16 Middle Grade and YA Nonfiction for Burgeoning Feminists

Feminism receives barely a mention in most curricula. These titles for upper elementary to high school students delve deeper into the knowledge gaps and feature a diverse, international representation of women from the past and present who have made a mark on history.

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir. Illustration by Aaliya Jaleel. (S. & S./Salaam Reads, 2019)

The summer of 2023 was the summer of powerful women, from mega-concerts by monumental stars like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé to the blockbuster film Barbie inspiring conversations about gender and systemic bias. But women also saw setbacks when it came to our bodily autonomy. We now have to not only fight for our rights, but also fight to keep them. Students often miss out on learning about women from marginalized communities who made a mark on history. Feminism—the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes—receives barely a mention in most curricula. These titles delve deeper into the knowledge gaps and feature a diverse, international representation of women from the past and present who have advocated for equality in a variety of fields.

Upper Elementary

HARRITON, Jess. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Change Makers. illus. by Maithy Vu. Rebel Girls. 2022. ISBN 9781953424341.
Gr 3-7–Names readers might recognize in this fifth collective biography in the popular series include Taylor Swift, Bindi Irwin, JoJo Siwa, and Greta Thunberg. These figures will draw readers in, but it’s the encounter with many more amazing young women that will keep kids invested. These innovators, activists, and creators come from different backgrounds and are impacting the world in diverse ways. Each profile includes bright illustrations and an inspirational, one-page biography.

MENÉNDEZ, Juliet. Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers. illus. by author. Holt/Godwin. 2021. ISBN 9781250234629.
Gr 3-6–A collective biography of past and present Latinx women who fought for their dreams and made a mark on the world. Readers will learn more about familiar figures, such as Frida Kahlo, Laurie Hernandez, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while expanding their knowledge of those not often covered in the curriculum. These women come from various countries and contribute to multiple fields, including poets Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Julia de Burgos and human rights activist Berta Cáceres. The watercolor illustrations add to the work’s effectiveness.

MESSNER, Kate. History Smashers: Women’s Right to Vote. illus. by Dylan Meconis. Random. 2020. ISBN 9780593120354.
Gr 3-7–Many people believe the fight for women’s rights started at the Seneca Falls convention in 1848—one of many misconceptions about women’s history—but it actually began long before then. Messner aims to set the record straight and share other topics that are left out of textbooks. Meconis’s illustrations amplify the narrative and make this installment of the “History Smashers” series even more appealing.

MIR, Saira. Muslim Girls Rise: Inspirational Champions of Our Time. illus. by Aaliya Jaleel. S. & S./Salaam Reads. 2019. ISBN 9781534418882.
Gr 1-5–A beautiful collective picture book biography about 19 contemporary Muslim women who haven’t let anything stop them from accomplishing their goals. Driven by their individual passions, these women have risen over barriers to contribute to science, fashion, activism, and more. Young readers will learn about these inspiring women, including Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and NASA engineer Hibah Rahmani, via Mir’s one-page biographies and Jaleel’s stunning illustrations.


Middle School

STEVAN, Caroline. Citizen She!: The Global Campaign for Women’s Voting Rights. illus. by Elina Braslina. tr. from French by Michelle Bailat-Jones. Helvetiq. 2022. ISBN 9783907293720.
Gr 5-7–Across the globe, women have had to fight for voting rights, and this work provides an exploration of that arduous struggle. Despite big strides, there are still many places where women, even those with political power, do not have the same rights as men. Chapters include biographies of famous women, and the comicslike drawing style will keep readers engaged.

TARNOWSKA, Wafa’. Amazing Women of the Middle East: 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day. illus. by Margarida Esteves, Hoda Hadadi, Sahar Haghgoo & others. Crocodile Bks. 2020. ISBN 9781623718701.
Gr 5-8–A look at 25 noteworthy women of the Middle East, from ancient times to present. The women represented include political leaders, social activists, scientists, athletes, artists, and more. Some names might be recognizable to readers, like Cleopatra and Amal Clooney, while others, such as activist and feminist Anbara Salam Khalidi, will be a worthy introduction.

THIMMESH, Catherine. Girls Solve Everything: Stories of Women Entrepreneurs Building a Better World. illus. by Melissa Sweet. HarperCollins/Clarion. 2022. ISBN 9780358106340.
Gr 4-8–In this inspiring companion to Girls Think of Everything by Sibert winner Thimmesh and Caldecott Honor recipient Sweet, readers are introduced to 16 entrepreneurs from the past to the present. For each subject, a short chapter focuses on the innovative way they identified a problem and solved it with their business know-how. Sweet’s art adds to the work’s accessibility.

