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Doing their bit (backwards and in heels)

March is Women’s History Month, and this year it feels especially vital to shine a light on the accomplishments of women and girls (see the two Ada Lovelace books below!). The following picture books celebrate women throughout history who have smashed societal expectations and restrictions. For more of The Horn Book’s Women’s History Month coverage, click the tag #HBWomensHistory17.

hagar_doing her bitIn 1917, proper New York City college girl Helen Stevens joined the Woman’s Land Army of America to “do her bit” for the war effort. At the Women’s Agricultural Camp in Bedford, New York, Helen and other “farmerettes” got to work under the guidance of tough director Ida Ogilvie. Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America by Erin Hagar (“based on real events and real people”) uses invented dialogue and details in a homespun narrative that gets to the heart of an important moment in feminist history. Jen Hill’s gouache illustrations are full of Rosie the Riveter–esque images of women hard at work. (Charlesbridge, 5–8 years)

blumenthal_fancy party gownsFancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe introduces readers to an African American woman designer whose work is known in the fashion world but may be new to others. As a young child, Ann learned dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. When her mother died suddenly, sixteen-year-old Ann steadfastly finished an order for ball gowns her mother had begun for the Alabama governor’s wife. Lowe proved to be an exceptionally talented dressmaker, eventually designing for some of America’s most powerful families, including the Kennedys — she designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown. Deborah Blumenthal’s text captures the designer’s resolve. Illustrator Laura Freeman fills the pages with a plethora of vivacious patterns and saturated colors, fitting for a book about a woman so gifted with fabric. (Little Bee, 5–8 years)

stanley_ada lovelace poet of scienceIn Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, author Diane Stanley emphasizes Ada Lovelace’s right- and left-brain pedigree (her father, whom she never knew, was the poet Lord Byron; her mother, a scientist and mathematician). Young Ava managed to merge fantasy, literature, and imagination into her scientific education, learning not only how nineteenth-century machines really worked but also detailing their wondrous possibilities. Multiple entry points — Lovelace as a female mathematician, as a nineteenth-century woman balancing both career and family, and as a visionary kept in the background by society — should attract a wide readership to this picture-book biography. Jessie Hartland’s gouache illustrations combine visual playfulness with pertinent and concrete points in the narrative; a friendly serif font makes for an accessible read. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)

robinson_ada's ideasAda’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson describes how young Ada “[found] her own sort of poetical expression…through math!” Writing a complex algorithm for inventor Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine (an early computer prototype) to calculate Bernoulli numbers, Ada became the first computer programmer — and a visionary one at that. Robinson’s writing is direct and deft, but what really steal the show are her whimsical illustrations: paper cutouts featuring equations, geometric diagrams, and math instruments, arranged in layers and photographed for a striking collage effect. Robinson’s eye-catching images emphasize the picture-book biography’s conclusion that for Ada Lovelace, “a great imagination proved just as important as mathematical skill.” (Abrams, 5–8 years)

From the March 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book. For more Women’s History Month coverage, look for the hashtag #HBWomensHistory17 on Facebook and Twitter and here at



Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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