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Structured around the accomplishments of Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris, this annotated list of titles celebrates the achievements of women in government, especially the work of women of color—and also acknowledges how much further there is to go.
“I want to be remembered as a woman . . . who dared to be a catalyst of change.” —Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the House of Representatives, was the founder of the group that became the Congressional Black Caucus; in 1972, she launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to gain the Democratic nomination for president of the U.S. She was not the first Black woman to seek the presidency, but she was the most consequential. The daughter of immigrants, she campaigned on behalf of women, children, healthcare, farm workers, Native people, and poor people. In her career as a teacher, and, later, as a member of Congress, Chisholm was indeed a “catalyst of change.” After her death in 2005, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She once said, “I hope my having made it, the hard way, can be some kind of inspiration, particularly to women.”
In her bid for the 2020 presidential nomination, Kamala Harris gave a nod to Shirley Chisholm when she adopted as her logo “For the People.” Like Chisholm, she eventually suspended her campaign; later, though, she was selected as Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate. The night Biden and Harris were elected as the team to lead the country for the next four years, Harris spoke passionately of the women before her that led the way so that she, the first woman, Black, and South Asian Vice President elect, could have a political future. She named the suffragists, the civil rights workers, and other women and minority elected officials. She spoke of her mother, an immigrant, who envisioned the American dream for her daughters, and expected them to work hard and persevere.
This article, first, highlights books about Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris, but it also celebrates women from many different backgrounds whose commitment to women’s rights, minority rights, and voting rights paved the way for a woman of color to have a significant role in leading the nation.
In order to help children understand what this historic election represents, there is a statement after each segment of this feature that places each moment in time. The aim is to contextualize this long, ongoing struggle for women, especially women of color, as they fight to gain a seat at the political table.
She Was the First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm. By Katheryn Russell-Brown. Illus. by Eric Velasquez. 2020. 40p. Lee & Low (9781620143469). Gr. 2–5. 328.73.
Described as a leader by age three, Chisholm honed her leadership skills while attending Brooklyn College and Columbia University. She further proved that role when she was elected the first African American woman to Congress. She was called a true trailblazer, and this picture-book biography presents her as a woman of many firsts—and as a “catalyst of change.”
Shirley Chisholm. By Laurie Calkhoven. Illus. by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor. 2020. 48p. Simon Spotlight (9781534465589). Gr. 1–3. 328.73.
This Level 3 Ready-to-Read biography from the You Should Meet series chronicles Chisholm’s life, from Brooklyn to Congress to her unsuccessful 1972 bid for the Democratic nomination for president. Information about the three branches of government and voting is included at the end of the book. Eight multiple-choice questions test the reader’s knowledge of Chisholm.
Shirley Chisholm. By Janey Levy. 2020. 32p. Gareth Stevens (9781538258002). Gr. 2–5. 328.73.
Chisholm’s life is celebrated in this short biography from the Heroes of Black History series that highlights her work as a teacher, her triumph as the first Black woman elected to Congress, and her ultimate bid for the White House. Photographs that chronicle all the important moments of her life enhance the text.
Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb. By Veronica Chambers. Illus. by Rachelle Baker. 2020. 40p. Dial (9780803730892). K–Gr. 3. 328.73092.
This picture-book biography begins with Chisholm’s early years, and chronologically moves through her life, showcasing her steadfast activism for women and African Americans in Congress and beyond.
Born November 30, 1924, Shirley Chisholm was 40 years old when Kamala Harris was born. Chisholm died at the agea of 80, and would have been 97 when Harris took the oath of office on January 20, 2021.
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice. By Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Laura Freeman. 2020. 40p. Atheneum (9781534462670). K–Gr. 3. 328.73092
When Eve, a young Black girl, expresses her desire to one day be president, her mother begins telling her about Kamala Harris. Written in verse, this picture-book biography weaves Eve’s dreams together with actual facts about Harris as a child, attending civil rights marches in Oakland, California, with her immigrant parents. The book moves through Harris’ life as she uses her bold voice to speak up for justice for all on the Senate floor. Eve follows Harris’ unsuccessful run for the presidency, then sees her elected U.S. Vice President.
