Tomorrow (March 8th) is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day in which people from all over the world join together to celebrate the achievements of women. The day is thought to have begun in New York where, in 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets demanding the right to vote. The day became officially recognised by the UN in 1975 and has been gaining momentum since, particularly in recent months with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
In the spirit of this year’s theme, #PressforProgress I thought I’d put together some kid-friendly resources that feature strong female role models for empowering girls and educating boys in the hope of bringing about change.
1) TED-Ed Lessons with Strong Female Role Models
This animated video explores the lives of three female explorers in the Victorian period:
- Marianne North who, in 1860, travelled to every continent except Antarctica to find new flowers to paint. She was the first European to catalogue some of the world’s most unusual plants.
- Mary Kingsley travelled to Sierra Leone in 1896 to finish the book her father was working on when he died. Venturing deep into the jungle she fought off crocodiles, survived a tornado, ate snakes and was saved by her petticoat when she fell into a spiky pit. She also confirmed the existence of the gorilla.
- Alexandra David-Néel travelled to Lhasa in Tibet. When she was refused entry at the Indian border she disguised herself as a man and trekked across the Himalayans mountains, only to be arrested upon arrival. David-Néel went on to write over 30 wrote many books about Eastern religion which remain important today.
I particularly liked the following quote as it reflects my travel philosophy, The Art of Family Travel, so beautifully:
“These brave women, and others like them, went all over the world to prove that the desire to see for oneself not only changes the course of human knowledge, it changes the very idea of what is possible. They use the power of curiosity to try and understand the viewpoints and peculiarities of other places, perhaps because they themselves were seen as so unusual in their own societies. But their journeys revealed to them something more than the ways of the foreign lands, they revealed something only they themselves could find. A sense of their own self.”
For more Ted-Ed Lessons with strong female role models see their post, 7 Ted-Ed Lessons to watch on International’s Women’s Day
2) Podcasts with Strong Female Role Models
As Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is one my favourite bedtime books for kids (see below), I am super excited about the release of their brand new podcast (of the same name). Based on the best-selling books that chronicle the life and careers of remarkable women around the world, the aim is to inspire girls to ‘dream bigger, aim higher and fight harder’.
This podcast is not just for girls though. Boys need to learn that girls have big dreams too. I remember feeling horrified when my daughter once told me about a boy in her 4th grade class who was being teased for losing to her in a running race. It’s both saddened and angered me that boys were feeling so much pressure to be better than girls, and at such a young age.
Regardless of which gender your child is, plug yourselves into Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and be wowed by the extraordinary achievements of the women featured. The first episode is about Margaret Hamilton, the computer scientist who helped put man on the moon. (See sample audio above)
3) Movies with Strong Female Role Models
Grab a bowl of popcorn and watch one of these girl-power, travel-inspiring films based on true stories.
Long Way North (PG)
Ok, so this one isn’t a true story, but I struggled to find any that were suitable for a young audience (anyone??). Long Way North is set in late 19th century Russia and is about an aristocratic teenager who sets off to the North Pole in search of her missing grandfather, encountering many adventures along the way.
The Eagle Huntress (Age 8+)
In this sweet documentary, a 13-year old Kazakh girl trains to become a eagle hunter, a sport that is traditionally handed down from father to son. Set against the remote Altai mountains of western Mongolia, it will also certainly inspire wanderlust. It personally triggered a lot of memories from my own travels in Central Asia (many moons ago) – how I long to return!
The only thing I found a little jarring was that the story felt somewhat staged in parts. Having worked in documentary making, I’ve seen what lengths producers will go to to get their ‘hook’ for a story …
From a child’s perspective though, it is an inspiring story that shows how success can be achieved, no matter what the odds (even if the odds are exaggerated as I suspect was the case here!)
Jane’s Journey (Age 9+)
I have yet to watch this documentary but it’s about Jane Goodall! What’s not to like?
