Women in the Arts: New Biographies
Last week I featured new children’s biographies about women in STEM. Now it is time to celebrate some of the many remarkable women in the arts, from writers, painters, and sculptors to musicians. These new biographies for children tell us the stories behind the incredible success and formidable talents – the obstacles they faced and the dreams that helped them persevere. The list below is comprised primarily of picture books, with one chapter book included as well.
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.
Women in the Arts: New Biographies About Musicians, Artists, & Writers
Celebrate Women’s History Month with these new biographies about women in the arts!
A Storm of Horses is the story of groundbreaking French artist Rosa Bonheur. She defied 19th century norms that kept women in the home by refusing to marry and forging her own career as an artist, often as the only woman featured in exhibitions. A Storm of Horses focuses on Bonheur’s masterpiece, the stunning 8’x16′ work The Horse Fair. Bonheur became a star, selling to collectors around the world, yet after realistic painting fell out of favor in more recent times – coupled with the fact that she was a woman – Bonheur was largely forgotten until recent years. The spectacular illustrations in this book evoke Bonheur’s paintings, including her powerful portrayals of animals in motion.
Buy A Storm of Horses on Amazon or Bookshop
As a young girl in India, M.S. Subbulakshmi loved to sing. But at the time, women and girls were not allowed to sing publicly. Slowly she began to overcome these barriers because of the sweetness and power of her voice, even recording her own album. Everything changed for her when Gandhi asked her to sing for the freedom movement. Soon her voice was heard across India and around the world. She was even invited to sing at the United Nations, the first Indian musician to receive this honor. Throughout her decades long career, she maintained a simple life, giving away most of her money to charity. She Sang for India offers a much needed look at this activist and musician, whose story is not well known in the West.
Buy She Sang for India on Amazon or Bookshop
Out of the Shadows tells the fascinating story behind the first animated full-length fairytale movie. Lotte Reiniger loved fairy tales as a child and soon fell in love with the new technology of movies as well. She was a talented artist, specializing in the German technique of paper cutting. She began working in film, creating special effects stop motion animation for silent films. Her work was so remarkable that she was commissioned to create the first full-length animated movie using her paper cut silhouettes and new filming techniques that she invented. The film was a huge success, and Reiniger went on to have a long career in movies and animation, influencing movies from Fantasia to Harry Potter.
Buy Out of the Shadows on Amazon or Bookshop
Written in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, What the Artist Saw: Louise Bourgeois shares the story of a French-American artist who made an indelible mark on modern art, through fabric works, paintings, and sculptures. The book is more in-depth than most picture books, sharing detailed information about Bourgeois’s life and art. I love how this book encourages young readers in their own pursuit of art. The text is sprinkled with questions for further thought, encouraging kids to think about their own creative process. The book ends with gorgeous photos of Bourgeois’s most important works, as well as several art projects for kids to try.
Buy What the Artist Saw: Louise Bourgeois on Amazon or Bookshop
Holding Her Own tells the remarkable story of Jackie Ormes, the first Black woman cartoonist to be nationally syndicated in the US. Through her humorous cartoons, she somehow managed to convey her well known “Jackie joy” yet also express the simmering post-World War II anger among felt many Black Americans over the denial of basic civil rights. The book captures Ormes’s singular talent and determination, which propelled her to success in a male-dominated industry. But this success, and her outspoken characters, came with a price: The FBI spied on Ormes for a decade, compiling at huge file on her. But Ormes wasn’t deterred. She kept right on creating, including making a line of dolls based on her Patty-Jo character. Throughout her long career, she used her characters to spread Black joy and speak out against injustice. The illustrations in the book are incredible, reflecting Ormes’ style of art. You can even see some of Ormes’s comics at the back of the book!
Buy Holding Her Own on Amazon or Bookshop
Mae Makes a Way is about hat maker and fashion icon Mae Reeves. Published in collaboration with the Smithonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the book tells the story of her artistry but also explains why hats were so important at that time, especially for Black women. An elegant hat could amplify the dignity of women whose dignity was so often ignored, and Reeves’s creations were definitely too beautiful to be ignored. Reeves became the first Black woman to own a business on Philadelphia’s South Street. Both Whites and Blacks shopped at her store, including famous clients like Lena Horne, Marian Anderson, and Ella Fitzgerald. But she was also a civic leader, providing jobs and helping out in the community, including making her business an official polling site on Election Day. The illustrations capture the elegance and joy of Reeves’ creations, and you can also see a few photographs at the back of the book.
Buy Mae Makes a Way on Amazon or Bookshop
Only the Best is about another giant from the world of fashion, Ann Lowe. If you don’t know that name, it is because for much of her career, white employers took credit for Lowe’s designs, though her high society clients knew who the real artist was. Indeed, for many years, the story of the Black fashion designer behind Jackie Kennedy’s iconic wedding dress was not known. The book shows the remarkable path Lowe, granddaughter of an enslaved seamstress, took from the segregated South to owning her own shop on Madison Avenue. A story of excellence and determination, accompanied by lush artwork of Lowe’s creations that fairly shimmers and twirls across the page.
