10 Picture Book Biographies About Women in Presidential Politics by Kate Hannigan
As we move into the final stretch of the 2020 election, it’s a great time to reflect on how far America has—and hasn’t—come since August 1920, when the 19th Amendment’s ratification granted women the right to vote. In those 100 years, there have been few opportunities to cast ballots for female candidates seeking the highest offices in the land.
While two women have been major-party nominees for vice president before (Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the 2008 Republican ticket, N.Y. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro on the 1984 Democratic ticket), this year’s contest is especially significant for the sheer number of women who ran for president—Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson, and Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen—and for Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s announcement that he’ll choose a woman as his “veep.”
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A variety of new and recent picture book biographies offer opportunities for young readers (and older ones too!) to explore evolving national attitudes toward gender, race, and power, and the question of whether America will finally put a woman in the White House. Here’s a roundup of picture book biographies about women in presidential politics:
Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker (Dial Books, July 2020).
A great place to start, as this book just entered the world two days ago. “Verbs are words that move the world forward,” Chambers writes. And Shirley Chisholm did just that. Chronicling the life of the first black woman elected to Congress and, in 1972, the first black person to run for the presidency, this book looks at a champion of outsiders and underdogs. “Shirley’s verbs, her words, and her actions,” writes Chambers, “planted the seeds of possibility for others.”
She was the First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Lee & Low Books, August 2020).
Another terrific read about Chisholm, this gorgeously illustrated book hits shelves next week. Looking at Chisholm’s childhood and early influences, it’s an inspiring read about the girl who would grow up to become the “unbought and unbossed” educator, activist, and politician.
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Laura Freeman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 2020).
Also publishing next month, this biography shines light on Senator Harris’s life as the daughter of immigrant parents (her mother was Indian, her father Jamaican) and her journey to law school and leadership. After announcing her decision to run for president, Grimes writes, Harris “immediately got goose bumps wondering if Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president, was smiling down from heaven that very moment!”
Superheroes Are Everywhere by Kamala Harris and illustrated by Mechal Renee Roe (Philomel Books, 2019).
This entry is more autobiography than biography. Senator Harris takes readers through her childhood and education as she looks for superheroes busy at work in the world. A great way for young readers to see what early activism looks like. “1976, I organized a protest at my apartment building to let kids play in the yard, which had been off limits,” she writes in the backmatter. “We got permission to play there!” Adorable illustrations and possibly the best endpapers ever!
Leading the Way: Women In Power by Janet Howell and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Kylie Akia and Alexandra Bye (Candlewick, 2019).
While not a single biography, this comprehensive book spotlights the careers of 50 female leaders. Featuring informative profiles and inspiring quotes, we learn about historical and contemporary figures—including women who have been discussed as potential and former candidates like Senator Tammy Duckworth, Senator Tammy Baldwin, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as 1972 presidential candidate Rep. Patsy Mink and Ferraro.
Elizabeth Warren’s Big, Bold Plans by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Susanna Chapman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020).
This biography of the lawyer, professor, and Massachusetts senator offers great points for discussion not only about presidential candidates but about the way women have had to push for changes in American society. “Law firms weren’t interested in hiring a woman with young children,” Thompson writes, “so she took matters into her own hands and hung a sign in front of her house. She had become a lawyer to help people, and she would do that from her own living room if she had to!”
Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, She Persisted by Susan Wood and Illustrated by Sarah Green (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018).
“She insisted. She resisted. She persisted.” In this beautifully illustrated biography, Wood makes good use of emphasizing day-to-day objects that might resonate with young readers: the family’s “secondhand station wagon—its glowing color,” her mother’s “dress she wore only for graduations and funerals.” And we learn about Senator Warren’s mastery of language as a student and a debater, where she learned about fighting “not with her fists, but with her words.”
A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Walker & Co., 2004).
While not a recent entry, this book is very much worth revisiting, since Woodhull began it all back in 1872 as the first woman to announce her candidacy for president. “She studied history to find women rulers she could learn from,” writes Krull, queen of the picture book biography genre. Even though she was under the age requirement and spent Election Day in jail, Woodhull captured people’s imaginations.
A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan illustrated by Alison Jay (Boyds Mills, 2018).
Lockwood is also considered the original female presidential candidate, running in 1884 as the first woman listed on the ballot for president and receiving over 4,000 votes. After a lifetime of fighting—for the right to enter law school, receive her diploma, speak up in court, argue before the Supreme Court—Lockwood decided to run for office in order to wake people to the possibilities of women in power. “It was not for the number of votes I should get,” Lockwood said. “But for the chance to prove that a lady can be a candidate.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel and illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Balzer + Bray, 2016).
While there are a handful of Clinton books that came out in 2016, I am fondest of this one. Pham’s illustrations add incredible depth to the story of Clinton’s journey from precocious school girl to lawyer to first lady to secretary of state to senator to presidential candidate. “No one gets to stop a girl from being the greatest person she can be,” Markel writes. “Hillary thinks everyone deserves that chance.”
And while the list could end here with these 10 titles, no conversation about women and presidential politics would be complete without a look at the barrier-breakers who blazed the first trails. Check out 10 more picture books for even more insight, context, and understanding:
How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and illustrated by Ziyue Chen (Harper, May 2020)
Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Sarah Green (Boyds Mills, February 2020)
The Only Woman In The Photo: Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Alexandra Bye (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, February 2020)
Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2020)
Around America to Win the Vote by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Candlewick, 2016)
Miss Paul and the President by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Nancy Zhang (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016)
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Faulkner (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)
A Woman In The House (And Senate): How Women Came to Washington and Changed the Nation by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Harry N. Abrams, 2014)
Susan B. Anthony written and illustrated by Alexandra Wallner (Holiday House, 2012)
Jeannette Rankin: First Lady of Congress by Trish Marx and illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006)
Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction, and especially loves mining history for remarkable people whose stories deserve to be told—like Belva Lockwood’s! Kate’s newest titles are CAPE and MASK, Books 1 and 2 in The League of Secret Heroes historical fantasy series from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, and the graphic novel THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES from First Second’s new “History Comics” series. Visit her online at KateHannigan.com.