Goodall: “If we are the most intellectual creature that’s ever walked on the planet, how come we are destroying that planet?”
A powerful documentary that tells the story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle in her mission to protect the world’s oceans. It’s a deeply inspiring film that will have you questioning your role in her mission. I wrote more about it here.
Earle: “I think if others had the opportunity to witness what I have seen in my lifetime from thousands of hours underwater I would not seem like a radical at all”
Gorillas in the Mist (Age 14+)
Based on the life and work of anthropologist Dian Fossey, this Oscar-winning film tells the story of how Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) travelled to Africa to study and protect the mountain gorilla, risking her own life in pursuit of justice.
Fossey: “You like this ring? You want to keep the hand this ring is on? If I see or hear or smell you anywhere near my gorillas, you’ll be writing with your other hand and I’ll have a new ashtray.”
Erin Brockovich (Age 15+)
This might lack the wanderlust of the films above, but its central character – Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts) – is such a force of nature that I couldn’t not include it here.
Brockovich is a single mum who, when strapped for cash, begs her attorney to hire her at his law firm. After finding some medical records in some real estate files she investigates further and manages to put together a massive lawsuit against a gas and electric company. The case culminated in a $333 million settlement, the largest in US history. Go girl!
Ed: “What makes you think you can just walk in there and take what you want?”
Brockovich: “They’re called boobs, Ed”
4) Subscribe to Bravery Magazine
Frustrated with the lack of interesting, kid-friendly tools to teach children about brave women, founders Ashley and Elyse decided to create their own resource – a quarterly publication for kids that features strong female role models. The magazine is aimed at girls AND boys around 4-9 years of age but there is something for every age, even parents (there is a section for adults).
At $72 for an annual subscription (4 issues shipped quarterly), it’s not cheap, but it’s made with thick paper and designed to be cherished and collected. What’s more, it’s beautifully illustrated, with each issue supporting small artists. I think it looks gorgeous and am hoping they launch a digital version for families like me who don’t have postal address!
5) Read a book together
The following books all have strong female characters, both real and fictitious, to empower girls and educate boys. I spent many days putting this list together as I only wanted to recommend books that either my kids enjoyed or that received excellent reviews from both credible and multiple sources. I also wanted to find something to suit every age group – from preschoolers to teens. If you have any recommendations to add, I’d love to hear them! Please share them in the comment section below.
1. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
By Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Created for girls with big dreams, this beautifully illustrated book includes 100 stories of 100 remarkable women from the past and present who have changed the world. Heroines in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls include Maya Angelou and Frida Kahlo and some of our favourite adventurers such as Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart. Each women is given a double page spread which includes their story as well as a full page portrait in colour – illustrated by different artists (women of course!) from around the world. (The second volume, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 is also available now)
2. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
By Rachel Igntosfsky
Remember those insulting remarks that Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt made a couple of years ago? About it being distracting to work alongside ‘girls’ in laboratories because ‘they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry’? Since then the hashtag #distractinglysexy continues to trend on Twitter, as female scientists ridicule his comment.
If only Tim Hunt had had a copy of the the New York Times best seller, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, when he was growing up! This informative book that celebrates the work of 50 female scientists is full of captivating infographics and biographies. Some of the women featured include Marie Curie (who my science-obsessed son thinks is ‘awesome’) and oceanographer, Sylvia Earle (who is one of my personal heroes – see Mission Blue above). A must-have book for girls. and perhaps more importantly, for boys if we want to ditch the sexist stereotyping.
3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Inventions by Women
By Catherine Thimmesh
You don’t have to work in a lab or hold a PhD in neuroscience to make a difference in the world. Some of the most life-changing inventions have been created by women who are simply curious in everything they do. The women in Girls Think of Everything demonstrate that you all you really need in order to become a groundbreaking pioneer is a strong dose of determination, as well as a cracking idea of course! Inventions include the windshield wiper, disposable diapers, Scotchguard, a flat bottomed paper bag and – a personal favourite – the chocolate chip cookie!
4. Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World
By Ann Shen
Describing Hillary Clinton as a ‘nasty women’ during the presidential debate last year is arguably the best thing Donald Trump has done for women to date. His misogynist comment quickly became the backbone for female empowerment campaigns around the world.
Curiously, Bad Girls Throughout History was published one month before Trump insulted Clinton and before #NastyWomen went viral. And yet, the women featured in this book are ‘bad’ in the same way that Clinton supporters describe themselves as ‘nasty’. That is, in the good sense. From Cleopatra, Boudica and Jane Austen to Beatrix Potter, Eleanor Roosevelt and Oprah, the table of contents alone will inspire you and your daughters to turn ‘nasty’ too. (Note that ballsy, strong-willed women are often surrounded by controversy and some readers have complained that the book is too politically bias in parts).
Books for Preschoolers
5. My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can A Little Girl Dream?
Age: preschoolers – 8 years.
Join Isabella as she imagines herself in the shoes of some of history’s most extraordinary women. When addressed as Isabella, she will remind her mother that actually she is ‘Sally’, the ‘greatest, toughest astronaut who ever was!’ or that she is ‘Marie the scientist’. In the end she decides she has the best parts of all her heroines. An appendix lists the women she alludes to, with details of their lives and careers.
Books for Little Kids
6. Clara and Davie
By Patricia Polaccio
Age: 3-5 years
This charming book, Clara and Davie, is about the childhood of Clara Barton who grew up to become the founder of the American Red Cross. As a young girl in the early 19th century, Clara was shy and was often teased for having a lisp. Her brother, Davie always knew she had the gift of healing and would go on to achieve great things. The book follows the siblings and charts Clara’s development in medicine, from animals to humans.
7. The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With Chimps
By Jeanette Winter
Age: 4-8 years
Named Best Book of the Year by a number of publications, The Watcher documents the career of Jane Goodall, one of our favourite adventurers. The highly regarded biologist and conservationist has inspired thousands of school children around the world to continue the important work of protecting chimpanzees from extinction. After children learn about her extraordinary life, they won’t want to let her down.
8. Mirette on the High Wire
by Emily Arnold McCully
Age: 4-8 years
Set in 19th century Paris, Mirette is a young and courageous girl who persuades the Great Bellini – a master wire walker – to teach her the art of walking on an high wire. In doing so, she also helps him regain his lost confidence as well as demonstrating to young readers that anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it.
9. Rosie Revere, Engineer / Ada Twist, Scientist
By Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by David Robers
Age: 5-8 years
I love this series of books! Like their buddy, architect Iggy, Rosie and Ada have vivid imaginations. Ada’s thirst for answers often leads to messy experiments (sound familiar?!) and Rosie’s aunt shows her that her ‘failed’ contraption is in fact a raging success. You can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.
10. Miss Rumphius
By Barbara Cooney
Age: 5-8 years
Alice Rumphius longs to travel the world. A girl after our own heart!
11. Grace for President
By Kelly S DiPucchio
Age: 5-9 years
Sadly this book, Grace for President, seems more apt than ever. When Grace’s teacher explains that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides she’ll be the first. By staging a mock election, Grace’s teacher shows the kids how the American system works and why every vote counts. However as one critic points out, the concept of the popular vote isn’t fully explained, leading readers to think that the winner of the popular vote will be president. As as we all know from recent political events, that isn’t the case. Nevertheless, it’s informative introduction to American politics and an inspirational read for our future leaders.
12. Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child
By Jessie Hartland
A visual treat, Hartland’s characterful illustrations and handwritten scribbles beautifully capture the passion, joy and boundless energy of culinary legend, Julia Child. Kids will love her playful attitude and naughty streak (she once painted a toilet seat red at her private school and used to throw mud pies at cars from her treehouse). And remember, ‘Don’t apologise for your cooking mistakes. It is what it is’. Amen to that.
