative design.
In Dead Feminists, O’Leary and Spring honor 27 illustrious ladies—strong-willed leaders who changed the world through leadership, literature, art and education. Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, Shirley Chisholm, Emma Goldman and other eminent feminists are profiled in chapters filled with vintage photographs, ephemera and, of course, the team’s original broadsides, which are stop-the-presses sensational. Beautifully designed all the way down to endpapers showing a collage of nifty type blocks, this volume has a handcrafted quality. Insights into the printing process and a rousing foreword by Jill Lepore make this the ultimate gift for the gutsy girl.
SO BAD THEY'RE GOOD
One hundred remarkable women get the diva treatment in Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History, a sparkling celebration of formidable females who lived their lives outside the constraints of convention. As Shen explains in the introduction, “To be a bad girl is to break any socially accepted rule.” These trailblazing ladies did just that and more, transcending the boundaries imposed by gender to leave a permanent imprint on popular culture.
Shen includes innovators of every era, from Cleopatra, the original bad girl, to anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and feisty figures of the present day like Tina Fey. Brief biographical essays provide background on the lives and accomplishments of these iconic individualists, who, as Shen puts it, “knocked up against that glass ceiling and made a tiny fissure or full-on crack.” Activists and artists, musicians and politicians, cinema stars and scientists—these bad girls definitely made good. Shen’s elegant watercolor illustrations round out this salute to a group of distinguished grandes dames.
ESSAYS WITH ATTITUDE
Frank and fearless—there’s no better way to describe The Bitch Is Back, a collection of 25 essays contributed by some of today’s top female writers. Edited by Cathi Hanauer, it’s a companion to The Bitch in the House (2002), the bestselling anthology that took stock of the female experience at the start of the century.
Nine writers from the first volume return in this edgy collection, along with new contributors like Julianna Baggott and Sandra Tsing Loh. Ranging in age from 38 to 60-plus, they speak their minds on motherhood, monogamy and midlife. With barbed humor, Pam Houston ruminates on five realizations that have accompanied aging (#3: “I don’t care what men think of me anymore.”), while Jennifer Finney Boylan recalls “the strange blessings of turbulence” connected to coming out as transgender. Susanna Sonnenberg and Cynthia Kling both reflect on making major decisions at midlife. Filled with hard-won wisdom and more than a little good news (getting older is definitely liberating!), The Bitch Is Back will motivate gals to take a kick-butt attitude into 2017.