Women in History

In March we celebrate Women's History Month by highlighting memoirs and biographies of women. Some are famous, e.g., Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt. Others are renowned for their work in the field of children's literature, such as Alma Flor Ada and Yoshiko Uchida. The familiar authors include Russell Freedman, known for his accessible and interesting biographies, and Diane Stanley, who creates award-winning picture book biographies.

Biographies & Memoirs

This list was selected by Lisa Von Drasek. All titles can be found in the Bank Street College Library.

  • Ages 8+

    Stanley, D. (1998). Joan of Arc. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books.
    Diane Stanley, a pioneer of picture book biographies, presents an exquisitely rendered portrayal of the life Joan of Arc. Stanley's detailed and carefully researched acrylic paintings echo the work of medieval manuscripts. At thirteen Joan began to hear the voices of saints. At seventeen she rode into battle and was proclaimed the Savior of France. By nineteen she was dead, burned at the stake as a heretic. Almost 500 years later, she was declared a saint. Every quote in this telling of Joan's story is taken from the transcripts of Joan's trial for heresy.

  • Ages 9+

    Ada, A. F. (1998). Under the royal palms: A childhood in Cuba. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
    Alma Flor Ada was the 2000 Pura BelprE Medal Winner for Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba. The Pura BelprE Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. In this memoir by a prolific children's book writer, Ada describes her growing up in Camagey, Cuba, in short tales that are moving and funny, in turn. Ada was surrounded with the love of family, friends, and teachers. In her epilogue she advises readers to take time to remember and tell their own stories. Black and white photographs are included.

    Dash, J. The world at her fingertips: the story of Helen Keller
    Many of us are familiar with the basic outline of Helen Keller's life. At age nineteen months Helen is rendered deaf and blind by a raging fever. The child is uncontrollable until the arrival of Annie Sullivan, teacher. In a breakthrough event, Helen spells water at the pump. Dash brings more to Helen's story. This biography tells more than the idealized fairytale. Readers learn of a strong-willed woman of socialist beliefs and a determination to learn and participate in a rich life.

    Mays, O. (2000). Osceola: Memories of a sharecropper's daughter. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.
    For fifteen years Alan Govenar listened to Osceola Mays tell stories of her life. He gathered these stories together, capturing her life's journey in this oral history. Govener retains Mays's storytelling cadence in short episodic chapters. Many stories were passed down from her grandmother, who had been a slave, and from her father, who was a sharecropper. Mays relates not only the sadness of poverty and segregation, but also the joy of family celebrations. Illustrated by Shane Evans

  • Ages 10+

    Uchida, Y. (1991). The invisible thread. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: J. Messner.
    Yoshiko Uchida describes growing up in Berkeley, California, as a Nisei, second-generation Japanese American, and her family's internment in Utah during World War II. During the U.S. government's shameful practice of detaining Japanese Americans in remote camps during World War II, whole families were uprooted and shipped far from home. Their belongings were sold at fire-sale prices, or confiscated with no recourse. Uchida writes, "The camp was a one mile square area, surrounded by barbed wire fence, with guard towers at each of its four corners." After a year in confinement, Uchida and her sister were allowed to leave to attend school in the East. The happiness she felt in release was tempered for her by the sorrow of leaving her parents, still incarcerated.

  • Ages 11+

    Lobel, A. (1998). No pretty pictures: A child of war. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
    This is Caldecott-winning children's book writer/illustrator Anita Lobel's moving memoir of surviving the Holocaust. Anita Lobel was born in Poland just before the beginning of World War II. She experienced being a hidden child and survived horrific conditions as a concentration camp inmate. Relayed in an almost naive style from an uncomprehending child's-eye view, she describes the fear, the filth, and the pain of being a dark-haired, dark-eyed Jewish girl in a hostile world. Included are the author's own photographs.

  • Ages 12+

    Jiang, J, & Hwang, D. H. (1997).  Red scarf girl: A memoir of the cultural revolution. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
    A rare subject for a young adult book, Red Scarf Girl tells a coming-of-age story set in China during the Cultural Revolution. Ji-Li Jiang tells how her life changed almost overnight. Her family was suspect and her father arrested. They feared that the keeping of precious heirlooms could have been construed to be holding on to the "Four Olds," old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Ji-Li Jiang's overwhelming fear and the uncertainty of the times makes this an engaging memoir for teens.