The Books Women’s Rights Activists Recommend Your Children Read

A reading list about inspiring figures, empowerment and intersectional stories to help kids navigate the world.
"This Book is Feminist," by Jamia Wilson "Colonize This!" by Daisy Hernández and "Who Is Gloria Steinem?" by Sarah Fabiny
"This Book is Feminist," by Jamia Wilson "Colonize This!" by Daisy Hernández and "Who Is Gloria Steinem?" by Sarah Fabiny

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The feminist movement, though essential for furthering women’s equality, is rife with inequities of its own, be it its past of excluding Black and brown women and members of the LGBTQ+ communities. This can make teaching the concept of feminism and its history to young people a complex task that adults and caretakers might not always be able to carry out.

According to women’s rights activists and members of various women’s organizations, books can be a great tool to talk about feminism, especially when discussing experiences that are different from our own. In honor of Women’s History Month and to celebrate intersectional feminism, we asked experts like Karla J. Strand, writer and women’s studies librarian for the university system in Wisconsin, about the best feminist books for young adults, middle-schoolers and young children.

Everyone can learn something from the upcoming collection of books chosen by Strand and others, which include a children’s chapter book version of Gloria Steinem’s memoir, an artful collection of Native women’s voices and a graphic novel all about the global history of women’s fight for equality.

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"Feminism Is..." by DK
“Feminism Is…” is meant to demystify the history and evolution of the feminist movement while shouldering the topics that matter to modern feminists, such as “intersectionality, the gender pay gap, the male gaze, and mansplaining,” according to the book’s publisher. Supplemented with bright graphics, illustrations and short biographies of influential feminists, this book is easy to grasp for readers as young as middle school-aged. It can serve as an informative and accessible reference guide to feminism. New York Times bestselling author and social commentator Roxane Gay (“Bad Feminist”) writes the book’s foreword on her own hesitancy and personal journey with adopting the mantle of feminism, and it's through this lens that readers can understand its true meaning.

“With a foreword by Roxane Gay and bold, colorful images, it’s hard to beat this broad overview of feminism, its movements and its leaders. This is a compelling introduction to what feminism is, where it came from and why we need it (probably now more than ever).” — Karla J. Strand, writer and women’s studies librarian for the university system in Wisconsin
"Who Is Gloria Steinem?" by Sarah Fabiny
There are several incredible women who are synonymous with feminism, and activist Gloria Steinem is definitely one of them. The famed feminist’s own personal account, “My Life on the Road,” is the adult counterpart to this wonderful children’s chapter book by Sarah Fabiny, “Who is Gloria Steinem?” This easy-to-follow rendering of Steinem’s memoir begins with Steinem’s start as an undercover reporter and journalist in the 1960s. It continues on to detail the ways she became a champion for women’s rights, founded Ms. Magazine and exposed gender inequality. The book also shows how Steinam’s advocacy grew, and she became (and remains) a central spokeswoman for the women’s liberation movement.

“My now middle school 12-year-old son really loves the ‘Who Is/Was’ and ‘What Is/Was?’ series. It’s a wonderful, curated collection on his bookshelf focused on feminist history and icons, past and present. Overall, this fantastic series is an excellent way to introduce young readers to many of the milestones and key actors in the history of feminism.”Ellen Liu, chief program officer at Ms. Foundation for Women
"This Book is Feminist: An Intersectional Primer for Next-Gen Changemakers" by Jamia Wilson
A wonderful addition to any young reader’s library, Jamia Wilson’s “This Book is Feminist” is designed to help advocates and “changemakers” better understand feminism, the patriarchy and marginalized communities. Wilson is known for being the former director of the Feminist Press, an award-winning activist, an author and a podcaster. Artist Aurélia Durand’s bright and beautiful illustrations supplement each chapter, encouraging young readers to contemplate their interpretations of feminism, justice, safety and even personal relationships. Most importantly, this guide dives into the intersectional aspects of feminism and also provides a proactive and interactive experience with questions and call-to-action boxes at the end of each chapter.

“Gorgeously illustrated, this volume explains feminism, intersectionality, identity, wellness and more in engaging and accessible prose. Pick up this gem for the budding feminists of all genders in your life who are joining — and reimagining — the fight against the patriarchy!” — Strand
"Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women's Fight for Their Rights” by Mikki Kendall
Mikki Kendall’s “Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists” is a global history of women and feminism written in graphic novel form that’s perfect for young adult readers and beyond. The book begins in the future with several young women students attending a women’s history class. The pupils seem to have differing opinions regarding feminism and are frustrated with incorrect misinformation. The teacher takes the group on a time-traveling and location-shifting journey to places like the ancient city of Sumer to modern-day protests. The New York Times bestselling author even received high praise from fellow bestselling-selling author N.K. Jemisin (“Broken Earth” trilogy) who called Kendall’s novel “A beautifully drawn, hold-no-punches, surprisingly deep dive through the history of women's rights around the world, which will entrance kids and adults alike.”

“This is a graphic novel that would appeal to many readers and can be especially accessible to visual learners. Focusing on the ubiquity of the struggle for women’s rights, the phenomenal Mikki Kendall includes stories of everyday people, royalty, and everyone in between.” — Strand
"Feminist AF: A Guide to Crushing Girlhood" by Brittney Cooper, Chanel Craft Tanner, and Susana Morris
The Crunk Feminist Collective (CFC) was established to “create a space of support and camaraderie for hip-hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight,” according to the collective’s mission statement. Three of the CFC’s founding members wrote “Feminist AF,” a hip-hop-infused guide meant to empower young Black girls to love themselves and understand the principles of “crunk feminism.” This funny and witty book takes on topics like gender identity, sexual violence and the reality that not all systems of inequality are the same for every woman. “Be kind, not nice” and “No is a complete sentence” are just a few of the book’s notable mantras, along with encouraged playlists, articles to read, films to watch and even the personal ways in which each of the authors came to understand feminism for themselves.

