Introduction by Pooja Makhijani
As a self-proclaimed feminist parent, I strive to raise my child—and those in my village—guided by the feminist ideals of respect, equality, and social justice. I believe feminist parenting is more than gender diversity, body image, autonomy, and sexualization (all important issues, no doubt).
My core parenting beliefs include raising a child with respect for all people, and by extension, with respect for diversity. My hope is that, by engendering empathy for all human beings, she learns that all of us should be able to live a life free from violence, discrimination, and a lack of agency, and works towards this universal liberation.
One way that I inculcate these values is through books and media. To quote award-winning author and editor Hazel Rochman, “A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person - flawed, complex, striving - then you've reached beyond stereotype. Stories, writing them, telling them, sharing them, transforming them, enrich us and connect us and help us know each other.”
Throughout my career, I have advocated that books and stories can make a difference in dispelling prejudice and building community. For many South Asian women, sadly, equal opportunity is still a distant dream. Still, many women have and continue to push the boundaries of male dominated careers, and redefine what feminism means for them. By creating spaces for their own stories and voices to be heard, they force people to re-examine their perceptions and push back against unfair ideas.
In honor of International Women's Day, here are titles curated by Kitaabworld that celebrate girls and women that challenge stereotypes, speak truth to power, and inspire us all.
Check out our entire collection and use code GIRLPOWER to get a 15% discount on our girl power collection!
Books to Celebrate International Women's Day
Always Anjali: Anjali is excited to ride with her friends to the store to buy new license name plates for their bikes, but is upset when her name isn't available. This leads to a discovery about her name and identity and what makes her unique. (Picture book, 5+)
Amal Unbound: Amal finds herself as a indentured domestic servant in the house of the village feudal landlord after a confrontation with him. Despite bleak circumstances she finds inner resolve to fight and change her destiny. (Chapter Book, 8+)
Amelia to Zora: 26 Women Who Changed the World: A wonderful introduction to girl power! Short biographies of 26 diverse women achievers in literature, science, and the arts highlight their significant contributions, as well as how they persevered in the face of the many barriers. The book’s mixed media illustrations and inspirational quotes inspired readers to learn more about these women. (Picture book, 5+)
Drummer Girl: Young Najma loved Ramadan and had a secret dream. She longed to beat the drum that traditional male musaharati drummers use during the wake-up call for the pre-dawn meal. Supported by her loving family, Najma is able to realize her long cherished dream and push the boundaries of what girls can accomplish. (Picture book, 5+)
Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean: In this collaboration between Australian and Indian authors, they examine the connections between boys and girls. Through creative stories of science fiction and fantasy these short stories show us new worlds and new ways of being. (Young Adult, 12+)
Feminist Baby: This fun board book in rhythm and verse introduces us to a young girl who is unafraid to march to her own tune. So make some noise with it and get woke! Never to early to begin right? (Board book, 2+)
Girls Who Rocked the World: This fun and inspiring collection provides 46 illustrated examples of strong girl role models. The women featured span a variety of achievements, interests, and backgrounds, from Harriet Tubman and Coco Chanel to S.E. Hinton and Maya Lin as teenagers. Aspirations from today’s young women are interspersed throughout the book, as well as profiles of teenagers who continue to rock the world today. (Chapter book, 9+)
Mina vs. the Monsoon: When the rains put a damper on Mina's soccer moves, she is restless. In her boredom, she takes it on herself to chase away the clouds and in coming up with inventive ideas makes a starling discovery herself. (Picture book, 5+)
Malala's Magic Pencil: Malala's story in her own words! Malala takes us back to her childhood in the Swat valley. She dreamed of a magic pencil that would erase the smell of garbage and give her an additional hour of sleep. Slowly her dreams and aspirations turn into bigger ideals and hopes for children all over the world. (Picture book, 5+)
See our post on other Malala books here
