This month, we pay tribute to four sensational ladies who each left a permanent imprint on American culture. The picture books below show these creative women—each a genius in her own right—doing what comes naturally: making history.
The flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner” was sewn in 1813 by Mary Pickersgill, with help from a servant and a handful of relatives that included her young daughter, Caroline. In Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation, Kristen Fulton delivers a spirited retelling of their endeavor from Caroline’s perspective. Designed to be visible to the British from far away, the giant flag—comprised of 350,000 stitches—rides the Baltimore breeze during the War of 1812. When the British attack the city, filling the air with fiery explosions, Caroline’s world turns upside down. Her reactions to a wartorn Baltimore are dramatized in dazzling block-print illustrations by Holly Berry. Featuring a biography of the Pickersgills and the lyrics to Key’s classic, this stirring picture book doubles as a first-rate patriotic primer.
MAKING HISTORY IN THE KITCHEN
Deborah Hopkinson serves up a tasty morsel of Americana with Independence Cake: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History Is Unfortunately Unknown. The year: 1789. The place: the topsy-turvy household of Mrs. Bean and her six boys. Very much in need of assistance, Mrs. Bean brings in Amelia Simmons, an orphan “as strong and young as the new nation itself,” to set matters straight. Amelia does so with brisk efficiency, and she proves to be a natural in the kitchen, whipping up hearty puddings and honey cake with ease. Thanks to her culinary talent, Amelia is soon presented with a revolutionary opportunity—the chance to bake for the country’s first president, George Washington. Inspired by the true story of Amelia, who wrote America’s first cookbook, Hopkinson’s biography features illustrations by the inimitable Giselle Potter. Readers will want seconds—and more!—of this delicious tale.
A YOUNG ARTIST BEAT THE ODDS
Jeanne Walker Harvey’s accessible picture book biography, Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, is a handsome tribute to the visionary sculptor. Young Maya develops a love of nature during walks through the forest near her house. Her artist-father and poet-mother, both Chinese immigrants, encourage her creativity. Another early interest—architecture—grows while Maya is in college. When she enters a contest to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the project combines all of her passions. And when her design wins out over 1,421 entries, the judges are stunned to discover they picked the work of a woman who had yet to finish college. The story of how Maya defies their expectations will inspire readers of all ages. Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations—precise and colorful, yet clean and unfussy—bring added appeal to this intriguing look at the life of a legend.
REACHING FOR THE STARS
Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins is the thrilling story of the woman who made the Apollo 11 mission possible. Young Margaret has a head for numbers and a fascination with astronomy. In school, she studies hard. When she pursues a career in computer science, she’s one of the only women in the industry. At NASA, where she’s in charge of a team of scientists, Margaret writes computer code for the Apollo missions, saving the day when Apollo 11 runs into trouble in space. Lucy Knisley’s bold, vibrant illustrations feature shimmering night-sky constellations, clunky, old-school computers and super-duper spacecraft. Young readers will love Margaret, with her oversize glasses and can-do attitude. This is a standout tribute to a brilliant, brave female who was unafraid to test the boundaries of her own intelligence—and who was awarded in 2016 the Presidential Medal of Freedom.