April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books About Women Who Made a Difference │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

Women’s History Month began as a weeklong celebration authorized by President Jimmy Carter with the passing of legislation in 1981. Since 1995, a series of annual proclamations have designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” For resources supported by entities such as The Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian Institution, visit the official website. You’ll find lesson plans, videos, exhibits, and other resources that you can use throughout the year. Use the following booktalks and tools to share these new picture books about independent women who broke records, fought segregation, and inspired others to follow their dreams.

Florence NightingaleDEMI. Florence Nightingale. Holt. 2014. ISBN 9780805097290. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

When Florence Nightingale was a girl, proper ladies didn’t study nursing, but she was sure that’s what God wanted her to do. She learned about hygiene in an orphanage. She visited hospitals and poorhouses. In her own work, Florence discovered that a clean environment and healthy meals improved a patient’s chance for healing. The lessons she learned would change the way nurses worked all over the world.

What is the award-winning author and illustrator’s real name? Find out on her website. Her family tree also contains some very talented artists. Take a sneak peek at the gorgeous artwork for the picture book biography on Macmillan’s website.  For a such a short nonfiction title, readers will gain much knowledge on Nightingale. For additional information on the Lady with the Lamp, consult Biography.com and the British Broadcasting Company. The International Committee of the Red Cross describes her impact in the history of its founding.

Dance Like StarlightDEMPSEY, Kristy. A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Philomel. 2014. ISBN 9780399252846. JLG Level: CE : City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Hope picked her dream up―right off the floor of her heart when the dance master allowed her to join lessons from the back of the room. She could never perform onstage with the white girls—not a little black girl from Harlem. But still her dream grew. The more she worked, the more she wondered: “Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina?”

Though Dempsey’s story is fiction, it features Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina, as the main character’s inspiration. Her historic performance at the Metropolitan Opera surely inspired budding dancers everywhere. Read her obituary in the New York Times. The New York Public Library has an online exhibit about Collins. Check out the author’s website for tips about writing. You can follow her on Twitter.  Read an interview with the illustrator on The Brown Bookshelf. There you will learn about his art method―subtraction. Find out more about this unique technique in a post from The Horn Book and a video from The Virtual Instructor on highlight rendering with an eraser.

Dare the WindFERN, Tracey. Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud. illus. by Emily Arnold McCully. Farrar. 2014. ISBN9780374316990. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6) .

Like her father, Ellen had always felt the pull of the sea. Her sailing lessons included learning to navigate―which was quite unusual for most sailors, and certainly for a girl. The captain also taught her that a true navigator “must have the caution to read the sea, as well as the courage to dare the wind.” His advice would be greatly needed in a race to beat the record, 15000 miles from New York to San Francisco.

Be sure to check the author’s website. A Teacher’s Guide is coming soon. In the meantime, explore her other books. You’ll find information about the illustrator on her website. For an idea about seafaring ports, visit The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic Seaport. Readers interested in sea captains and The Flying Cloud will find information at The Maritime Heritage Project. Steve Priske builds model of ships, including The Flying Cloud. Watch his video which goes into the history and construction of a clipper ship. Looking for a primary document about the record-breaking voyage? Read the digitized newspaper article from October 29, 1851 at The Library of Congress.com.

Separate is Never EqualTONATIUH, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. Abrams. 2014. ISBN 9781419710544. JLG Level:  NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2–6).  

When you think of segregation in the 1940s, have you ever thought about Mexican children? Sylvia Mendez had no choice; she was not allowed to attend the white school in her neighborhood. She and her cousins were sent to the Mexican school which was in a cow pasture surrounded by an electric fence. Deciding it wasn’t fair, her father created the Parents’ Association of Mexican-American Children. The organization’s  petitions led to a lawsuit that sought the answer to the unanswered question, “Why? Why can’t my children attend Westminster school?” Soon Mendez would have an answer, and that’s when the fight really began.

Students long familiar with Ruby Bridges’s story may be surprised to hear about the parallel world of the Hispanic children. Poor building conditions, lack of cleanliness, good teachers, and resources rose to the spotlight with the case of Mendez vs. Westminster. Students may want to learn more about desegregation in Orange County. In the National Archives, teachers will find primary sources and other lesson ideas for teaching about civil rights. Websites abound to connect you with the author/illustrator: his website, Fullerton.edu biography, and a YouTube interview. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about Sylvia Mendez and her civil rights history on her website. NPR did a great piece on her story with video. Include diversity in your library program by participating in ALSC’s National Día Diversity in Action Program.


Additional Resources

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder main tabs. Each tab is a book title. Under each color-coded tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com. (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.



  1. It’s not about an individual but the women who rode horse-borne throughout the hills as traveling libraries for outlying farms: That Book Woman by Henson.


    You may enjoy it. I recently read it at the school read-aloud event and there I sat in front all the kids with my eyes misty and words blurry on the page. It’s the stuff of teacher/librarian dreams.