Though there is an increasing focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the U.S., there remains a gender disparity among workers in these fields. According to a 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce report, women are less likely than men to have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field and they are also underrepresented in the STEM workforce.
Female role models and examples can be particularly helpful to combat this disparity and to encourage all children — and particularly girls — to pursue careers in STEM fields. Fortunately, there seems to be an increasing focus on women in STEM in children’s literature, which makes it possible to offer these role models in your classroom or library. The books below are some particularly good options for kids interested in STEM and they all focus on the contributions women have made in these disciplines. All of the books perfect for kindergarten through second grade unless otherwise noted.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor with illustrations by Laura Beingessner
Nature enthusiasts will find inspiration in Rachel Carson’s story of building a career as a biologist writing about the environment. The book opens in Carson’s childhood and details her education as a biologist at a time when few women were employed in the field and her struggles writing Silent Spring, her most famous book. It does not shy away from her battle with cancer, which ultimately killed her, and offers a note with additional information about Silent Spring’s impact. The book also includes numerous notes and a bibliography of both Carson’s books and other works about her.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Jane Goodall is a particularly popular subject for books for all levels of readers, but this multiple award winner is among the best. Combining adorable illustrations, materials from Goodall’s own childhood notes, and selected photos, it shows how a childhood dream can become a reality, which is an inspirational message no matter what your goal in life may be.
Florence Nightingale by Demi
Though Florence Nightingale is a well-known historical figure, this book brings to light aspects of her life that will be unfamiliar to many readers, including her determination to pursue a career in nursing despite her parents’ reservations and her innovations in hygiene practices. The illustrations bring to life her family and the hospitals where she worked and will keep readers engaged. The book also includes a timeline of her life and books for further reading at the end.
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully
Born to a poor mother in 1838 at a time when few women had the opportunity to have a quality education or the freedom to become inventors, Mattie Knight used the toolbox she inherited from her father to start inventing as a small child. Over the course of her life, she created numerous important inventions, including a guardrail to protect workers in textile mills and a machine that is still used today to create paper bags. The book not only details her inventions but also shows her strength in defending them from those who tried to steal them from her. The illustrations incorporate examples of diagrams for her inventions and the book also includes an author’s note and bibliography with more information on Mattie.
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh; illus. by Melissa Sweet
This book, which is aimed at young readers in about second through fourth grade, collects stories of a variety of female innovators who created everything from a chocolate chip cookie recipe, to kevlar, to computer compilers. Young inventors are also included, offering great inspiration for young readers. All of the stories are illustrated with a combination of collages and paintings. The book ends with resources for young inventors.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty; illus. by David Roberts
Rosie loves to invent things and hopes to be an engineer one day, but when one her inventions fails, she thinks about giving up. Her great-great-aunt sweeps in to convince her that she is wrong and to explain to her the importance of trial and error. The cute story and entertaining drawings will be sure to make this book a favorite.
Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D. Anne Love; illus. by Pam Paparone
This book tells the story of Hypatia, a woman in ancient Alexandria whose father chose to educate her the same as boys were educated at the time. Despite the limitations placed on women at the time, she became a respected mathematician and philosopher, a process that this book brings to life through its illustrations.
Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford; illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska
Readers of this book follow an eight-year-old girl named Uma as she grapples with the concept of infinity. Friends and relatives all try to explain it through different analogies, bringing Uma to consider topics as divergent as music, friendship, and love in her quest to grasp the meaning of infinity.