During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the contributions women have made to our country. These fascinating books about women who dared to dream big—and to act on those dreams—are sure to prompt young readers to follow in their footsteps.
Standing on Her Shoulders
From activists to athletes to ancestors through the ages, it’s important to honor those who came before us, writes Monica Clark-Robinson in Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women: “When we remember them and speak their names, / We respect the struggles they overcame.” Her lyrical text makes a strong case for not just learning about historical figures but also thinking about how their accomplishments have impacted our lives today.
In the book’s vibrantly colored pages, illustrated by Laura Freeman, a multigenerational family discusses “women who were little once / just like you” and imagines the day when the children in the book—as well as the kids reading it—might offer their own proverbial shoulders to support future generations. The book highlights a diverse group of groundbreaking women from a range of places and eras, from gymnast Simone Biles and snowboarder Chloe Kim, to artists Frida Kahlo and Faith Ringgold, and politicians Deb Haaland and Hillary Clinton. There are activists (Harriet Tubman), explorers (Sacajawea) and scientists (Harriet Chalmers Adams), too. In the back matter, readers will discover beautiful portraits and brief biographies of the women they’ve met throughout the book.
Standing on Her Shoulders is an excellent resource, sure to serve as a starting point for further research and to help excited readers start planning for their own futures.
Life as a lighthouse keeper can be grueling and lonely, filled with hard, unending physical labor and isolation. This is particularly true of open-water lighthouses like the one in Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully (Mirette on the High Wire). But it can also be invigorating and rewarding, as it was for Kate Walker.
Walker emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1882 with her son, Jacob, and soon met and married lighthouse keeper John Walker. In 1885, when her husband was posted to Robbins Reef Lighthouse, located on a small island in the middle of the very busy and dangerous New York Harbor, Walker was skeptical. Where would her son play? Wouldn’t the family miss their friends, not to mention being able to walk to other places?
Walker grew to appreciate her unique situation and even became the assistant keeper of the lighthouse. For five years, she and her husband built a lovely, if unconventional, life together. But then John died of pneumonia, leaving Kate and their children worried for their future. Ever resourceful, Walker convinced the lighthouse board to hire her as a permanent keeper. For 33 years, she presided over the lighthouse. She became known for her heroism, carrying out more than 50 rescues, and for her dedication to keeping sailors and ships safe.
Spires, a poet, professor and author of several children’s books, creates a memorable tribute to an indomitable woman and her remarkable life. Walker’s willingness to step into the unknown is thrilling, and McCully’s illustrations add drama and impact to the swashbuckling story. Heavily applied watercolors create a massive thunderstorm on the page, and carefully rendered details will help readers imagine what it’s like to call an island lighthouse home. Kate’s Light is an unusual true story compellingly told.
In her new tour de force of a poetry collection, Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, bestselling author and Coretta Scott King Award winner Nikki Grimes stakes a claim for women in the pantheon of Harlem Renaissance poets.
As Grimes informs readers in her preface, Black women not only created poetry during the Harlem Renaissance but also headed up the publications that featured the male writers we know by name. In pursuit of making these women’s names and contributions known, Grimes has crafted a memorable and compelling volume of poems that pays tribute to the inspiration she has drawn from these women.
Legacy’s poems follow a complex poetic form called the Golden Shovel, created by the poet Terrance Hayes. In this form, the poet begins by choosing a short poem or an excerpt from a longer poem. The words of this poem become the new poem’s “striking line,” and each word of the first poem becomes the last word in each line of the new poem. It’s an ambitious and fitting form that enables Grimes’ poems to be shaped by the words of the women honored in Legacy.
Each of Grimes’ poems is preceded by the poem from which its striking line originates. Poems by Mae V. Cowdery, Esther Popel, Gwendolyn Bennett and more speak of beauty, dreams and determination, while Grimes’ work offers sketches of life, celebrates the natural world and declares self-confidence and pride. The book’s artwork, a feast of color that displays a range of techniques and styles, was contributed by 19 female artists including Cozbi A. Cabrera, Nina Crews, Laura Freeman and Jan Spivey Gilchrist.
Grimes lays claim to an amazing artistic legacy on every page, her poetic rejoinders building a stirring call and response. Legacy amplifies the words of these extraordinary poets and offers a road map for carrying them into the future.
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee
From the moment she took her first flight in 1932, Hazel Ying Lee knew she was destined to become a pilot. “When the plane landed back on the runway like a skipping rock, Hazel stepped out with only the horizon in her eyes,” writes Julie Leung in her appealing picture book biography The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee. Lee was determined to make her dream a reality, no matter the obstacles—which included an era rife with racism, the exclusion of women from many professions and a mother who was firmly against the idea of Lee becoming a pilot.
Lee delighted in competition and applied the same vigor to her quest to become a pilot that she showed while racing and swimming with her brothers as a child. She worked as an elevator operator to save up for flying lessons, and when World War II began, she was ready. Male pilots were sent overseas, and the U.S. military created the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program, where Lee became a valued and accomplished member.
Julie Kwon’s illustrations superbly capture Lee’s experiences on the ground and on the wing. In a shadowy elevator, the light around Lee is a warm glow, illuminating her dreamy I’d-rather-be-flying expression. In the air, fluffy clouds contrast with the sharp edges of the WASPs’ airplanes. Lee’s spirit shines throughout; she never stopped learning and trying new things, even as she worked under dangerous conditions to protect her country.
The author’s note offers further details about Hazel and her fellow WASPs and elaborates on the racist treatment Chinese American families like Lee’s often endured. The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee is an edifying, exciting real-life adventure that will inspire readers to let their own dreams take flight.