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Women of Color Leading the Way: Celebrating MLK Day

For the third year in a row, the Diverse BookFinder team honored the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with a family program as part of the Bates College series of events. In response to the 2019 theme, "Lifting Every Voice: Intersectionality and Activism," we focused on women activists.

An initial search for Category: Biography + Gender: Girl/Woman within our collection surfaced 125 out of 190 biographies. Our first discovery was that many of the biographies which included women were actually about men and boys, though women and girls are proportionately represented in the category. (When we added Content: Activism to the search, 39 of the 45 titles were biographies of women.)

Our second observation was that Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, Multiracial, and Middle Eastern (only 4!) women are hugely underrepresented in biographies for children!

Focusing on a balanced range of racial/cultural representation, we identified 8 titles telling the stories of bold 20th- and 21st-century women leaders from around the world:

Free as a bird


by Lina Maslo

The inspiring true story of Malala Yousafzai, human rights activist and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, from debut author/illustrator Lina Maslo. When Malala Yousafzai was born, people shook their heads because girls were considered bad luck. But her father looked into her eyes and knew she could do anything. In Pakistan, people said girls should not be educated. But Malala and her father were not afraid. She secretly went to school and spoke up for education in her country. And even though an enemy tried to silence her powerful voice, she would not keep quiet. Malala traveled around the world to speak to girls and boys, to teachers, reporters, presidents, and queens -- to anyone who would listen -- and advocated for the right to education and equality of opportunity for every person. She would shout so that those without a voice could be heard. So everyone could be as free as a bird. Free as a Bird is the inspiring true story of a fearless girl and the father who taught her to


She sang promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader


by Jan Godown Annino and Lisa Desimini

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was born in 1923, the daughter of a Seminole woman and a white man. She grew up in the Everglades under dark clouds of distrust among her tribe who could not accept her at first. As a child of a mixed marriage, she walked the line as a constant outsider. Growing up poor and isolated, she only discovered the joys of reading and writing at age 14. An iron will and sheer determination led her to success, and she returned to her people as a qualified nurse. When her husband was too sick to go to his alligator wrestling tourist job, gutsy Betty Mae climbed right into the alligator pit! Storyteller, journalist, and community activist, Betty Mae Jumper was a voice for her people, ultimately becoming the first female elected Seminole tribal leader.--publisher

Beautiful Life Biography Oppression & Resilience

Someday is now


by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Jade Johnson

Presents the life of Clara Luper, an African-American teacher and local civil rights leader who taught her students about equality and led them in lunch counter sit-in demonstrations in Oklahoma City in 1958.

Biography Cross Group Oppression & Resilience

On that frigid Monday morning, following a snowstorm, we gathered on the Bates campus with a hardy group, including several local families with young children and seventeen K-8 students from Maple Tree Community School, with teachers and parents.

First we read the story of Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers with the entire group, introducing the book with a short discussion:  Who are migrant workers? (People who move from place to place to find seasonal work, often farmworkers.) Are there migrant workers in Maine? (Yes!) What crops do they pick? (Blueberries, potatoes, and apples, among others.) Following the reading, we talked about objects, symbols, and slogans from Huerta’s life (grapes, fields, children, person picking crops, “Strike! Huelga!”, “Si se puede!,” the UFW thunderbird), and shared a sample poster created about her.

Next we introduced the small-group art project: to read another biography and create a poster highlighting each woman's history, work and achievements. The children were asked to identify objects, symbols, or slogans from each woman's life and create small squares, plus a portrait. We offered a template for the poster; they were invited to follow it or to create their own form. We divided the students into similar-age small groups (4-6 children/group), handed out supplies, and sent them off to work.

Forty-five minutes later, we gathered together again so that each small group could share their poster telling the story of the woman activist they had read about.

Clara Luper, Oklahoma USA, organizer of desegregation sit-ins
Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan, young advocate for girl’s education
Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee Nation, first female principal chief

We found that the hands-on art project was a good fit for a multi-age group, allowing children to engage the content at their own level of interest and skill.

Si Se Puede!

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