12 Women Who Took Action and Changed the World

Whether celebrating Women's History Month or amplifying women's stories all year around, these 12 titles feature the inspiring stories of civil rights leaders, environmentalists, activists, and others at the forefront of their fields.

In time for Women's History Month, these 12 titles feature the inspiring stories of civil rights leaders, environmentalists, activists, and other women at the forefront of their field, including the first female rabbi and first women to serve as "fire guard" for the U.S. Forest Service.

Lizzie Demands a Seat!: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson. illus. by E. B. Lewis. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781629799391.
Gr 1-3–In 1854, when Lizzie Jennings was forced off a traditionally “whites only” streetcar, she went to court, winning the right for all black passengers to ride in the same car with white people on the Third Avenue Railroad in New York City. Anderson’s account of Jennings’s early civil rights triumph stresses the teacher and choir director’s determination. An important story, beautifully told.

Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female “Fire Guard” by Aimee Bissonette. illus. by David Hohn. Sleeping Bear. ISBN 9781534110618.
Gr 1-5–Hallie Morse Daggett, a white woman who grew up near California’s Siskiyou Mountains in the early 20th century, was acutely aware of the danger that wildfires posed to her family and her beloved wilderness, so she carved a space for herself in a male-dominated field. Hohn’s detailed, expressive illustrations burst with action and color, bringing Daggett and her surroundings to life. Daggett’s story is told in a narrative style, with short paragraphs that complement illustrated spreads.

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges . Delacorte. ISBN 9780593378526.
Gr 5 Up–Ruby Bridges displayed courage and resilience when chosen to integrate New Orleans’s all-white public school system in 1960 at the age of six. Bridges pens a “letter of peace” addressed to Congressman John Lewis and “the young peacemakers of the world.” She hopes that young people can break the cycle of racism and continue to rally against injustice in its many forms, ultimately, advising readers to have “a heart full of grace.”

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline-Ransome.illus. by Gillian Flint. Philomel. ISBN 9780593115831.
Gr 1-4–In March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks made her historic stand against segregation on a Montgomery bus, Black teenager Claudette Colvin (b. 1939) refused to give up her Montgomery bus seat to a white woman. Her religious devotion is emphasized and accounts of her arrest and trial are well-explored and provide an engaging read. Cline-Ransome’s narrative provides a knowledgeable, interesting introduction to an important player in the civil rights movement.


Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne. Viking. ISBN 9780451481542.
Gr 5-7–Dionne clearly presents the difficult battle for women’s suffrage that African American women endured before Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment on June 4, 1919. The trek to the ballot box for African American women was a difficult one, with many grim realities to overcome before and after the amendment’s ratification. So many of these women played pivotal roles in the passage of fundamental civil rights legislation, yet remain unidentified in mainstream accounts.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power To Change the World by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele. adapt. by Benee Knauer. St. Martin’s/Wednesday. ISBN 9781250194985.
Gr 7 Up–In this title that is part memoir, part call to action, Black Lives Matter (BLM) cofounder Khan-Cullors describes growing up as a young Black girl in a multiracial community in Van Nuys, CA; her personal experiences with police; untreated mental illness in her own family; and the impact of white supremacy. This book is more than the origin story of BLM and more than Khan-Cullors’s revolutionary journey. She creates space for difficult thoughts and conversations to begin.

Lady Bird Johnson, That’s Who!: The Story of a Cleaner and Greener America by Tracy Nelson Maurer. illus. by Ginnie Hsu. Holt. ISBN 9781250240361.
Gr 3–Former First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson (1912–2007), like her namesake the ladybug, spent her childhood among flowers, nature, and the wilderness surrounding her Texas country home. Johnson was a quiet and shy child who preferred picking wildflower bouquets over speaking in front of audiences; however, her confidence and influence grew as she reached adulthood and became First Lady. Hsu’s light, airy illustrations utilize thematic wildflowers to vividly frame key moments and people. Recommended for elementary biography collections looking for titles centered on female influencers and environmental champions.

She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney with Chelsea Clinton. illus. by Gillian Flint and Alexandra Boiger. Philomel. ISBN 9780593115657; ISBN 9780593115664.
Gr 2-4–Fast-paced, short chapters and a conversational tone make this entry in the “She Persisted” series an accessible and appealing choice for new readers. The text unpacks Harriet Tubman’s motivations in an honest but child-appropriate manner. Black-and-white illustrations further humanize Tubman. This engaging biography is a quick but informative read and well-matched for the intended audience.


Mighty Justice: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe. adapt. by Jabari Asim. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250229007.
Gr 7-10–Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914–2018), an African American civil rights activist and attorney, learned from an early age that she was “as good as anybody.” This young readers’ edition of Roundtree’s inspiring memoir provides context and detailed insight into the historic events in which she took part.

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin. illus. by Richie Pope. Candlewick. ISBN 9780763679941.
Gr 3-7–Mary Seacole, a nurse who served on the front lines of the Crimean War, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1805. As a young girl, Seacole watched her mother prepare herbs to help sick people. She decided she wanted to help others with natural remedies, kindness, and good food. Seacole is an unsung hero of the nursing world. This picture book biography could find a home in elementary through middle school libraries.

Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel. illus. by Vali Mintzi. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646140374.
Gr 2-4–This loose biography relates the little-known story of the first female rabbi, Osnat Barzani, a Kurdish Jew whose knowledge of the Torah and leadership of a yeshiva in ancient Iraq broke gender barriers.Gouache illustrations with mostly full-page backgrounds of blue, red and gold depict Osnat’s tale, and include religious symbols such as a dove (denoting peace) and the number seven (considered a perfect number in Judaism).

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis . adapt. by Brandy Colbert and Jeanne Theoharis. Beacon. ISBN 9780807067574.
Gr 6 Up–The name Rosa Parks conjures images of her most famous act of defiance: refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL. The act of protest on the bus, which led to a 381-day bus boycott and the eventual desegregation of public transportation, is only one example of her activism. Theoharis and Colbert provide a thorough tome for those who truly want to understand Parks’s life. The writing style flows seamlessly, drawing readers into the narrative.

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