Too, too often I mention the lack of books for children of color in a particular genre. Well, I’ve realized another.

I was setting biographies on display today and as I picked up more and more books on males of color, I realized how few I have, how few there are on women of color. This is important because students often use biographies for reports in English, History or even Science classes. When they see no women who look like them in books they get the message that thecontribution of women just don’t matter.

I have a fantastic biography of Zora Neale Hurston with reproductions of maps and letters places in little pockets in the book, several books on Madame C J Walker and Wilma Rudolph who both lived in Indianapolis. There are a few others like the Williams sisters, Mahalia Jackson, Maya Angelou, Frida , Condoleeza Rice, Jessie de la Cruz, Jennifer Lopez, Selena, Sarah Winnemucca and a few others.

Women past and present have lives that can inspire young readers today. Who do you think they are? Which women do you think deserve to have a MG or YA biography?

9 thoughts on “HERstory

  1. Marie Dorion–I can’t believe this woman isn’t better known. She was a 21 year old member of the Iowa tribe, married to a French man, both her and her husband served as translators for the Astor expedition which set out in 1810. She had two boys under 4 with her and was pregnant. Along the way she gave birth alone in December as the men carried on and left her there on the trail–she caught up with them several hours later, but not surprisingly, the baby died several days later. Once in Oregon, their luck, never good the last half of the trip, turned to worse with attacks from the local tribes. All were killed in the group except Marie and her two boys. She managed to keep the three of them alive through 50 days of brutal winter, even after she went snow-blind; and finally got help when the Bannock tribe found her in spring and took her to a fort in Washington. There is a fiction trilogy by Jane Kirkpatrick about her, but the handful of other books on her life are out of print, and most written in the 1930s or earlier.


  2. It’s funny how, when tackling issue topics in books for young people, authors tend to post about only one *issue* – people of color, say, or gender equality – instead of naturally combining the two. This doesn’t seem to make any sense to me and I would love to see more books about the women you mentioned and more! Thanks for posting on this topic, it’s so important! =)


  3. Maria Dorion endured quite a life! There seems to be a quite a documentation of her. I want to say I’m surprised more isnt’ written, but I’m not.

    Maggie, I think there are a couple of reasons why disempowered groups aren’t combined in books. First, there are the historic reasons where the groups have tried to come together but found their own interests too important to find ways to unite. I think there are also outside forces that don’t want to see people of color working together, or feminists and gays or, heaven forbid all of them together. That kind of action would just change this country!
    They don’t work together in real life so publishers don’t want to venture into that territory.
    We could put together a list of women of color who were feminists, that could be interesting! Some may have been lesbians as well.


  4. Dorion’s later life seemed relatively happy and peaceful by comparison–she certainly deserved it!
    Sojourner Truth worked for suffrage. In addition to needing more books, I would absolutely love to see a movie done of Truth’s life, as well as movies done on the suffrage movement in general…there are almost none out there (there’s Iron Jawed Angels, some documentaries, the occasional odd fictional suffragist character in a period piece like Mary Poppins or the Winslow Boy, and that seems to be about it). Several WOC were involved in NOW, especially in it’s early days: Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, Florynce Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, and Virginia Montes. Murray, Montes and Hernandez served as presidents of the organization.


  5. Edi do you remember that photgraphy book I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America by Brian Lanker?

    Well I would love to see some bios written about a few of these women.

    I loved Shining Star :The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo- The first chinese actress
    And Sky High : The Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss. Gee was one of only two Chinese American women to serve in the WASP program during WWII. – Both bios came out last year.

    Tonya Bolden had a great book out years ago but its out of print. Its called And Not Afraid to Dare: The Story of Ten African American women, its very good and worth getting adding to a library collection.

    I love de Pizan’s suggestions. Hopefully someone is reading this and is inspired to write a book at WOC involved in NOW


  6. I am all for more biographies of women of color so I am reading this post & comments with great interest. Not a biography, but a YA novel I picked up at ALA this summer is Zora and Me by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon. I enjoyed it quite a bit and would recommend it.


  7. I would love to see more books about PoC feminists, both fictional (The Kayla Chronicles) and non fiction (Pauil Murray, Aileeen Hernandez, etc. Never heard of them =/)

    I want to read Zora and Me.

    I would like to see more autobiographies too. I really like reading memoirs and I would love to see more WoC writing autobiographies. They are inspiring. Fiugirng out how they ended up in positions of power, etc. People like Sonia Sotomayor (well she could wait a bit), Maxine Waters, Condoleeza Rice, etc.


  8. Ari,
    You are so right! The autobiographies and memoirs are missing. They wouldn’t have to be directed to YA, either! Even if we don’t necessarily agree with their politics, it is always interested to read and find out how someone got to where they are today.


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