By Heather, Oroville Library
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids! Kirsten is the author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents An Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak, which has been named a 2021 Best STEM Book by the National Science Teaching Association and a 2021 Notable Trade Book from the National Council for the Social Studies. She has also written many nonfiction books for kids including Zombies In Nature and Space Robots.
Kirsten, what are some of your favorite books about women in STEM?
It’s hard to choose just a few! The last few years have given us a boom in books about women (and girls) in science, technology, engineering in math (STEM). This is so important because STEM fields are still predominantly white and male — even in 2021. If we truly want inclusion and diversity in STEM (and we should!), then we need more STEM books where kids can see themselves, as well as their classmates.
In some cases, women in STEM books fill gaps in the way we tell history. For example, Ada Byron Lovelace did groundbreaking work in computing two centuries ago– when it wasn’t considered ladylike. You can read her story in the picture book, Ada Lovelace: Poet Of Science by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Jessie Hartland. Other books that round out history include the picture books Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang, and Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Woman and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman (also available for middle-grade readers). For middle-grade readers, I recommend the book of mini-biographies, Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden.
Other titles show that STEM can be a part of a woman’s life, even if it’s not her sole talent or passion. Two books that come to mind are Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf, illustrated by Junyi Wu. It’s the story of the famed Peter Rabbit author before she wrote her stories, when she studied fungi. Potter didn’t become a mycologist, but her work with fungi influenced her Peter Rabbit stories. Similarly, HEDY LAMAR’S DOUBLE LIFE by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu, reveals the famous actress worked on a breakthrough technology called frequency-hopping during World War II. I like to think we all have “STEM side.”
Autobiographies by women in STEM can model how budding scientists and engineers can overcome obstacles they might face. Path To The Stars by rocket scientist and Girl Scout President Sylvia Acevedo is an excellent one (middle grade).
Finally, I love fiction STEM books with female main characters. Some of my favorites are the picture book Invent-A-Pet by Vicky Fang, illustrated by Tidawan Thaipinnarong, as well as Vicky’s chapter books series LAYLA and the BOTS, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama. Both are superb hands-on books that will spark activities in the classroom or at home. I also think Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism by Jen Malia, illustrated by Julianne Lew-Vriethoff, a book showing not just a girl, but also neurodiversity in STEM. Pair it with a slime-making activity for the ultimate hands-on fun.
Here’s hoping these inspiring stories and hands-on books inspire the next generation of STEM leaders, especially women.