Kamala Harris. By Janis Cambell and Catherine Collison. 2019. 64p. Lucent (9781534566514). Gr. 5–8. 328.73.
This slim biography, part of the Women Who Won’t Be Silenced: The Stories of Strong Women series, provides basic information about Harris’ early years and her career as a prosecutor, attorney general, and finally as a U.S. Senator. The Vice President is presented as a rising star on the political stage.
Kamala Harris: Madam Vice President. By Heather E. Schwartz. 2021. 48p. Lerner (9781728440897). Gr. 4–7. 328.73.
This entry in the Gateway Biographies series describes Harris’ reputation as a brilliant and tough prosecutor, and summarizes how, when she was Attorney General in California, she took on the big banks. As a presidential candidate in 2019, her slogan summed up in four words what she represents: “Kamala for the People.”
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea. By Meena Harris. Illus. by Ana Ramírez González. 2020. 32p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray (9780062937407). K–Gr. 3.
This fictionalized picture book tells the story of Kamala Harris and her sister, Maya, who as little girls used their imagination to inspire and organize their community to create a beautiful space for people to enjoy.
Superheroes Are Everywhere. By Kamala Harris. Illus. by Mechal Renee Roe. 2019. 40p. Philomel (9781984837493). PreS–Gr. 2. 979.4054092.
Harris reveals her childhood and what it was like being reared among many cultures. She talks about the heroes and heroines in her life, her parents, neighbors, teachers, friends, and later colleagues. Each two-page spread asks readers, “Who makes you feel special?” Harris’ smile is infectious; smiles abound throughout. The family photographs on the end pages help readers connect with Harris.
The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (Young Readers edition). By Kamala Harris. 2020. 304p. Philomel (9781984837066). Gr. 7–10. 328.73
This young readers edition of Kamala Harris’s best-selling memoir reveals her values and how she learned at a young age to dream big and set goals to accomplish those dreams.
Harris said, “I may be the first woman and first Black and first South Asian woman to become Vice President, but I won’t be the last.”
Others That Paved the Way
Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice. By Phillip Hoose. 2009. 144p. Farrar (9780374313227). Gr. 7–12. 323.092.
Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, after she refused to give up her seat on a city bus for a white man. This occurred on March 2, 1955, 9 months before Rosa Parks gained national attention for her protest. Though Colvin was shunned by her peers, she became an impassioned, if little-known, voice for civil rights.
Claudette Colvin began her fight for racial justice nine years before Harris was born, but her voice paved the way for Black people and women to be heard and celebrated.
Finish the Fight! The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote. By Veronica Chambers. 2020. 144p. HMH/Versify (9780358408307). Gr. 5–8. 324.6.
The usual suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are featured here, but so, too, are “fierce and forgotten” women like Mary Eliza Church Terrell, who cofounded the National Association of Colored Women, and Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who, at 16, helped lead a suffrage march. Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native American women who played important roles in the long fight to gain the right to vote are highlighted and celebrated.
This book celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and features women upon whose shoulders Harris stands.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight. By Kathleen Krull. Illus. by Amy June Bates. 2008. 40p. Simon & Schuster (9781416971290). Gr. 1–3. 973.929092.
Originally published in 2008, this picture-book biography, updated in time for the 2016 election, covers Clinton’s childhood, her political career, and her eventual nomination as the Democratic party’s candidate for president, making her the first woman ever to represent a major political party in an election for the highest office in land.
Four years after Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential run, Harris emerged as the first woman Vice President.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. By Debbie Levy. Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. 2016. 40p. Simon & Schuster (9781481465595). Gr. 1–3. 347.73.
This picture-book biography celebrates the life and work of the “Notorious” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who learned at a young age the meaning of “dissent” when she defied the rules placed on girls of her generation. She fought her way into law school but was turned down for jobs in law firms. Despite these obstacles, she objected and persisted all the way to the Supreme Court. “I dissent” is written in calligraphy across the colorful illustrations, communicating all that she represented.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court, fought for equality at every level. She died in 2020, just months before Harris was elected Vice President.
