In the U.S., March is Women’s History Month. I love learning about women’s history, so selecting only 10 books for this list was hard! There are so many women who have inspired me, and some incredible stories that are rarely heard. I want to shine a light on some women’s history that you may be unfamiliar with, as well as celebrate the women and girls leading us into the future.
Now, the usual disclaimer. I am a youth librarian, which means I’m most familiar with books written for young people. This means you’ll see a lot of YA and juvenile books on these lists. If you’re an adult looking for something good to read, don’t feel bad or embarrassed about reading youth books. Juvenile and YA books deal with themes and ideas that are applicable to all ages, even if the text isn’t as challenging as books written for adults. And there’s no age limit on good stories.
I also want to remind everyone that not every book will appeal to everyone. You may hate a book that I love, and that’s okay. Not liking a book doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that you don’t like it. I’ll try to appeal to a wide range of interests, but I don’t expect for you to love or even be interested in everything on this list. There’s a reader for every book, and every book has a reader. I’d love to help readers and books find each other!
Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
Our Bodies, Ourselves something I’d typically put on my monthly list, because it’s not exactly a book with a narrative. It’s a medical book about girls’ and women’s health that covers everything from puberty to women’s geriatric health. It also give straight-forward facts on abuse, sexuality, orientation, sex, birth control, pregnancy, and answers many questions that you (okay, me) were too afraid to ask. All the information is easily digestible, and the book never feels like it has an agenda of anything other than to inform you about your health and choices. I’ve pulled my 2005 edition out many times when I had questions (or was just plain curious) and the information was always helpful, and didn’t overwhelm me like a Google search might. The newest edition came out in 2011, but if you’re not up for a big fat book, the website ourbodiesourselves.org still has plenty of relevant information.
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, published by Oxford University Press, inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves. This is another medical reference book focused on health and wellness for transgender and non-binary individuals, with its second edition published in 2022.
Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars by Eileen Collins and Jonathan Ward
Eileen Collins always dreamed of the stars, but the odds of her reaching them were slim. Growing up in the 1970s in a small town and a struggling family, she seemed destined to be a math teacher, rather than a pilot. Yet through hard work and perseverance, Eileen Collins became the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. This memoir covers her small-town origins, flying operational missions for the U.S. Air Force, becoming the second female test pilot for the USAF, and finally, her four space flights, including the Return to Flight mission after the Columbia Tragedy. The book is written very much like Col. Collins herself: straightforward, without frills. Her journey is a fascinating one, especially for anyone interested in the science of space flight…or those among us who were fascinated by shuttle launches, and dreamed of being among the stars.
On a personal note, Eileen Collins has been a huge inspiration for me throughout my life. I was always fascinated by space, and seeing her become the first woman to command a Shuttle mission made me feel as though I could reach the stars too.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery.
In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk. What she didn’t tell them was that her “walk” would be the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. For nearly five months, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood hiked from Georgia to Maine, a journey of over 2,000 miles. She was the first woman to solo thru-hike the entire trail, and a pioneer of ultra-light hiking, never carrying more than about fifteen pounds of equipment or food with her. She would go on the hike the Appalachian trail four times, and become the first person to thru-hike the AT (man or woman) three times. She even hiked the Oregon Trail – yes, that Oregon Trail – at age 71. Unfortunately, Emma endured a horrifically abusive marriage for years, and finally divorced her husband in the 1940s, at a time when it was very difficult for women to do so. Her story – and her walk – has inspired generations of hikers and helped preserve the Appalachian Trail. Be careful reading this; it may just make you want to disappear into the woods yourself.
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath.
There are many women whose achievements and escapades you’ve never heard of before. But just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they weren’t amazing. Rejected Princesses is a collection of biographies of women who were too incredible to be turned into Disney movies, but most certainly deserved one! This book introduced me to some historical bad-asses who deserve far more recognition: Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley), the Irish pirate queen; Sybil Ludington, who put Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride to shame; and Emmeline Pankhurst, the controversial but incredible English suffragette. There’s also plenty of diversity, with stories of women of all races. It doesn’t shy away from their sexualities or gender identities, showing trans and non-binary individuals alongside ciswomen. Each biography is accompanied by a full-page Disney style illustration. This book is an absolute joy, and as fun as it is educational.
Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Daughters: Heroines in Folk Tales Around the World, edited by Kathleen Raglan
Folk tales have always shaped our culture. Even today, fairy tales and nursery rhymes are some of children’s earliest introductions to literature. Many of the most well-known traditional tales feature strong male characters saving damsels in distress from certain doom. While there are many books today that flip the script on these old stories, Kathleen Raglan noticed a dearth of proactive heroines in familiar folk stories. Raglan collected over 100 folk tales starring folk heroines. These women and girls don’t often use brute strength to solve their problems; rather, they use wisdom, creativity, perseverance, guile, loyalty, and kindness. The collection also expands beyond Western European stories, though they are also present. Stories from many different parts of the world are included: Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Africa and the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and Indigenous North Americans.