“It’s bright, accessible, and centers Black girls (but other girls should read it, too!). Terms and concepts are clearly explained, playlists, movies, and podcasts are included that parents and their kids can enjoy together, and tough issues are taken on clearly and honestly while interspersed with the authors’ personal stories.” — Strand
"Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism (Live Girls)" by Daisy Hernández
“Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism” is a must-read for not only burgeoning feminists but for anyone seeking awareness that the movement is not a single narrative. This anthology edition has been recently updated. Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman have curated an impressive collection of dynamic voices and writers who share essays and short stories with a profound impact. In the opening essay by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha titled “browngirlworld,” her first lines are potent: “These are the histories ever present in every young queer/feminist scene, just undocumented — all the ones that weren’t in Michele Tea’s or Sarah Schulman’s capturing of white queer girl life. We dark funny girls kick ass, change and make history, but the ass-kicking we do doesn’t end up on the official records no matter how crucial we are.” The anthology continues with more chapters focusing on issues of divisions, racism, finding community strength and diversity within the feminist movement. — Recommended by DeLisha Tapscott, doctor of education and MADRE's interim co-executive director
"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson was raised in South Carolina and New York, two extraordinarily different places that both left her feeling out of place as a young African American girl during the era of Jim Crow and a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. In her memoir, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” Woodson offers a window into a time of extreme change through the lens of someone in the midst of finding strength and understanding. It’s a must-read for any young reader looking to grasp the impacts of racism and the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and ‘70s and how it affected women of color.
— Recommended by Tapscott
"Stand Up!: 10 Mighty Women Who Made a Change" by Brittney Cooper
For your truly young feminists, perhaps still even learning how to walk, comes Brittney Cooper’s picture book “Stand Up!: 10 Mighty Women Who Made a Change.” The New York Times bestselling author (“Eloquent Rage”) highlights 10 trailblazing Black women who revolutionized the world. Young readers can learn about civil rights activists like Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks and even more contemporary icons like: “Bree Newsome, who removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds, and Mari Copeny, a youth activist who fought for clean water in Flint, Michigan,” as described by the book’s publisher.

“Colorful and lively, this book encourages girls to 'be mighty' and stand up for their beliefs like the ten individuals who are profiled did. Some of the women may be familiar (Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Claudette Colvin), and some will be new (Mum Bett, Mari Copeny, Lelia Foley), but the focus on girls (not just grown women) is a highlight.” — Strand
"You Are More Than Magic: The Black and Brown Girls' Guide to Finding Your Voice” by Minda Harts
CEO of The Memo and bestselling author Minda Harts knows it takes more than “magic” for Black and brown girls to succeed and thrive in a world deeply lacking representation and support. She believes their success is not magic or something that just happened but rather a culmination of effort, education, intelligence and strength. Her book, for young girls of color (adults will benefit from this work as well), is full of lived experience and advice to help readers navigate different stages of life and find success. Harts stresses the importance of finding your individual voice, explains how to “build your squad,” self-advocate and “lean into courage,” even when you might be the only person in the room who looks like you.

“This book was created to be read by kids, their parents or by them together. #BlackGirlMagic is definitely a thing, but this book can help support girls of color when they aren’t feeling so magic. Harts covers coming of age, friendships, milestones, navigating the challenges and relishing the successes. It’s practical and accessible.” — Strand
"Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution” by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner
Author Judith Heumann became paralyzed by polio at only 18 months old and by the time she was 6 years old, was able to use a wheelchair, effectively thrusting her into a world that, in her own words, had “been created as we don’t exist.” Heumann writes about the ways that her life as a disabled person has been a series of adjustments for the comforts of everyone else and about the moments that eventually led to her career of self-advocacy and activism for others with disabilities.

“Often referred to as the mother of the disability rights movement, Judy Heumann was a renowned activist, leader, advisor and speaker whose story will excite and inspire readers.” — Strand
"Cinderella Liberator" by Rebecca Solnit
In Rebecca Solnit’s feminist reimagining of the classic “Cinderella” story, our glass-slippered heroine is something entirely different. Solnit, an author, historian and essayist, begins her tale with Ella’s very large foot fitting perfectly into the famed spare glass slipper, rather than a dainty, unrealistic size-five that readers may have expected. Solnit’s story is meant to shatter unattainable beauty standards along with the Disney princess damsel-in-distress tropes from classic fairytales to create a new version that doesn’t encourage little girls to be meek, dependent or base their worth on appearances and material possessions. This middle school-age chapter book also features illustrations from the late artist Arthur Rackham Strength to help narrate the themes of strength and self-reliance at the root of this story.

“Who better than renowned writer and activist Rebecca Solnit to reimagine classic fairytales like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella’? These are fresh, hopeful and imaginative tales for modern girls.” — Strand
"#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women" by Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot'in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale
The reality of feminism as a singular representation for all just doesn’t work, especially for women of color and Indigenous women. This collection of written and artistic works by Indigenous women is meant to deconstruct the stereotype of a Native tribal princess and provide a platform for Native voices. Poignant, reflective and, at times, rageful, this is a must-read for young feminists or for anyone who has experienced a feeling of invisibility, abuse, abandonment or the burdens of racism and sexism.

“This is a groundbreaking anthology of over 50 Native women’s art, photography and voices in poems, essays, interviews and more. It remains the best collection of its kind for young adults. This would be a fruitful, educational and reflective read for teens and their caregiver(s).” — Strand

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