TYNER, Artika R. & Cicely Lewis. Focus on the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Lerner. 2022. ISBN 9781728462905.
Gr 4-8–As part of Lewis’s “Read Woke” series, this informative overview of the women’s suffrage movement will help readers dive into the topic through accessible text and thorough research. Much of the narrative focuses on figures from centuries past, such as Ida B. Wells and Abigail Adams. However, the final chapter covers contemporary voices, such as Vice President Kamala Harris and other female political leaders.


High School

ANDERSON, Laurie Halse, ed. Wonderful Women of the World. DC Comics. 2021. ISBN 9781779503787.
Gr 9 Up–Wonder Woman may be fictional, but some real-world women exemplify what she represents. Anderson gathers female and nonbinary authors and artists, such as Lilliam Rivera and Cecil Castellucci, to showcase women who are improving our world by making a mark in both small and significant ways. Told in graphic novel format, this book is a brilliant introduction to women that readers may not have encountered before.

BLACK, Alexandra, Laura Buller, Roxanne Gay & others. Feminism Is… DK. 2019. ISBN 9781465479556.
Gr 8 Up–“Feminism is the struggle for equality between women and men.” The fight for women’s rights has existed for centuries, though it has evolved over time to be more intersectional and inclusive. In this comprehensive text, readers will get an overall understanding of feminism and all its facets. From dimensions of equality in the workplace to sexuality and social media, this guide covers it all.

COOPER, Brittney, Chanel Craft Tanner & Susana Morris. Feminist AF: A Guide to Crushing Girlhood. Norton. 2021. ISBN 9781324005056.
Gr 8 Up–A bold guidebook written by three feminists of color that combines feminist theory and hip-hop culture to examine what women face today. Authentic, inclusive, and empowering, it covers various topics, including beauty/body image, disability, and relationships. The authors provide facts and examples from their own lives, which enhances the reading experience.

CUTRIGHT, Patricia J. Native Women Changing Their Worlds. 7th Generation. 2021. ISBN 9781939053329.
Gr 8 Up–Native women have often been left out of history books, and contemporary Native women are talked about even less, but they are impacting their communities. This book adeptly highlights 12 Native American and First Nation women who rose to great heights despite their unimaginable hardships. Women like Ruth Anna Buffalo, who fought racial prejudice to be elected as a state representative in North Dakota, where less than one percent of the population is Indigenous, and Roberta Jamieson, who fought for the education of First Nation youth.

DONOHUE, Caitlin. She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics... and the World. illus. by Briana Arrington. Zest. 2020. ISBN 9781541579019.
Gr 7 Up–In the United States and around the world, more women are getting elected into political positions. They come from different backgrounds and political sides and are taking action to make the world a better place. In this collective biography, budding feminists will learn not only about the success of those profiled, but also how they got there, including missteps they took along the way.

FIEVRE, MJ & Becca Anderson. The Book of Awesome Black Women: Sheroes, Boundary Breakers, and Females Who Changed the World. Mango. 2022. ISBN 9781642509298.
Gr 7 Up–Because of systemic racism and sexism, Black women have often been left out of the history textbooks. This collection spotlights Black women in science, politics, sports, and more. The brief biographies on Sojourner Truth, Anita Hill, Wangari Maathai, Aretha Franklin, and others will inspire and catalyze a new generation of awesome women.

FLETCHER, Tiera & Ginger Rue. Wonder Women of Science: Twelve Geniuses Who Are Currently Rocking Science, Technology, and the World. illus. by Sally Wern Comport. Candlewick. 2021. ISBN 9781536207347.
Gr 7 Up–Whether it’s designing new suits for NASA, working on video game systems, or tracking an endangered species, the women profiled in this title are rock stars in their fields. The 12 easy-to-read entries detail the STEM careers and accomplishments of each subject. Concise entries provide an overview of each figure’s accomplishments. This collection will spark readers to follow their own passions.

HARTS, Minda. You Are More Than Magic: The Black and Brown Girls’ Guide to Finding Your Voice. Dial. 2022. ISBN 9780593326619.
Gr 7 Up–Harts knows how hard it is for Black and Brown girls to find their voices, because she’s been there. Now a CEO, Harts is ready to help girls like herself by sharing her successes and setbacks. In this guide, she acknowledges the hurdles all women face but focuses on the challenges Black and Brown girls must overcome. Equal parts celebration and encouragement, this much-needed guide will empower young girls of color to use their voices.

Amanda Borgia is head of teen services at the Uniondale Public Library, NY.

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