March Books: Women Who Changed the World

By on March 8, 2014

Try out any or all of these absorbing picture book biographies about lively girls and women whose experiences can be inspiring.  Remember, there is no age when the fun and benefits of reading out loud end!

 by Meribeth Shank

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

BOOKskyby Ann Malaspina, illustrations by Eric Velasquez. 

        Stunning oil paintings on watercolor paper match the easy-to-read free-verse text of this exciting biography. A strong Olympic athlete, Alice Coachman was a runner, a racer even as a young child in Georgia during the 1930’s. With the help of her friends, her teachers, her coaches and eventually her family, she was able to realize her racing dream.

       Glowing colors pop out from both dark and light scenes. One example is from the first double page spread: Alice’s white dress blazes against the dark ground as she sails across a tree trunk. Alice’s racing, flying body, as she hurtles through the air, highlights the poetic language of Alice’s story. Her practice, competition, team effort and medals all serve to underline the importance of her success. As the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, her fame was guaranteed. She was honored despite the continuing racial issues following the 1948 Summer Olympics in London England.  Albert Whitman, $16.99 (hardcover) Interest Level: Kindergarten–Grade 3 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

 Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren

BOOKmercyby Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Alexandra Wallner.

Regardless of the expectations of Americans in the 1700’s, young Mercy wanted more than the usual women’s work of cooking and sewing. Not only did she learn to read and write, but she found democracy in action, freedom and “natural rights” exciting.  Her older brother’s Harvard books and conversations kept her involved in politics even with her many family responsibilities.

       Despite catastrophes in her family life and the clamor of revolutionary change, Mercy did not want to be just a spectator.  She secretly wrote poetry and plays for the Boston newspapers.

Accompanied by gouache paintings that feature a flat color style that emphasizes the colonial time period in America, the story of Mercy’s double life can be an example to readers. She wrote because she had something important to say.  Her brother’s friend, James Warren, became her husband and urged her to keep writing.  Short quotes from her writings are featured on several double-page spreads.  Her monumental work on the history of the American Revolution is the climax both of the book and of her life.

An Author’s Note, a reproduction of John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Mercy Otis Warren, and a timeline of her life are part of the end matter.  Also included are a Selected Bibliography, a list of Books for Young Readers, and Websites. Calkins Creek, $16.95 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grades 1-5 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

 Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President

BOOKfireby Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Steve James.

In 1872, women in America were not allowed to vote. This injustice did not stop Susan from registering to vote. She argued and was permitted to register, and cast her vote. But that was certainly not the end of the issue.  She was arrested, required to pay $1,000.00 and went to trial. The judge advised the jury to find her guilty. But she was stubborn and never paid the fine!

Vivid paintings make careful use of white space – allowing facial expressions to share the emotional weight of the story along with the quickly moving text. Punchy free-verse engages readers in Susan’s story. A note from the author, a Selected Bibliography and several photos are part of the back matter. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grades 1-4 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

More great biographies to choose from:

BOOKMaryWalkerMary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness, illustrated by Carlo Molinari.  Albert Whitman, $16.99 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grades 2-5 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:




BOOKRachelCarsonRachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner. Holiday House, $16.95 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grades 2-4 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:



BOOKSusanBAnthonySusan B. Anthony by Alexandra Wallner. Holiday House, $16.95 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grades 2-4 (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:




BOOKpaiuteprincessPaiute Princess:  The Story of Sarah Winnemucca by Deborah Kogan Ray. Farrar Straus & Giroux, $17.99 (hardcover) Interest Level: Grade 3-6 1 (This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library; So. Dade Regional Branch. Also may be purchased from Books & Books online:




Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, teaches classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web:


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