Yas, Queens!

The queen archetype has long been a fixture in literature, mythology, and popular culture. Stories (like the three picture-book biographies highlighted below) about female people who command respect, have a voice, fight for what they believe in, and enhance the lives of others through compassionate service are imperative for our world, particularly in the wake of a new UN Women report that paints a bleak picture of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Find more related books and articles from Hbook.com here and at the Guide/Reviews Database: Subject: Women--Biographies

Briseño, Stephen Queen of Leaves: The Story of Botanist Ynes Mexia 

48 pp. | Innovation | September, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-959244-01-1 $18.99 

Illustrated by Isabel Muñoz. After noting Ynes Mexia’s (1870–1938) childhood traumas and marital and business woes, this picture-book biography shows how she rose from the ashes to earn a college degree in her fifties and become the tip of the spear in the hazardous, male-dominated profession of botanical exploration. A conceit that compares the intrepid Mexia to the elusive wax palm tree she famously found succeeds as much for its lyricism as for conveying Mexia’s resilience and singular gifts. The time period is unspecified, making it difficult to fully appreciate the historical barriers Mexia faced in accumulating her vast collection of rare plant specimens; also, no mention is made of the racism Mexia experienced as a Mexican American person. Muñoz’s digital illustrations in a palette of earth tones give the inspiring, emotionally resonant narrative an evergreen feel.  

Singh, Rina The Lion Queen: Rasila Vadher, the First Woman Guardian of the Last Asiatic Lions  

40 pp. | Abrams/Cameron | October, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-951836-84-9 $19.99 

Illustrated by Tara Anand. Singh tells the real-life story of how, at age twenty-one and despite coming from an underprivileged background, Rasila Vadher became the first woman forest guard in Gir Forest National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary, established in Gujarat, India, to protect Asiatic lions. Narrated in first-person prose that captures Vadher’s lion-hearted spirit and the risky but rewarding nature of her work, the book describes how pivotal (and painful) events in her childhood thrust her into the role of family breadwinner, stoked her passion for protecting the large, powerful cats, and prepared her to challenge gender bias. Back matter lists intriguing facts about Asiatic lions and acquaints readers with the Lion Queens — an all-woman forest patrol whose members Vadher trained. Minimalist digital illustrations in tropical monsoon colors create a sense of openness that echoes Vadher’s mindset. Pair with Reynolds’s The Lion Queens of India (rev. 1/21). 

Wallmark, Laurie The Queen of Chess: How Judit Polgár Changed the Game  

32 pp. | Little Bee | July, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-4998-1306-7 $18.99 

Illustrated by Stevie Lewis. A picture-book biography of the world’s all-time strongest female chess player traces the Hungarian trailblazer’s journey from child prodigy to becoming the youngest chess grandmaster in history. Wallmark relates how Polgár’s coaches and uber-supportive family helped her make all the right moves to maximize her talent, and recounts the iconic, aggressive endgames that propelled her to international stardom en route to her crowning achievement. The book does not stand on ceremony when it comes to calling out the flagrant misogyny in the chess world, but sacrifices some emotional texture by failing to register other challenges Polgár and her family faced. Lewis’s digital illustrations in a palette of mostly neutral colors underscore Polgár’s steadiness and cool-headedness, as well as the stability provided by her parents and sisters. 

Summer Edward

Horn Book Consulting Editor Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, Caribbean children’s and YA literature advocate, and commentator on books for young readers. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and founded Anansesem, an online magazine that for 10 years covered Caribbean children’s and YA literature. She has written for Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library JournalThe Horn BookWOW Stories: Connections from the ClassroomLiteracy Dailysx salon, KidLit TV, the Commonwealth Education Trust, Social Justice Books, and more. Learn more about her work at www.summeredward.com.

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