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In 2015, the United Nations declared February 11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It honors the contributions and achievements of women in science and also highlights the importance of women and girls continuing to enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Women make up nearly half of the workforce, but are still underrepresented in STEM fields (only 27% in 2019). It has been observed that girls and women are systematically driven out of these fields. Upon graduation from high school, equal numbers of boys and girls plan to pursue studies in STEM fields, but fewer young women end up majoring in these fields in their first year of college. university. Upon graduation, more men than women earn degrees in STEM fields, and this is also seen in graduate programs. This report discusses studies on this in more detail, but there are many factors: teachers and professors encouraging girls and women, gender stereotypes and outdated gender role expectations, and even the self-assessment due to broader cultural stereotypes and assumptions.
By reading about famous women scientists and STEM professionals, we can help create a deep-rooted love and passion for STEM in children, and show them role models. We can examine our own stereotypes about these areas and about innate abilities (I know I’ve done this myself with me and math; it’s hard work to unlearn these messages after decades of listening), and encourage a love of science and exploration.
I’ve put together a list of books for children and adults to read to celebrate women and girls in science, any time of the year. I could list dozens and dozens of books, but that’s just a sampling.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
This fun book features 50 women in STEM fields, famous and not so famous, like Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Chen-Shiung Wu and Mae Jemison. The illustrations are fun and informative, and the scientists presented work in a variety of fields and on very different topics. The book can be used for a wide variety of ages: with younger children, they can be read more than an overview, and for older children, they can read the entire mini-biography and then use it as a springboard for further research.
Mae among the stars of Roda Ahmed and Stacia Burrington
This beautiful picture book was inspired by Mae Jamison, the first black woman to go into space. It tells the story of Mae as a little girl wanting to go into space, dreaming of being in the sky, surrounded by stars. His parents encourage him, even when others don’t. It’s a story of believing in yourself, working hard and chasing your dreams.
Mary Anning (Little People, Big Dreams) by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Popy Matigot
This series is fabulous, and this book is a great addition to the series. In this book, children can read about Anning, a leader in the field of paleontology. The illustrations are fun and the text is easy to understand while being educational. The back of the book has a biographical timeline and more details about his life.
Sally Ride: Life on a Mission by Sue Macy
Ride was the first woman in space, but also so much more than that. This biography explores her work as a teacher, as well as the founder of a company that encouraged girls and women to enter the fields of science and math. This is an intermediate level book that is a great introduction to the astronaut and his many accomplishments.
The Girl Who Cares About Math: The Raye Montague Story by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley
When Montague was a young girl, she wanted to be an engineer – but eventually encountered sexism and racism as a black woman. She made the first computer-generated draft of a U.S. Navy ship. This lyrical picture book tells his story, complete with a timeline and a note from Montague.
Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson
Another mid-level book, this autobiography is packed with information and stories about Katherine Johnson, who not only worked on some of NASA’s biggest projects, but also helped launch Apollo 11. Although she was Brilliant in mathematics, she faced racism and sexism throughout her studies and career path — and pushed forward.
Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids by Kimberly Brown Pellum
In this middle-level book, kids learn about Bessie Coleman, Grandma Phipps Clark, Patricia Bath, Mae Jemison, and more. These trailblazing women are in a variety of fields: aviation, ophthalmology, forensics, psychology and other STEM fields, illustrating just how vast the options are.
The Magic of Maryam: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani by Megan Reid and Aaliya Jaleel
Growing up in Tehran, Maryam didn’t like math; she loved stories – until she discovered geometry, where shapes and numbers became stories in their own right. She dabbled in the field of mathematics and eventually became the first woman, and the first Iranian, to win the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics. It’s his story.
The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by Julie Des Jardins
This one is for teens and adults, because there’s always more to learn! Des Jardins delves into the longstanding myth of the solitary male scientific genius, exploring the profiles of various female scientists and examining the contributions made by women who have gone unnoticed and unrecognized for far too long.
The Messy Cosmos: A Journey Through Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Deferred Dreams by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist, combines memory and reporting in this brilliant book. She looks at the sexism and racism that still plagues the field of physics/science, and tackles various topics in the field and with passion and authority, while making them accessible to the layman. Black feminist traditions, pop culture, faith, social justice, history, and politics – all of this is also tied into her discussions of physics, making it engaging reading.
If you want to learn more about and about women scientists, check out this reading journey for Mary Roach and this article on books about women scientists.