Seven Picture Book Biographies About Trailblazing Women

These powerful stories of seven trailblazing women—including a scientist,a marine biologist, a World War II military pilot, a popular singer, an astronomer, an astrophysicist, and a code breaker during the world wars—who were pioneers in their fields will enlighten and inspire young readers.


These powerful stories of seven trailblazing women—including a scientist,a marine biologist, a World War II military pilot, a popular singer, an astronomer, an astrophysicist, and a code breaker during the world wars—who were pioneers in their fields will enlighten and inspire young readers.

Grandin, Temple. The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. 208p. Philomel. Apr. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593115558.
Gr 3-7–Grandin (b. 1947) is a renowned American scientist and one of the most well-known public figures with autism. Her assured narrative voice is clear as she shares her childhood stories. She connects with her audience in a personal and fascinating style while detailing her early scientific observations about the natural world. Grandin says what she observed sparked questions and investigation, which is at the heart of all science. She encourages readers to explore the outdoors, just as other well-known (Carl Sagan, Jacques Cousteau, and Stephen Hawking) and lesser-known scientists did when they were children. The book combines memoir, biography, informational text, and engaging projects. This text will especially appeal to those who are deeply interested in nature, but it will also motivate children to explore outside their homes and observe. Following the introduction, the chapters cover “Rocks,” “The Beach,” “The Woods,” “Birds,” “The Night Skies,” and “Animal Behavior.” Back matter includes an extensive bibliography, articles by the author, citizen science sources for science teachers, and acknowledgments. An index is not included. ­VERDICT Grandin’s words are a rallying cry for budding scientists and she serves as a role model for young readers with autism. This is an important STEM and STREAM resource for every collection.–Helen Foster James, Univ. of California at San Diego

Griffith, Evan. Secrets of the Sea: The ­Story of Jeanne Power, Revolutionary Marine Scientist. illus. by Joanie Stone. 40p. Clarion. Mar. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780358244325.
Gr 2-5–The sea holds many secrets, but one revolutionary scientist sought to solve them all. This biographical picture book centered on Jeanne Power (1794–1871), a white French marine biologist, chronicles the beginnings of her scientific fascination with nature and the discoveries she made through experimentation and studying sea creatures such as the paper nautilus. Later on in her career, Power lost her life’s work in a shipwreck, which forced her to recreate her experiments and stand up to critics to reclaim her place in history. Each spread features rich illustrations that capture the wonder and mystery of the sea, complemented by Power’s experiments, prototyping, and observations. The artwork features sketches and blazing blue and aqua seascapes. The text and images are accessible and easy to understand. The back matter includes a more detailed spread about Power, scientific information about the paper nautilus and marine biology and conservation, and a note on historical research. VERDICT An excellent purchase for elementary school collections because of the focus on an unsung female scientist paired with solid back matter and beautiful illustrations.–Molly Dettmann, Norman North H.S., OK

Leung, Julie. The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee. illus. by Julie Kwon. 48p. Little, Brown. Feb. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780759554955.
Gr 1-4–Hazel Ying Lee was a fearless young woman who, from the moment she rode in an airplane, dreamed of flying them. Unfortunately, it was 1932 and “less than one percent of pilots were women.” On top of that, Lee was Chinese American, and no Chinese American girl had ever flown an airplane. None of this stopped her. She worked to save money and earned her pilot’s license in less than a year even though no one would hire a Chinese American woman. When WWII broke out in 1941, Lee found her chance, joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She became the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. This inspiring biography celebrates a strong young woman. Lee’s family also had to break barriers and fight for what’s right, having to advocate for their daughter’s burial at a whites-only cemetery. The text is engaging. The digital artwork is filled with bold colors, and immerses readers into the era portrayed. Back matter includes more information about Lee and her family as well as further recommended resources. VERDICT An excellent picture book biography recommended for all collections. Readers will be inspired to strive for what they want in a world that may not be ready for them.–Kristyn Dorfman, The ­Nightingale-Bamford Sch., New York City