13. Flora & Ulysses
By: Kate DiCamillo
Flora Belle Buckman is a self-proclaimed ‘natural born cynic’ who saves a squirrel (Ulysses) after her neighbour accidentally hoovers him up with her new vacuum cleaner. The near-death experience gives the squirrel a new lease on life and Flora is certain he has gained superhero powers. My daughter was given this book for her 9th birthday and I love it, possibly even more than she does! I am now reading it to my 8-year-old son at bedtime and when he begs me to read ‘just one more chapter’ I’m more than happy to oblige.
14. The Story of the Suffragettes
By: Joanna Nadin
As women around the world join together to #PressforProgress, it’s worth reminding children that life was very different for women a hundred years ago. While there is still a long way to go (the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report estimates that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact) we wouldn’t even be where we are now if it weren’t for the courageous suffragettes who kick-started this movement in the first place.
The Story of the Suffragettes is organised into short, illustrated chapters to help children digest some of the complex issues underlying the women’s movement and includes snappy biographies of key players such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. The book also has a section at the end to help parents/teachers reflect upon some of the points in the book with their children.
(Thank you Varosha for recommending this one!)
Books for Big Kids
15. Opal Plumstead
By: Jacqueline Wilson
Opal Plumstead was Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book. My daughter is one of Wilson’s biggest fans and particularly enjoyed the story of Opal, a 14-year old girl who lives in Edwardian Britain and who is forced to take up work in a sweet factory when her father is sent to prison. The factory’s glamorous owner, Mrs Roberts introduces Opal to Mrs Pankhurst and a group of Suffragettes, changing her life forever.
16. One Crazy Summer
By: Rita Williams-Garcia
Age: 8-12 years
Set in 1968, One Crazy Summer, is a moving tale about three sisters who spend the summer with their mother, a poet who abandoned them seven years earlier. Resentful of their presence, their mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers where they get a revolutionary education.
17. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
Age: 8-12 years
Inspired by Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is ultimately a story about friendship, with a few magical beasts thrown in! A young girl named Minli sets off to find the Old Man on the Moon in the hope that he’ll help her change her family’s fortunes. Along the way, she encounters many mystical creatures including a dragon who joins her on her adventure.
18. Inside Out and Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Age: 8-12 years
Told in verse, this award-winning book tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee her war-torn country in 1975 for the States. Based on the author’s own childhood experience, Inside Out and Back Again follows Hà and her family as they adapt to their new lives and foreign lands.
19. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
By Patricia Hruby Powell. Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Full of life and razzmatazz, Josephine, will have you toe tapping as you read it out loud to your kids or possibly breaking into a full-on Charleston. The story documents the life of performer and civil rights advocate, Josephine Baker as she takes Paris by storm in the roaring 20s.
20. Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson.
As a child Jacqueline Woodson struggled with reading. However, her love for story telling motivated her to become an award-winning writer and poet. In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson uses verse to tell the touching story of her own childhood and what it was like as an African American girl growing up in the 60s and 70s, a period heralding the start of the Civil Rights movement.
21. I Am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai
The fearless memoir of Malala Yousafzai, the young girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to go to school, is a truly incredible story. Co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, the tale begins on the fateful drive home from school on the day that she was shot, aged just 15-years-old. “Who is Malala?” asked the gunman who stopped the school bus. No-one answered, but everyone knew who she was, having been an advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan since the age of 11.
By Marjane Satrapi
Mariane Satrapi is a Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, film director and children’s book author. In this, The Complete Persepolis, she shares her memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; her high school years in Vienna; and of her return to Iran and her eventual self-imposed exile. It’s a story of girlhood and adolescence and a unique look into a country and way of life that is not well understood.
Do you have any book, movie or podcasts recommendations for empowering girls and educating boys? We’d love to hear it! Please share any suggestions in the comment section below.
How can I get involved on International Women’s Day?
Other ways to get involved include:
- Taking the International Women’s Day pledge
- Joining one of the many events taking place around the world.
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