Ida B. Wells: Fighter for Justice. By Diane Bailey. 2019. 160p. illus. Simon & Schuster/Jeter (9781534424852). Gr. 3–6. 323.092.
On a train ride to Memphis in 1884, Ida B. Wells—activist, suffragist, teacher, journalist—experienced first-hand racial injustice. This encouraged her to use her voice to speak out against such wrongs. Her writings appeared in Black newspapers, but her voice became so powerful that she eventually purchased the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and the Free Speech. An entry in the Discovering History’s Heroes series.
A Black woman suffragist, Ida B. Wells died in 1931, 11 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified.
A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights. By Kate Hannigan. Illus. by Alison Jay. 2018. 32p. Boyds Mills & Kane/Calkins Creek (9781629794532). K–Gr. 2. 323.
This picture-book biography is a tribute to the activism and determination of Belva Lockwood, who fought through gender discrimination to become the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Thirty-six years before women could vote, Lockwood ran for president as the National Equal Rights candidate.
Lockwood’s run for the presidency occurred 136 years before Harris was elected Vice President.
Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box. By Evette Dionne. 2020. 176p. Viking (9780451481542). Gr. 5–8. 324.6.
This book, longlisted for the National Book Award, highlights both familiar and lesser-known Black women who took up the fight for women’s right to vote. They faced mistreatment and discrimination from white suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, and such discrimination has continued through the Jim Crow era into the twenty-first century. Efforts to fight such injustices have been central to the equal rights battle for women of all races and cultures.
Women of color in particular continue to fight for equal rights, but this Inauguration Day marked one victory.
The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America. By Kathleen Krull. Illus. by Alexandra Bye. 2020. 48p. Atheneum (9781481491518). Gr. 1–4. 331.092.
Appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins was the first woman to serve in a cabinet position. She was largely responsible for crafting Roosevelt’s New Deal, which brought the nation out of the Great Depression.
Frances Perkins died in 1965, a year after Harris was born.
She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World. By Caitlin Donohue. Illus. by Briana Arrington. 2020. 216p. Lerner/Zest (9781541579019). Gr. 7–10. 320.082.
Though international leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany are featured, this collection of 44 influential political leaders includes Kamala Harris and Mia Love, the first Black Republican woman elected to Congress. Each entry includes political facts and the leader’s influence on political systems and society.
The U.S. has had important women leaders in the judicial and legislative branches of government. While other nations have had women heads of state, Harris represents the first woman in the executive branch of the U.S. government.
Thanks to Frances Perkins: Fighter for Workers’ Rights. By Deborah Hopkinson. Illus. by Kristy Caldwell. 2020. 36p. Peachtree (9781682631362). Gr. 1–3. 331.092.
The devastating 1911 fire at the Triangle Waist Company that killed 46 girls and women set Frances Perkins on a course to improve working conditions. Her efforts were noticed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and when he was elected President, he appointed her Secretary of Labor, the first woman ever to serve in a cabinet post. She was instrumental in passing new laws like the Social Security Act.
Responsible for many of the laws still protecting workers, Frances Perkins was 84 years old when Harris was born.
This Is Your Time. By Ruby Bridges. 2020. 64p. Delacorte (9780593378526). Gr. 4–7. 323.
In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was selected to integrate the schools in New Orleans. She recalls the taunts as she marched to school and the classmates who ignored her. Bridges calls this book a “letter of peace” and encourages young people to fight against systemic racism. The cover of the book is an image of Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting titled “The Problem We All Live With,” which depicts Ruby Bridges’ walk to school.
Ruby Bridges walked into the history books four years before Harris was born. Harris was in the second class that integrated elementary schools in the Berkeley California School District.
Turning Pages: My Life Story. By Sonia Sotomayor. Illus. by Lulu Delacre. 2018. 40p. Philomel (9780525514084). K–Gr. 2. 347.73.
The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, writes about the importance of reading and learning in her life. She focuses on the power of books and encourages the young to set high educational goals, as she did.
Born in 1954, Sotomayor was 10 years old when Harris was born.
A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to Washington and Changed the Nation. Rev. ed. 2020. 160p. By Ilene Cooper. Illus. by Elzabeth Baddeley. Abrams (9781419742668). Gr. 5–8. 320.082.
