Women in STEM: New Books for Kids
Women’s History Month is a reminder for us to appreciate the accomplishments and contributions of women, often in the face of daunting obstacles. These new children’s books about pioneering women in STEM include women from different branches of science, including marine biology, paleontology, rocket science, astronomy, and zoology. This list of children’s books about women in STEM includes picture books as well as chapter books.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. I received complimentary copies of some of the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own.
New Books About Pioneering Women in STEM
Celebrate pioneering women in STEM with these new children’s books!
Aquariums are one of those things that, like museums, are so commonplace that we rarely stop to think about someone actually inventing them. The Girl Who Built an Aquarium tells the little known story of the French artist and scientist who, though denied formal training in the sciences, invented the first aquarium. Up until that time, aquatic animals were either observed when they came into shallow water or as dead specimens. The aquarium allowed her to closely observe animal behavior, solving mysteries such as where the argonaut gets its shell. (Spoiler alert: It builds it!) This wonderfully illustrated book is written by a zoologist turned author and is sure to inspire a trip to your own local aquarium.
Her Eyes on the Stars is a gorgeous new biography of Maria Mitchell, the first American woman to become a professional astronomer and the first female astronomy professor in the world. The simple yet elegant illustrations compliment the text, which captures Maria’s budding curiosity as well as her list of accomplishments and “firsts.” At a time when women were often shut out from science, Mitchell’s calculations were so reliable that she was hired by the US Naval Observatory, becoming one of the first women employed professionally by the US government. Moreover, the book demonstrates that one of her most significant achievements was the legacy of female astronomers she trained at Vassar Collage. A wonderful look at this groundbreaking scientist and to the field of astronomy.
Breaking Through the Clouds is a great introduction to meteorology and pioneering scientist Joanne Simpson. You will never look at clouds the same way again! Before Simpson, scientists did not have much interest in clouds. In the face of skepticism and even ridicule from other (male) scientists, Simpson proved definitively that clouds were significant drivers of weather. Her work launched an entirely new branch of meteorology – this despite being shut out of academia when she first applied for graduate studies. But beyond her scientific accomplishments, readers soon realize that Simpson was a force of nature herself. When she wasn’t allowed into the doctorate program because she was a woman, she created her own program of study. When presented with her findings, the university was so impressed they awarded her the doctorate they had earlier denied her. A wonderful book for older children about determination and following your dreams no matter what anyone tells you.
Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes chronicles the life of the first giraffologist. Anne Innis Daag fell in love with giraffes during a trip to the zoo as a young child, and she never lost that sense of wonder, even though others laughed at her dream of studying giraffes. When she traveled to South Africa in 1956 at age 23 to study giraffes in the wild, she became the first person from the West to do so. Yet her later career was a difficult one. Though she wished to become a professor, she was denied tenured positions, which were rewarded to men. But Innis Daag did not give up. She instead became a prolific writer, sharing her knowledge and love of giraffes with the world. She also founded the Anne Innis Daag Foundation, to help save the giraffes and their habitat. A lovely book about following your heart and inspiring others to share your passion. Includes a brief interview with Dr. Innis Daag.
Many women in STEM faced the stereotype that scientists should only be male. In Just Wild Enough, we learn of Mireya Mayor, who faced a slightly different version of this stereotype – she didn’t look like what people imagined a scientist should look like. A former cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, Mayor charged into the jungle in pink boots and a designer vest. No one expected she would last long – but she did! She traveled into remote areas where few others dared to venture. She even discovered a new species of lemur and assured their survival by persuading the government of Madagascar to declare their habitat a nature preserve. Known as the “female Indiana Jones” thanks to her wildlife reporting for National Geographic, Mayor now travels the world advocating for conservation.
Blast Off! is about one of the unsung heroes of space exploration. Born a farm in North Dakota, Mary Sherman Morgan started school at age 8. Her parents valued her mainly for her work on the farm, but they had to send Mary to school once the sheriff and a social worker stopped by. Despite the late start, Mary graduated top of her class. She scraped and saved her own money to attend college but had to leave when her money ran out. Still Mary refused to give up on her dream of working as a chemist. Eventually she was hired to work on developing rocket fuel for America’s budding space program. It was Mary who concocted the fuel that powered the first US rocket to launch into space, though she had retired to raise a family by the time the rocket launched. I love the design of this book, which perfectly captures the feel of the 1950s space race. The pages are covered with calculations, diagrams, and notes, and the overall look reminds me of newspapers and comics of the era.
Mae Jemison made history in 1992 as the first African-American woman in space. This book helps us understand Jemison as a whole person, from her early interest in science to her work in the Peace Corps and her love of Star Trek. I loved learning details like what personal objects she took into space with her and how her studies of African stargazers in the past helped deepen her conviction that space was for everyone. Bright and colorful, this book is a wonderful introduction to Jemison’s life for younger children and will help encourage them to follow their own dreams. (And if you are a Jemison fan, you won’t want to miss her interview on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! from 2013).
How to Hear the Universe accomplishes the incredible – explaining Einstein’s theory of space-time ripples to children! Yet it does it in an effortless way, also demonstrating the spectacular achievement just a few years ago of Gaby Gonzalez and her team to prove that Einstein’s theory was correct. Author Patricia Valdez was inspired to write this joyful book after seeing Gonzalez, a Latina immigrant, make the announcement of their discovery in 2016. Featuring the delightful illustrations of award-winning Sara Palacios, this is a fabulous book to help children delve deeper into the mysteries that still exist in our understanding of the universe.
Fossil Hunter is a thoroughly researched book for children curious about the early history of paleontology. It places the story of early fossil hunter Mary Anning squarely in the history of science, weaving in contemporary understandings and debates about the history of the world and the meaning of the remains that were being discovered. This book helps to recover Anning’s contributions to the field, which were so often overlooked by her contemporaries, even as they made use of the fossils she discovered and prepared. But I also love the detail it provides of Anning’s own life, which was characterized by poverty and hardship. Her main incentive for becoming a fossil hunter to begin with was financial, as she sought to help provide for her family after the sudden death of her father. A fascinating look for older children into the history and business side of science, as specimens are bought, sold, and debated.
She Persisted: Temple Grandin is part of the wonderful chapter book series of biographies of inspiring women. Temple Grandin is inspiring for many reasons, notably her pioneering studies of animal behavior, which revolutionized how cattle and other animals are raised and slaughtered. But she also helped remove the stigma surrounding autism, helping people understand the world through her eyes. This book shares wonderful anecdotes from Grandin’s life, such as the “squeeze machine” she invented to help calm herself and how she overcame her fears and discomfort to carry on her work on behalf of others. This book is all the more special as the author herself is on the autism spectrum.
Who are your favorite pioneering women in STEM?