Get monthly email updates when I add new resources to our Family Action Toolkits
Problematic Women’s History Compilations
Good to know
- There are a lot of compilations on women’s biographies. Like those bead-craft kits that you’d never choose for yourself, but your aunt gives them to you as a gift several years in a row. I think they exist exclusively to be given as gifts to kids.
- So I’m just going to move the garbage ones here to get them out of my way because I’d really rather forget they exist so I can stop being aggrivated about how much they suck.
- These lists are only accessible by patreon supporters. If you’re a Collaborator-level Patron or higher, you get sneak-peek access to my content library – rough-draft lists with bonus content, which are a-work in-progress as I plow through more books each week.
- I’m in the middle of researching them and haven’t finished compiling a final list yet. I’m trying to publish my billions of private archives quickly, without fiddling with the details. These are bare-bones book lists that assume:
- You’ve been following BFL for a while
- You understand that not all books are for all readers
- These are not formatted for public consumption (no fancy links, some cussing, these are basically brain-barf.) Expect typos and formatting errors.
- I haven’t had a chance to fully research books outside my lane to make sure they’re approved by #OwnVoices critics, like I do with the books I post for the public.
This post may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability.
Also See: Lists with actually good biographies about women
- Children’s Books By Brilliant Black Women: #OwnVoices Authors & Illustrators
- Justice For Labor Day: Provocative Kids Books About The Fight For Workers’ Rights
- Triumphant Kids Stories Honoring Single Mothers
Problematic, NOT Recommended, Solid Nopes
Girls think of everything – I’m changing the title of this one to ‘White girls think of everything.’ I was not impressed with this compilation of well-known inventors. We already know about these women – so what is the point of the book?I fell in love with the illustrations of Melissa Sweet when Q was a baby and read many of the books she’s illustrated. Turns out girlfriend has zero standards and I’ve learned it’s better to avoid ALL books with her signature style, because the authors she works with range from mediocre to actively offensive. Best for ages 8+ (or just don’t read it.) There is a re-do where they put a dent in the whiteness (far, far too late) but at this point why even bother. Problematic for whitewashing.
The Sky’s the limit – stories of discovery by women and girls – catherine thimmesh – these fucking goddamn it. more white ladies. nothing but white ladies. so white i have to assume this is intentional, was written in 2002! Problematic for whitewashing.
Heroes for my daughter- brad meltzer – too personalized, it really reads as if it’s literally for Brad Meltzer’s daughter. The design is frilly and bland (which frankly is a little offensive that biographies for girls must be in frilly pastels) and it’s boring and written as if it’s a women’s history compilation written by a man who lauds women for being “not like the other girls.” Because it is.
Founding mothers – diane goode, all entirely white ladies, despite mostly falling on early colonial times – not even in the part about abigail adams asking john to ‘remember the ladies. we don’t get to slavery and black women until phillis wheatley on page 18. “Many slaves suffered under harsh conditions and few enjoyed the treatment Phillis received.” – WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. few people enjoyed the normal human condition of not being treated like a human? “Eventually the Wheatleys freed her.” EVENTUALLY?! Oh how GENEROUS (this is sarcasm.) Oh fuck nope. Problematic for #SlaveryWithASmile
- She Persisted – see post 8/5/17 – I thought it was odd how they put this book up for pre-order only days after elizabeth warren ‘persisted’ and suspected this might be a quick cash grab. I was right. the book features 6 white women, 1 Indigenous woman, 5 Black, 1 Latina, 0 Asians and a wide range of children (mostly girls) in a wide arnge of races and one wearing a hijab. So on the surface, it’s okay and meets the bare minimum for what WW call ‘diversity books’ (please stop calling them that). The choices on who they focused on is odd – we already have awesome books on Sotomayor, ubman, Bridges and Keller – literally EVERY woman in American history has had to persist in some way so it’s not like we didn’t have plenty of obscure people to pick from. The point of compilations like this are to introduce us to women we might want to learn more about, and including these household names isn’t really helping as much a pointing us toward the authors of color who have already done the work writing about them. Beyond that, the short intros are fine but bland (and inaccurate), claiming the Apgar score was developed to test a newborn baby’s health (actually no, it was to standardize effective childbirth procedures), which makes me wonder what other shallow inaccuracies are included in the book. it’s fine for a starter book for ages 4+, but there are way better ones out there.Reading the reviews and comments feel very white feminist with plenty of WW chiming in on negative reviews from WOC to say “AKSHULLY…. I thought the diversity was GREAT.” (I’m paraphrasing but seriously, that’s what you sound like when you silence women of color so shut it.) What I REALLY wanted was a tenacious book about elizabeth warren maybe tied in with elements of how she is following in the footsteps of our fore-mothers kicking ass and taking names and refusing to placate men to appear ‘electable.; instead it’s a weak half-assed cash grab lacking fact-checking or anything beyond a Clinton-level surface attempt at being a ‘diversity person’ (SERIOUSLY STOP CALLING YOURSELF THAT HEIDI.)
Independent Dames – laurie halse anderson- almost exclusively white. crosshatch illustrations are too chaotic to read together for storytime, better for indepedent readers. only one or two sentences per woman, which distills who they were into a not-very-impressive blurb. metions one black woman: Phillis wheatley, and implies that since she was enslaved and met george washington, she might have influenced him on changing his mind about slavery. ignores pretty much everything she did in terms of what she did instead of what she was – which is objectifying and more than a little disgusting. Includes Polly Cooper (Indigenous/Oneida nation) led 40 warriors to deliver relief supplies to troops during revolutionary war. I’yonajanegen (I think that’s the letters? The typeface is really hard to read) of the Oneida nation who fought alongside her husband in battle. The rest is tons of white women. Meh.
- Women explorers – julie cummins – This title reminds me of when TV scripts explicitly call scientists “lady scientists” or news articles about “female undertakers” and the plot really shouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they’re women at all but because they are women they aren’t allowed to drop that as an othering identity. Also of course, tokenism. All white, maybe one latina(?). cool idea, terribly boring and awkward execution.
- This little trailblazer – Holub is known for celebrating rampant racist assholes, such as Columbus. So of course,this includes nazi sympathizer/full-on nazi coco chanel. Shame, because despite the nazi, there is a decent racial mix (latina, middle eastern/west asian, Black, Indigenous, I’ve been actively looking for a women’s history compilation for very young kids and this wodul have been perfect except for the nazi thing. i wish the author had done a modicum of research to find anyone but the top most popular people (basically same cast as she persisted, and this only gets points because it’s targeted to an underserved toddler age range) Holub’s other books are super problematic and I’ve actually never read one of her books that HAVEN’T been problematic. She’s a dangerously ignorant maker doing lots of damage. board book. 6m+ (but only babies who like nazis).
- Remember the ladies – cheryl harness. mostly white focused, starts women’s american history at the settlers (first woman is Pocahontas), but Indigenous women are few and far between and the few who are mentioned are written about in such a vague way I can’t tell what they did. The book itself is laid out poorly – I can’t tell which chunk of bio is connected to which person. i AM noticing that white women are getting a lot more text per person (in addition to larger numbers) than WOC. there is one token asian woman – which is way more than others, but also insulting given how many white women made it onto the pages.