Picture book biographies are one of my favorite kinds of books. Children respond well to the learning that takes place while reading them because – picture books!

I went to the library this weekend and was super excited to get these 2017 picture books right as they were being shelved for the first time – so they are brand new this year and just making their way onto library shelves. Exciting! 

Here they are – 6 new picture books about fascinating women as architects, animators, singers, dancers, authors and activists. Enjoy!

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter tells the story of Zaha Hadid, a girl born in Iraq, who is inspired by nature and patterns, eventually training to become an architect. Her designs aren’t initially accepted for various reasons, including that she is a woman, she is Muslim and her ideas are different than others. But Zaha doesn’t give up and now her buildings can be seen around the world. I love how this book highlights the tenacity of Zaha and her desire to design buildings how she chose and not how others told her they should be. The end of the book lists some more biographical info, along with key quotes and a listing of the famous buildings she designed in different countries. The text is sparse but powerful. My son’s recommendation? “That was a good book.”

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio tells the story of how Billie Holiday grew up having a rough childhood and how she experienced racism throughout her life even after she became a famous jazz singer. The book tells how she used her vocal talents to sing a song called Strange Fruit which was written to protest the treatment of blacks in the South. This book deals with heavy themes about racism, not shying away from the subject of lynching which is alluded to in the lyrics of the song. The focus of the story is on the power of using art to speak out against injustice. Biographical notes at the end of the book tell more about the song and Billie’s life, including mentioning the substance abuse issues that would cause her death at 44 years old.


Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker tells the story of author “Jinnee” Burton who wrote classic children’s books like The Little House (a Caldecott Medal Winner), Katy and the Big Snow and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The book does a good job of showing that she wrote the books for her two sons who saw her illustrations and stories come to life as she worked. I liked how the book used lyrical text and illustrations to let the reader feel Jinnee’s creative process. I also liked seeing how her sons inspired her to write and that she worked alongside them, involving them so that they felt invested in the stories.

Danza!: Amala Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh tells the life story of Amalia Hernandez, from deciding she wanted to be a dancer to ultimately founding and running her own dance company that traveled the world. Amalia combined her training in ballet and modern dance with the folk dances of her home country to create innovative works that highlighted Mexico’s history and culture. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the glossary at the end helps readers to understand many of the terms used in the book.


Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville is the story of Mary Blair, an artist who loved color but came of age in a black and white kind of world. She was one of the first women hired to work at Walt Disney Studios but her career also included work in advertising, children’s book illustrating, television and stage design. While her work did make it into some famous Disney movies like Alice in Wonderland, the book ends with a focus on her vision that culminated in the creation of the classic ride, It’s a Small World. I had never heard of Mary Blair and this picture book format was the perfect way to be introduced to her – a beautiful book with a strong message for readers to be true to themselves and their vision despite the naysayers they may meet along the way.

Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade tells the story of Jane Addams, from a young girl seeing people in need to her life as a woman helping hard-working families at Hull House in Chicago. The book also highlights her despair about World War I and her efforts in the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. The “Dangerous” Jane nickname comes about after the war as she continues to help people from other countries, many accuse her of being a traitor. The book ends with Jane being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first American woman to win it. This book covers a lot of history while still keeping the theme of Jane’s desire to help others as the driving force of the all the content. The timeline at the end of the book lets readers see a progression of even more of Jane’s accomplishments not specifically addressed in the text.


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