Young readers will love these stories of extraordinary women who broke new ground and made the world a better place.
Sure to inspire the explorers of tomorrow, Lori Mortensen’s Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird chronicles the evolution of an intrepid 19th-century writer. Raised in the English countryside, Isabella Bird has a delicate constitution, but when her doctor prescribes fresh air and a change of scenery, the course for her future is set. Soon after, she hears news of her uncles’ travels in India and Africa, and Bird begins to dream of following in their footsteps.
Eschewing the comforts of a settled existence, Bird journeys to America, Tibet and Malaysia, studying new cultures and recording all of her observations in a notebook. Over the years, she writes bestselling books based on her travels and becomes the first woman to join the Royal Geographical Society. Mortensen relates the details of Bird’s life in straightforward prose that has a poetic spark. Illustrator Kristy Caldwell’s clean, colorful depictions of faraway settings and remote locales bring wonderful immediacy to the story. The crux of this unforgettable tale is that if you can dream big and be brave, anything is possible.
Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World by Jessica M. Rinker delivers a terrific overview of the life of a feminist icon. From a young age, Steinem displays an independent streak, setting her sights on college, even though many institutions refuse to accept women in the 1950s. After graduating from Smith College, she pursues a journalism career, forging her own path and forgoing a husband and family. In 1971, with the help of a friend, she launches Ms., a magazine focusing on women’s issues, and uses her voice and position to bring momentum to the feminist movement.
Through the arc of the narrative, Rinker demonstrates how courage and strength of character enabled Steinem to mature into a leader. Rinker skillfully weaves in quotes from Steinem herself (“Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”) and provides recommendations for further reading. Artist Daria Peoples-Riley renders the marches and rallies in soft, mixed-media illustrations, and her Warhol-esque Ms. covers as the book’s endpapers give the proceedings a fun 1970s feel. Readers will find a heroine to look up to in this vivid and informative book.
Suzanne Slade pays tribute to another icon—featured in the film Hidden Figures—in her fine new book, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon. A math prodigy from the get-go, Johnson skips grades in elementary school and begins college at the age of 15. Her remarkable talents with numbers land her a job at NASA, but because she’s a woman, she’s barred from important meetings with the organization’s male engineers. Thanks to her skills and determination, Johnson is eventually allowed to join in, and she uses her expertise to help plan space missions, including the one that will put men on the moon for the first time.
Slade’s use of numbers to underscore the events in Johnson’s life adds an extra dimension to the story, while Veronica Miller Jamison’s out-of-this-world illustrations play up starry skies and math equations written on chalkboards. A Computer Called Katherine arrives just in time for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. moon landing, and this impressive title will connect readers with important STEAM subjects as well as an important role model.
Another math whiz takes center stage in author and illustrator Rachel Dougherty’s Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge. Growing up in 19th-century New York, Emily Roebling has an inquisitive mind. “A bright shiny spark who loved to learn,” Emily gravitates toward math and science. As a young woman, she meets her match in engineer Washington Roebling. The pair marries, and Washington immerses himself in a major undertaking: the building of a bridge that will connect Manhattan and Brooklyn. But when Washington gets sick and can no longer work, Emily steps in, learning about the science of engineering and supervising the project. Thanks to her efforts, in 1883—after almost 14 years—the Brooklyn Bridge was completed.
Emily radiates confidence and a can-do attitude in Dougherty’s dynamic illustrations, which feature blueprints and other architectural items that give insights into the complex project. A helpful glossary and a bibliography supplement the tale. Youngsters will be captivated by this special story.