Women began to govern in the U.S. in 1917, when Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress. This updated volume covers women like Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House; Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to the Senate; Patsy Mink, the first woman of color to serve in the House; Hilary Clinton, Senator, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Oman, members of the House who are using their voices to effect change for people of all cultures. At the end of the book, there is a list of all women who have served in Congress.
These women government leaders, past and present, are emblematic of Harris’ historic achievement.
What Do You Do with a Voice like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. By Chris Barton. Illus. by Ekua Holmes. 2018. 48p. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane (9781481465625). Gr. 2–4. 328.73.
Barbara Jordan, a Black congresswoman from Texas, boldly made her voice heard to the nation when she served on the 1974 House Judiciary Committee that voted to recommend the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The mixed-media illustrations clearly represent this larger-than-life trailblazer as she stood up for justice, freedom, and equality.
Harris would have been 10 years old when Jordan made her famous televised statement about the Nixon impeachment.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. By Cynthia Levinson. Illus. by Vanessa Brantley Newton. 2017. 40p. Atheneum (9781481400701). Gr. 1–4. 323.092.
Audrey Faye Hendricks was nine years old when she heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak about his plan to combat racism and segregation in the Jim Crow South. She joined the Children’s March in Birmingham in May 1963 and was arrested along with other children. This was the beginning of her involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
The Children’s March occurred one year before Harris was born, but this event set off civil rights marches throughout the nation, including ones in which Harris’ parents participated.
Additional Series of Interest
Freedom’s Promise Series. ABDO. Gr. 4–8.
Barbara Jordan: Politician and Civil Rights Leader. By Duchess Harris and Deirdre R.J. Head. 2018. (9781532117664). 323.1196073092.
Barbara Jordan, Congresswoman from Texas, was bold and emphatic when she called for Nixon’s impeachment, 10 years after Kamala Harris was born.
Carol Moseley Braun: Politician and Leader. By Duchess Harris and Tammy Gagne. 2019. (9781532118715). 328.73.
Though Braun served only one term in office, she was the first African American woman elected to the Senate, 20 years before Kamala Harris won her Senate race.
March Fong Eu: Activist and Politician. By Duchess Harris and Samantha S. Bell. 2019. (9781532190865). 328.73.
Kamala Harris was 11 years old when March Fong Eu became the first Asian American woman to serve as California’s Secretary of State.
Gateway Biography Series. Lerner. Gr. 4–8
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. By Anna Leigh. 2020. (9781541577473). 328.73.
Born to Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx, AOC (as she is called) is the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Condeleezza Rice: Being the Best. By Mary Dodson Wade. 2003. (9780761326199). 355.
Rice was the first woman National Security Advisor and the first Black woman Secretary of State, leaving her post nine years before Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate.
Loretta Lynch: First African American Woman Attorney General. By Eric Braun. 2016. (9781512405866). 349.73092.
Loretta Lynch was named Attorney General in 2015, a year before Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate.
Nancy Pelosi: First Woman Speaker of the House. By Lisa Tucker McElroy. 2007. (9780822586852). 328.73092.
Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, and until Harris assumed the office of Vice President, Pelosi was the highest-ranking woman elected official in the history of the U.S.
Sonia Sotomayor: First Hispanic United States Supreme Court Justice. By Lisa Tucker McElroy. 2010. (9780761358619). 347.73.
Sotomayor became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court seven years before Harris was elected to the Senate
Great Asian Americans. By Stephanie Cham. 2018. Capstone. K–Gr. 2.
Patsy Mink. (9781515799542). 328.73.
In 1964, the year Kamala Harris was born, Patsy Mink was the first woman of color elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Tammy Duckworth. (9781515799559). 328.73.The first Thai American woman elected to the Senate, Tammy Duckworth was elected in 2016, along with Harris; they served together until Harris became Vice President.
Pat Scales, the author of Encourage Reading from the Start: Essays, Articles, and Interviews from the Field (2018), was recently honored with the opening of the Pat Scales Special Collections Room at the University of Montevallo’s Carmichael Library in Alabama.
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