Buy Only the Best on Amazon or Bookshop
The board book A Is for Aretha has quickly become a favorite in our household. My daughter loves paging through it to look at all beautiful portraits and snapshot biographies of trailblazing Black women musicians. I love that it includes such a broad spectrum of music, from Ella Fitzgerald to Lizzo! Each short bio emphasizes the artist’s contribution to music as well as how she used her platform to advocate for justice and equality. Designed for very young readers, it is also a hit with older kids, too!
Buy A Is for Aretha on Amazon or Bookshop
Evelyn Glennie always loved music, but one day a doctor told her that she would never play music again. The nerves in her ears were deteriorating, and she would have to give up her music dreams. But Glennie was not so easily deterred. One day she discovered percussion, and she soon learned to feel the music in an entirely new way. Glennie went on to become a Garmmy awarding winning musician and the first full-time solo percussionist in the world. A joyous book about defying expectations that helps readers to truly Listen.
Buy Listen on Amazon or Bookshop
Ablaze with Color shares the incredible life of painter Alma Thomas, the first Black woman to have her artwork chosen for the White House collection. After her family moved north to escape the segregated South, Thomas devoted herself to bringing art to the children in her community, who were shut out from opportunities available to the white children. It was not until she was nearly 70 years old that Thomas left teaching to focus on her own art. Her bold colors and abstract designs soon caught the attention of the Whitney Museum in New York City, which featured her work in the museum’s first solo show by a Black woman. The book’s illustrations draw inspiration from Thomas’s work, incorporating similar bright colors to capture the joy that Thomas evoked through her art.
Buy Ablaze with Color on Amazon or Bookshop
On Her Wings is an uplifting portrait of the great writer Toni Morrison, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison is one of those writers who has changed the landscape of modern literature. This biography presents the facts but also the magic of her life – the way she was inspired by the stories of her elders and those she found in the local library and the way she transformed words into magic powerful to uplift the reader and inspire a new generation of storytellers. The gorgeous paintings that accompany the text capture the richness of Morrison’s life and work.
Buy On Her Wings on Amazon or Bookshop
The Green Piano is special because it is the only autobiography on this list. Five time Grammy winner Roberta Flack, with help from Tonya Bolden, tells her own story of finding music as a young. Flack’s parents were both self-taught musicians, and Flack soon followed in their footsteps. At the tender age of three or four she was already playing the piano at church. Formal lessons began a few years later, but what she really wanted was a piano of her own. Finally, her father found an old piano at a junkyard, which the family lovingly fixed up for the little girl, who used it throughout the years as her skills and her love for music grew. Flack wanted to tell this story to remind children who are marginalized not to give up or feel ashamed for having less than others. Flack’s little green piano wasn’t fancy or expensive, but it still propelled her to stardom. A lovely book with an uplifting message.
Buy The Green Piano on Amazon or Bookshop
As a former library science student myself, pioneering librarian Pura Belpré is one of my heroes. Therefore, I am always excited to see a new biography of her, especially one as lovely as Planting Stories. This beautiful book (which won the Pura Belpré award!) shows how Belpré transformed libraries, creating lively bilingual story times, complete with handmade puppets. When she couldn’t find on the library shelves the folk tales she remembered from home in Puerto Rico, Belpré wrote and published them herself! A gorgeous book about a woman who determinedly fulfilled her goal of being like Johnny Appleseed, planting stories throughout the land.
Buy Planting Stories on Amazon or Bookshop
When I was young, I fell in love with the Wrinkle in Time series and soon had read most of Madeleine L’Engle’s books for children. My mother even took me to see L’Engle speak, and she signed a copy of my favorite book from the Wrinkle in Time series. So I was thrilled to find A Book, Too, Can Be a Star, co-authored by L’Engle’s granddaughter. The title comes from a quote by L’Engle, showing how books can help light a way in the darkness. This picture book biography emphasizes L’Engle’s boundless curiosity, and how she always encouraged children to ask questions and tell their own stories. The illustrations capture the wonder that fills L’Engle’s works and her ability to draw us into the infinite possibilities of the universe.
Buy A Book, Too, Can Be a Star on Amazon or Bookshop
Amanda Gorman is the youngest person to make this list. Like so many others, I first learned of Gorman when I watched her speech at the 2021 presidential inauguration, so I enjoyed reading Little People, Big Dreams: Amanda Gorman and learning more about her early life and inspirations. I especially loved that when Gorman was diagnosed with a speech impediment, she saw it as a gift that gave her strength. This book helps children to understand that poetry is everywhere, and that the qualities that make them different also make them special.
Buy Little People, Big Dreams: Amanda Gorman on Amazon or Bookshop
I feel like every booklist I make during Women’s History Month has to include at least one title from the amazing She Persisted series! This biography of Marian Anderson shows the idiocy of Jim Crow, as one of the greatest singers in history was often shut out from performing in certain venues or staying at whites only hotels. Her powerful gift attracted equally powerful supporters, however, including the First Lady of the United States. When Anderson was unable to book a performance at Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt threw her considerable influence behind organizing an historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, presaging Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech there decades later. She Persisted: Marian Anderson is a wonderful early chapter book about Anderson’s great talent but also her determination. As always, this book includes activity ideas for honoring Anderson’s legacy , such as thinking of how you can support someone else who is striving to fulfill their dream.
Buy She Persisted: Marian Anderson on Amazon or Bookshop
Who are your favorite inspiration women in the arts?
Women in STEM: New Books for Kids
Biographies for Kids of Amazing Women
Women’s History Month Resources