Nina the Neighborhood Ninja: This book tells the story of Nina and how she spends a day in her neighborhood. She finds creative ways to rescue neighborhood animals who need help. A fun, lighthearted book about a girl savior or rather, a Superhero. (Picture book, 3+)
Rani Lakshmibai: A fierce and fearless fighter, Rani of Jhansi is one of the most inspiring women to lead the fight against the British in pre-independent India. Her story of courage and valor is celebrated to this day. Also see Rani of Jhansi. (Graphic novel, 10+)
Rasha: Little Girl, Big Heart: Rasha is transplanted from Dhaka to her grandmother's village, but her fiery spirit stays in place. Standing up to the teacher, foiling plans for a child marriage, learning to steer a boat and even teaching other students Rasha's adventures will take you on a whirlwind ride. (Chapter book, 10+)
Razia’s Ray of Hope: An inspiring story inspired by a real life hero who runs a girls' school in Afghanistan. Despite her longing to go to school, Razia faced objection from the men in her family. She convinced them and shows us how one person has the power to make a difference. The mixed-media illustrations bring Razia’s world to life and add dimension to the thought-provoking book. (Picture book, 6+, lesson plans available here)
Razia and the Pesky Presents: Razia Sultan was the Delhi Sultanate’s only female ruler. Her ascent to the throne holds much historical value as her ancestors were slaves, not nobility. Razia’s reign serves as the backdrop to this witty story in which someone who is upset about a female ruler sends pesky presents to Razia. How does Razia find the sender of these pesky presents and understand what they want? A fun historical twist and great introduction to Razia Sultan! (Chapter book, 6 +)
Rickshaw Girl: In this inspiring story, Naima, a young Bangladeshi girl, yearns to help her family financially. Mitali Perkins deftly interweaves serious issues such as girls education, poverty and microfinance into a fast paced story. Though Naima sets out to fit into a traditionally male profession, she eventually learns to rely on her own talents to change perceptions. (Chapter Book, ages 8+)
Sarla in the Sky: This picture book traces the story of India’s first female pilot. Despite the challenges she faced, Sarla was able to make her dream a reality and soar into the skies. This heartwarming tale will surely give wings to any young child’s imagination. (Chapter Book, 6+)
Sita’s Ramayana: In this re-telling of the epic Ramayana, we have the opportunity to learn about the fateful events of the story from Sita’s perspective. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel lets us see Sita as a fully realiaed person who values compassion and trust, and who makes important observations about her world and the terrible price of war. (Graphic novel, 10+)
Step Up to the Plate Maria Singh: Maria Singh wants to get on the all-girl softball team at her school. At home, her Sikh dad and Mexican mom face the increased strain and pressure to save their family farm. Will Maria step up stand up for herself and others? (Chapter Book, 8+)
Super Satya Saves the Day: When Satya's cape is at the dry cleaners, she worries that she will lose her superpower. However, through her power of observation she is able to see things from a different perspective and that saves the day! (Picture book, 5+)
The Assassin Nuns of Pistachio: The sleepy little town of Pistachio and its guardian nuns harbor a secret. With the crime rate rising, they call for backup which arrives in the form of an orphan Ann. The nuns are pressed to reveal their secret and embark on a whirlwind adventure! (Chapter Book, 8+)
The Girl Who Chose: A New Way of Narrating the Ramayana: A retelling of the epic Ramayana from Sita's perspective. The story hinges on the five choices Sita must make and these propel the story forward. An interesting take on an age-old tale. (Chapter Book, 8+)
The World is not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid: World renowned architect Zaha Hadid had to face many challenges in her life and career. Her inspiration from nature informed her designs and her success is a tribute to her mettle. (Picture Book, 8+)
Wings To Fly: Based on the life of disabled athlete Malathi Holla, this inspiring story about little Malathi salutes her determination and dreams to run after hens, chickens and catch falling mangoes from trees all while bound to her wheelchair. A sensitive and heart warming story. (Picture book, 5+)
Use code GIRLPOWER to get a 15% discount on our girl power collection!
Also see 45+ South Asian titles for the classroom
As a fellow self-proclaimed feminist, I love this list so very much!! That “Girls Who Rocked The World” definitely looks like something the kids in my library would adore – Mother Theresa rocking out in a band? Who wouldn’t be drawn in by that cover? ;-)