López, Diana. Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla. illus. by Teresa Martínez. 32p. Dial. Apr. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593110959.
K-Gr 4–Young Selena Quintanilla (1971–95), a groundbreaking Mexican American singer from Texas, “turned everything into a microphone: spoons, crayons, toothbrushes.” When she was nine, her family formed a band, Selena y Los Dinos, and performed at their restaurant. When the family lost their house and business due to the recession of the early 1980s, they moved to Corpus Christi to live with relatives. They bought a bus and went on the road to perform at weddings, parties, and rodeos—often for a pittance. Selena loved to sing, but she wished she knew the Tejano songs her audience enjoyed. She longed to connect with them, so she taught herself Spanish. When the male-dominated Tejano music world was less than welcoming, she persisted. In 1986, she won her first Tejano Music Award at age 15. Selena studied fashion magazines and helped to design and create her own stage outfits. She eventually opened a chain of boutiques. The text ends on a high note, with Selena’s historic performance at the Astrodome in Houston. An author’s note mentions the star’s untimely death at age 23. The energetic, bright cartoon illustrations depicting Selena and her family in various venues, decorated with rainbow notes, stars, hearts, and flowers will appeal to young readers. VERDICT This inspirational rags-to-riches biography, released on the heels of a Netflix miniseries about the singer’s life, will inspire anyone who dreams of a career in the performing arts.–Barbara Auerbach, Cairo P.L., NY

Nickel, Sandra. The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. ­illus. by Aimée Sicuro. 48p. Abrams. Mar. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419736261.
Gr 2-6–Vera Rubin (1928–2016), an American astronomer born in Philadelphia and the daughter of Jewish immigrants, broke new ground in the topic of dark matter. Nickel’s picture book chronicles Rubin’s journey, showcasing her childhood ­fascination with the stars, her perseverance to overcome sexism in the scientific community, and her discoveries that set the stage for ongoing research today. Sicuro’s watercolor, ink, and charcoal illustrations depict the characters in mid-century clothing and allow the cosmos to soar. Readers will be inspired by the vastness of the universe as they learn about Rubin’s discoveries. She is portrayed as a warm and loving mother and wife who marveled at the wonders of the night sky. As with many picture book biographies, the text emphasizes Rubin’s strength of character rather than relaying in-depth details about every aspect of her life. An author’s note and a time line provide more clarity. Further explanation about dark matter in the main text could have helped readers’ comprehension. This title would work well in classroom lessons focused on astronomy topics, and it provides an excellent representation of women in science. VERDICT A strong addition to youth biography collections, especially where STEM fields are emphasized.–Kelly Jahng, South Park Elem. Sch., IL

Parachini, Jodie. Listening to the Stars: Jocelyn Bell Burnell Discovers Pulsars. illus. by Alexandra Badiu. 32p. (She Made History). Albert Whitman. Apr. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807545638.
PreS-Gr 3–Parachini’s historical picture book spotlights the Irish astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943), who discovered the first radio pulsars while she was a research assistant at the University of Cambridge. The narrative showcases how Burnell discovered her love for astronomy and overcame sexism. As a graduate student, Burnell was part of a team that built a radio telescope that took two years to finish. The telescope allowed the team to collect sound data from neutron stars. Her discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. Sadly, only the male members of her research team received this award. In 2018, Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She used the prize money of three million dollars to set up a fund for women who wanted to pursue physics. Badiu’s vibrant illustrations feature a palette that utilizes shades of blue, brown, and pink and a mixture of neutral, secondary, and primary colors. The lively art complements the text, creating a sense of openness and balance in its use of stars as a driving thematic motif. This book could be read in a science unit that emphasizes the empowering message that everyone can study STEM fields. The back matter contains a glossary, an author’s note, and a list of titles centered on women physicists and astrophysicists. VERDICT An inspiring picture book biography of an inquisitive girl who became a world-renowned scientist, told in ­accessible language.–Kathia ­Ibacache, Univ. of Colorado Boulder

Wallmark, Laurie. Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. illus. by Brooke Smart. 48p. Abrams. Mar. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419739637.
Gr 2-4–This picture book biography introduces Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980), a pioneering white American ­code breaker who helped establish and develop the science of cryptology. After beginning with one case that resulted in the conviction of 33 German spies, the main narrative traces her life chronologically. Friedman’s love of poetry and language sparked an early interest in code-making exercises. This eventually led to her pioneering accomplishments in the relatively new science of cryptology. During World War I, Friedman and her husband William “set up the country’s first code-breaking unit.” Brief descriptions of specific cases provide insight into the challenges and importance of her work, which included aiding the Coast Guard to prosecute bootleggers, key cases in both world wars, and the establishment of the first cryptography department for the Office of Strategic Services. Numerous quotes from Friedman add context and a more personal connection. Her life as a mother and author was regularly interrupted by government requests for her unusual skills. Watercolor and gouache drawings depict a rich visual background to Friedman’s life and career, including glimpses of her family and more dramatic scenes of trials and criminals. There’s just enough information about how codes work to inform readers without overwhelming them. Some of the illustrations show basic examples of code-breaking; the text also introduces simple concepts. Back matter describes basic code types and offers a “Crack the Code” challenge. VERDICT An engaging introduction to a unique woman in a fascinating field.–Steven Engelfried, ­Wilsonville P.L., OR

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