14 Women Writers Every Aspiring Author Should Know

Despite a world that tried to silence their voices, these women writers broke through to create stories that have changed hearts and challenged minds. Share these biographies with your students during Women's History Month and all year long.

Despite a world that tried to silence their voices, these women writers broke through to create stories that have changed hearts and challenged minds. Whether it’s poetry (Jane Taylor and Maya Angelou), biography (Ruby Bridges and Helen Keller), or children’s books (Madeleine L’Engle and Gyo Fujikawa), their powerful works will inspire all children to make a mark of their own.

Younger Readers

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 I Am Ruby Bridges by Ruby Bridges. illus. by Nikkolas Smith. Orchard. ISBN 9781338753882.
K-Gr 2–Autobiographies for young elementary students are a rare find. This jewel of a book, written by a Civil Rights icon and engagingly illustrated by Smith, transports young audiences to Bridges’s own thinking and experience as she recalls her six-year-old self. VERDICT Any picture book collection tackling the Civil Rights Movement has to start here. Highly recommended for all shelves, this exemplary title for history and biography collections shows how the events of the world impact our youngest citizens.

Like a Diamond in the Sky: Jane Taylor’s Beloved Poem of Wonder and the Stars by Elizabeth Brown. illus. by Becca Stadtlander. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547604272.
Gr 2-5–Taylor’s poem “The Star” eventually became the lyrics to the ageless nursery song. She worked in the family engraving business, but her real ambition was to be a published writer, an unacceptable goal for a young woman in the early 19th century. In time, she was able to support herself by writing primarily for children. Richly colored gouache paintings evoke the beauty of the rural world with a suitably old-fashioned formality. VERDICT This attractive book with its extensive back matter will be of most interest in collections looking for solid picture book biographies of women.

 Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader by Michelle Duster. illus. by Laura Freeman. Holt/Godwin. ISBN 9781250239464.
Gr 3 Up–There are many biographies of Ida B. Wells for children but none as personal and poignant as this one. Born into slavery, Wells was a larger-than-life figure throughout her career as a supporter of all people deserving dignity, purpose, and freedom. The causes she championed were education, feminism, and voting and civil rights, to name just a few. Endpapers strikingly showcase quotes attributed to Wells in an oversized font in white on a black background as well as a portrait of her in her youth, mirrored with one of her as an older woman. VERDICT A superb biography for all libraries, this picture book can effectively be used with a broad range of students as an introduction to the importance of activism and Black history.

 Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. illus. by various. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781681199443.
Gr 7 Up–Grimes spotlights the work of lesser-known Black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. The collection is divided into three parts: “Heritage,” “Earth Mother,” and “Taking Notice.” Most of Grimes’s poems incorporate lines of text or the entirety of a short poem into each verse. The text of the featured poet, which is used to create the new poem, is highlighted in bold type. The juxtaposition of Grimes’s poetry and the original works provide a compelling reflection on gender, race, politics, and everyday life. Full-page, vibrant illustrations rendered by a variety of artists are included throughout. VERDICT A striking collection of voices that examine and celebrate the experience of Black women from the past and present. An excellent introduction to Black women writers who were ignored by history.

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 A Book, Too, Can Be a Star: The Story of Madeleine L’Engle and the Making of “A Wrinkle in Time” by Charlotte Jones Voiklis & Jennifer Adams. illus. by Adelina Lirius. Farrar. ISBN 9780374388485.
Gr 1-5–This narrative nonfiction title presents the life of Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, and how she became a writer. It describes her parents, schooling, and the jobs she took, how she married, and had a family. Throughout these years, she wrote. She wrote when she had questions, she wrote when she had strong feelings, and all of it helped her to tell the stories that other people wanted to hear, too. The artwork in this book is stunning; both realistic and magical, these illustrations connect readers emotionally to L’Engle’s story. Those who have read and enjoyed L’Engle’s work will love learning about her; those who haven’t will be inspired to find the books. VERDICT An excellent choice for any collection looking for biographies on writers, fantasy, and successful women.

 It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear. illus. by Julie Morstad. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062447623.
K-Gr 4–When Gyo Fujikawa submitted the first book she had written and illustrated, her publishers hesitated. In 1963, a book with Black, white, and Asian babies engaged in daily activities was highly unusual. Maclear and Morstad introduce readers to the artist whose quiet insistence led to the publication of the groundbreaking work. When her West Coast family was sent to an internment camp in 1942, she kept working to help support them. Her commitment to equality and justice helped promote diverse children’s books, including more than 50 she created. Many illustrations recall the elegance and simplicity of Fujikawa’s own work with plain backgrounds that allow readers to focus on the main subjects. VERDICT This exemplary biography of a pioneer in multicultural children’s books deserves a place in all collections.

Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet by Katie Munday Williams. illus. by Tania Rex. Beaming Bks. ISBN 9781506463063.
Gr 2-5–Growing up, Anne Bradstreet loved reading and listening to poetry with her father. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but her Puritan faith frowned upon it, and there were strict rules against it. This picture book biography shares how Anne Dudley became Anne Bradstreet, who was the first person published in what later became the United States. The detailed illustrations are in simple, muted tones with pops of color to keep readers engaged. VERDICT Perfect for libraries wanting to beef up their picture book biographies collection, especially those looking for more titles about women authors.