No Stopping Us Now by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
It’s 1974, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, was passed two years ago. So why aren’t Louisa and her friends allowed to have a basketball team at their school? After a feminist rally where she meets Gloria Steinem, Louisa is inspired to petition her school to start a girls’ basketball program. While she receives support, there are plenty of obstacles – and people – standing in her way. She faces public criticism, bullying, intimidation from school staff, and even threats to her college plans while she fights for her and her friends’ civil rights. Louisa is also dealing with her grandfather’s dementia, her best friend shutting her out, and her growing feelings for her teammate, Barb. Yet Louisa pushes forward, demanding equality in the face of opposition. An autobiographical novel, No Stopping Us Now celebrates sisterhood and activism in the early days of Title IX.
The Huntress by Rose Quinn
After World War II, three lives are entwined by the Huntress, a Nazi who has long eluded justice. Nina Markova is a Soviet Pilot who joined the legendary Night Witches, an all-female unit of pilots who bombed and harassed German targets. Tough as nails Nina was the only known survivor to escape the Huntress’s clutches. She was witness to the Huntress’s ruthlessness when the Huntress murdered Nina’s traveling companion, escaped POW Sebastian. Sebastian’s brother, Ian Graham, is a wartime journalist turned Nazi hunter. He’d nearly given up on finding Seb’s killer when Nina storms back into his life. Across the sea, Bostonian Jordan McBride dreams of becoming a wartime photographer, like her heroes Margaret Bourke-White and Gerda Taro. Jordan’s father would rather have Jordan stay safe in Boston, marry her doting boyfriend, and help him run his antique business. Jordan’s new step-mother, Annelise, is much more supportive of her step-daughter’s dreams. While Jordan adores Annelise, there’s something about her that just doesn’t add up…but trying to figure out Annelise’s secrets may rob Jordan of everything she holds dear. Told in the alternating perspectives of Nina, Ian, and Jordan, The Huntress is a powerful and absolutely gripping historical fiction.
Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann
Being the new girl is hard enough, but Sasha’s first day at Hazelton High is even harder when she gets her period for the first time…while she’s wearing white pants. Close knit friends Abby, Christine, and Brit swoop in to her rescue, only to find the school’s tampon dispenser empty. Again. A new friendship is formed when Abby gives Sasha a pad and Brit lends the new girl a sweatshirt to conceal the stains. Upset about the consistent lack of period products available in her school, Abby speaks to the principal, who says providing feminine products is out of the school’s budget, even though the football team got new uniforms last year. Abby and her friends are outraged and working to end period poverty at their school. But when letter writing campaigns and blog posts don’t move the school administration, Abby makes a statement that may have gone too far. This graphic novel is both informative and entertaining, with a diverse cast (who all have diverse periods!). Menstruation for trans men and non-binary individuals is also discussed. The backmatter provides resources, information, and ways to help fight against period stigma.
Daughters of Oduma by Moses Ose Utomi
In a West African inspired fantasy setting, girls compete in the all-female martial art of Bowing to protect their found families. Sixteen-year-old Dirt is the Second Sister of Mud Fam, and retired from Bowing. She coaches the other girls and supports their new main fighter, Webba. Webba is a strong contender to win the South God Bow tournament, which Mud Fam desperately needs to win. There are only five sisters in Mud Fam, and if their numbers drop any lower, they’ll be disbanded. When Dirt turns seventeen, she will become a woman, undergo the Scarring ceremony, and leave Mud Fam forever. Winning the tournament is crucial to recruit more members to Mud Fam. The rival Vine Fam believes that war with the Gods is imminent, and aim to destroy Mud Fam and gain new recruits for themselves. When Webba is injured by a competitor from the Vine Fam, Dirt must step up and take her place in the tournament. Out of shape and plagued by self-doubt, Dirt must train her body and mind to save her family. With fantastic worldbuilding, tenacious and complex characters, and flowing pidgin dialogue, Daughters of Oduma is an absolutely absorbing underdog story.
He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Libby’s having a rough senior year. Her parents have drained her college fund, and her outburst-prone father is kicking Libby out after she graduates so he can Airbnb her room. To earn money for college and a place of her own, Libby takes a job at a local restaurant, The Goat. She’s making good money, but a drunken hookup with one of her fellow servers leaves her upset and confused, especially after a school assembly about sex and consent. When a customer sexually harasses Libby and finally pushes her too far, it’s understandable that she’d dump an entire pitcher of sangria over his head. But the harasser in question is Perry Ackerman, local hero and Libby’s mom’s boss. Libby’s family is no help in this situation, and Libby realizes she needs to make a stand for herself, her girlfriends, and for the women at The Goat who face harassment on a daily basis. Libby is a great character and seeing her take a stand and reclaim her life is immensely satisfying. The book explores the gray areas of consent and harassment, along with the effects of assault, in a thoughtful and nuanced way. It’s an important book for all teens, not just girls.