Choose To Challenge: Books About Strong Women Making A Difference


So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard …

We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back …

The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them …

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

~~ Women’s Rights Activist, Malala Yousafzai, from the transcript of her speech given to the United Nations Youth Assembly on July 12, 2013.

(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, March, 2021.)

March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate the achievements of women, but also to focus on the ongoing struggle for gender parity worldwide. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), women still remain significantly underrepresented in government and underemployed/underpaid in the workplace in every country in the world, including Canada. 

This year, the IWD’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, and there’s no shortage of inspiring women challenging and overcoming inequalities. Here are a few resources to help teach our children about those who #ChooseToChallenge.

Kamala Harris

By becoming the first African American and Asian American woman elected Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris broke a major gender barrier. 

Kamala And Maya’s Big Idea, 2020, Meena Harris, 4+ – The true story of how a young Kamala and her sister persevered to turn their apartment building’s courtyard into a playground, sparking positive change for a whole community. 

Superheroes Are Everywhere, 2019, Kamala Harris, 3+ – Authored by Harris herself, this book reveals the superhero power inside all of us.

Autumn Peltier

From the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Autumn Peltier was appointed the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation in 2019 when she was only 14 years old. Peltier spoke at the United Nations (UN) in 2018 and 2019 about the problem of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Our Future: How Kids Are Taking Action, 2019, Janet Wilson, 6+ – This book details the work of Peltier and other youth activists.

Greta Thunberg

Sweden’s 18-year-old Greta Thunberg is a well-known environmental activist, challenging global leaders to address the climate crisis. Thunberg earned 2 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and 2020, and won the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize

No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, 2019, Greta Thunberg, 10+ – A collection of Thunberg’s fiery speeches that will inspire youth to action.

Our House Is On Fire, 2019, Jeanette Winter, 4+ – A colourful picture book telling how and why Thunberg became an activist. 

Malala Yousafzai

As a teenager, Malala Yousafzai spoke out about her life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley where the local Taliban had banned girls from attending school. Angered by her audacity, the Taliban had her shot in October, 2012; miraculously, Yousafzai survived. She became a global advocate for women’s educational rights and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World, 2013, Malala Yousafzai, 10+ – Yousafzai’s memoir for older youth and teens.

Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girl’s Rights, 2018, Malala Yousafzai & Patricia McCormick, 6+ – An abridged chapter book telling Yousafzai’s tale in simpler language.

Malala’s Magic Pencil, 2017, Malala Yousafzai, 4+ – For the youngest readers, Yousafzai tells her story through a picture book.

These women’s stories are awe-inspiring, and hopefully their efforts will usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for us all.

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