Changing the SySTEM: Illustrating the Lives of Women in Science
In recent years, an increasing number of women have been breaking into careers in fields that have previously been male dominated. This has been particularly true in the area of STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. One of the best ways to spark an interest in young girls in these fields, and to inspire all children in general, is to show them the incredible achievements women have already contributed in these areas. Until recently, many children might not have been able to easily find female models, studying and working in science and technology. Luckily for us now, there are many books illustrating the lives of incredible women who have been outstanding in their various STEM fields. For this article we’re specifically looking at picture books, and books that combine captivating artwork and accessible prose, to capture the imagination of young readers.
We recently took a look at books that offer a compilation of vignettes of inspiring women throughout history. You can read that article here:
These books take a general approach, looking at women from all walks of life. There are also several books in a similar format that are specifically about women in STEM:
Rachel Ignotofsky’s book Women in Science, instantly catches the eye. The black pages are almost chalk-board in style, filled with block colours, fun, stylised illustrations and doodled details, and they easily draw the reader in to learn about some of the great names, and some of the lesser-known ones, of trailblazing women in science. The women come from all kinds of backgrounds, whether it’s Marie Curie, and her triumphant sacrifice to science or Alice Ball who found a way to treat leprosy, there is an abundance of fascinating women to be found here, and Ignotofsky’s charming style carries these stories wonderfully.
The next two books take a look at a specific area within STEM fields.
First, Libby Jackson’s book In a Galaxy of her Own is all about the women who have literally been reaching for the stars. From the first star-gazers and astronomers to our own modern day astronauts, and all the steps in between, Jackson highlights the women who have been part of this journey. Each woman gets a portrait in a different art style from a range of different illustrators. Jackson, as a leading UK expert in human space flight, is perfectly placed to write this exciting collection.
Next, Catherine Thimmesh’s Girls Think of Everything is a look at the inventions created by women that have made the world a better place.
Thimmesh’s book, illustrated in a scrapbook style, with lots of doodles and drawings, emulates the processes of bringing an idea to fruition. The women featured have brought about a range of inventions, in a variety of ways, whether it’s chocolate chip cookie, or the windshield wiper, interlocking bricks, or medical syringes. There’s plenty to be inspired by, including the multiple struggles these women had to have their work recognised. It’s a lighthearted but uplifting look at ingenuity of women throughout history.
Finally, it’s never too late to be inspired, and what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and so this year, a set of two books, aimed at adult readers, offers a selection of micro-biographies of women, along with portraits in stunning artwork, much in the style of the books we have been looking at.
The two books from this Forgotten Women series are ‘The Scientists,’ and ‘The Leaders.’ Newly released, these books written by Zing Tsjeng give much more substance for adult readers. The Scientists features 48 women, as that is the number of women who have won Nobel prizes. The book is divided into sections: Earth & Universe; Biology & Natural Sciences; Medicine & Psychology; Physics & Chemistry; Mathematics and Technology & Inventions. Featuring artwork by a range of fantastic female illustrators and artists, this is a truly empowering book, and one which will intrigue all kinds of readers. The Leaders also includes portraits of 48 women, influential and rebellious, who have been for the most part forgotten. They include a 16th century Irish pirate queen, an ancient Muslim warrior queen in northern Nigeria, and a spy in the French Resistance who worked against the Nazis.
Following these anthologies, the rest of our recommendations here will be picture books for children. Each of them look at a specific woman in history and her contribution to the field of science, and to the world. They provide a great way to introduce young children to the stories of women in science, and to encourage and inspire them to make their own path in exploring and understanding the world around them.