[Read: 10 Collective Biographies for Women’s History Month]

 On Her Wings: The Story of Toni Morrison by Jerdine Nolen. illus. by James E. Ransome. S. & S./Paula Wiseman. ISBN 9781534478527.
Gr 2-5–Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford. At an early age, she fell in love with words, melodies, stories, and the rhythm and rhyme of music. She went on to Howard University, where she changed her name to Toni because it was easier to pronounce. She moved to New York City to work as an editor. During the day she edited others’ work; at night, after her children went to bed, she would write her own. At age 39, she published her first novel. Though the world knew her as Toni Morrison, she insisted that Chloe Wofford was the one who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Black woman to do so. This lyrical biography about Morrison’s accomplishments and legacy has a reverential tone, putting the groundbreaking author on a well-deserved pedestal. Ransome’s painterly illustrations—done in watercolor and collage—shine with a beatific light. VERDICT An awe-inspiring picture book biography about an outstanding storyteller.

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So Much More to Helen: The Passions and Pursuits of Helen Keller by Meeg Pincus. illus. by Caroline Bonne-Müller. Sleeping Bear. ISBN 9781534111516.
Gr 1-4–Pincus makes it her goal to expand on students’ cursory knowledge of beloved biography figure Helen Keller. With a few lines of primary rhyming text on each spread, accompanied by secondary text, in a smaller font and ordinary prose, the author explains an aspect of Keller’s identity: she was a student, an adventurer, an activist, a performer, a dog-lover, a traveler, and more. This thorough look at the subject’s life goes beyond the handful of facts readers may already know, beyond her childhood and her time with Annie Sullivan. Illustrations show Keller as she ages, through changing fashions, as she travels, performs, and protests. A useful explanation of each spread follows the story. VERDICT A highly recommended purchase.

The Life of/La vida de Pura by Patty Rodriguez & Ariana Stein. illus. by Citlali Reyes. Lil’ Libros. ISBN 9781948066143. BL.
Toddler-PreS–The latest in the Lil’ Libros biography series continues to showcase the lives of important figures in Latinx history. Children are treated to the life story of storyteller, puppeteer, and librarian Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian at the New York Public Library. She went on to write the first book in Spanish released by a major U. S. publisher. This jewel-tone bilingual board book presents the childhood, struggles, triumphs, and impact of Belpré's legacy. The digital art is kid-friendly, sometimes giving the heroine a childlike appearance. All of the people have brown or Black skin. VERDICT A gem. Purchase where biography board books are popular.

 Holding Her Own: The Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes by Traci N Todd. illus. by Shannon Wright. Scholastic/Orchard. ISBN 9781338305906.
Gr 2-5–An outstanding picture book biography about a groundbreaking Renaissance woman. Zelda “Jackie” Ormes was an artist and storyteller from birth. By the time she was a teen, she was a sports journalist for the Black-owned Pittsburgh Courier and eventually created a comic strip called Torchy Brown in "Dixie to Harlem." Ormes was the first nationally syndicated Black woman cartoonist. She also started a strip called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger about two sisters, which she used to comment on Black life, World War II and its aftermath, and the fight for justice. Todd’s accessible text will draw in readers and make them want to learn more about this fascinating artist. Cartoonist Wright’s digital art has a textured feel, like a comic strip come alive. The 1940s setting is depicted through vivid, jewel-tone illustrations and reproductions of Ormes’s famous characters. The design perfectly matches the subject, with speech bubbles, newspaper-like clippings, and dynamic scenes. VERDICT An extraordinary picture book biography about an extraordinary pioneer in comics and journalism.

 Maya’s Song by Renée Watson. illus. by Bryan Collier. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062871589.
Gr 2-6–This in-depth biography in poems, with unsurpassable watercolor and collage illustrations, begins with Maya Angelou’s birth in 1928 and concludes with her delivering a poem at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. Readers will gain an understanding of Angelou from her childhood experiences, excerpts of her writing, and adult accomplishments and friendships. Collier uses a dim blue-gray to reflect negative events and the feelings that accompany them. Poetry pulls Angelou from her silence so she can make her voice heard, and the colors lighten correspondingly. Portraits of Angelou herself show her solemn, thoughtful, and powerful throughout, finally smiling broadly on the final page. VERDICT Poetic and superbly illustrated, this tour de force belongs in every library.

Older Readers

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Becoming Beatrix by Amy M O’Quinn. Chicago Review. ISBN 9781641604406.
Gr 4-8–An fascinating biography about the creator of the “Peter Rabbit” tales. Beatrix Potter was born in Victorian England, the daughter of wealthy parents. She began painting her famous animal characters as greeting card illustrations and eventually went on to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. O’Quinn gives readers a well-rounded account of the author-illustrator. The sections that detail how Potter used her money and influence to preserve and conserve almost the entire Lake District National Park and how she rescued her publisher from going bankrupt are eye-opening. Chapter headers and opening quotations, black-and-white archival photos, and spot art keep the design engaging. VERDICT Purchase where there’s a need for more biographies on women writers, scientists, artists, and conservationists.

 Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi. Dutton. ISBN 9780399187384.
Gr 5 Up–Zoboi’s biography of science fiction author Octavia Estelle Butler details her life from birth in Pasadena, CA, to her legacy as an author. Told through poetry, narrative, photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, story drafts, childhood sketches, quotes, report cards, and war propaganda, this stunning biography is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of literature. Each poem and section of prose elegantly connects to the space theme, painting the picture of Butler as a star child, born out of stardust. The quick-paced chapters and rich voice will draw readers of all ages into this nontraditional biography. VERDICT This must-read biography belongs on every library shelf and will redefine the way readers engage with biographical texts.

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