A Mighty Girl's top picks of children's biographies and fiction about girls and women in engineering.
There are few things as satisfying as making something work — which for many girls and women means a love of engineering! Unfortunately, women are still highly underrepresented in the field and progress has been slow with the percentage of engineering bachelors degrees awarded to women in the U.S. increasing only from 17.8% in 2010 to 22.5% in 2019. Even today, many girls consider engineering a 'male' field or they simply don't know what engineers do. International Women in Engineering Day, which is celebrated annually on June 23, provides a perfect opportunity to introduce girls to the many types of engineering careers available and explore how engineers help to solve real-world challenges.
One easy way to spark girls' interest in engineering is by introducing them to real-life role models and showing them how women have often been at the forefront of various engineering fields. To that end, in this blog post, we've featured a variety of children's books that showcase the stories of female engineers throughout history, as well as fictional stories about Mighty Girls like them who love to invent, design, and make their ideas come to life. Today's kids will become the next generation of engineers building our world — let's make sure there are plenty of female voices included!
Real-Life Role Models: Biographies of Engineers
Lillian Moller Gilbreth was born to a wealthy family, but she left behind her easy life to seek out new challenges. Alongside her husband, Frank, she studied factory workers to figure out how they could do their work more efficiently — something that helped increase profits and keep workers healthier and happier. She turned the same eye for efficiency towards her home, which served her well when Frank died, leaving her to raise 11 children along. Then, the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company hired her and gave her a challenge: could she improve kitchen design? She could, in fact, inventing the idea of the "work triangle" that still reduces steps for cooks today! This engaging picture book celebrates the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering whose eye for innovation has saved millions of work hours — particularly by women — around the world.
As a child, Beatrice Shilling would rather take apart machines than play with the other girls — so when she grew up, she decided to study engineering, even if she would be the only woman there. She proved her mettle more than once, but plenty of people were still skeptical about a woman engineer. When World War II broke out, though, Britain's planes needed help — and that meant new ideas. Shilling figured out a solution to a tough problem with their fuel release systems, allowing pilots to maneuver safely... and helping them win the war! This inspiring picture book biography of a engineering pioneer (who also raced motorcycles on the side!) will inspire kids to celebrate the value of individuality and persistence.
As a 7-year-old during WWII, Raye Montague toured a captured German submarine and immediately set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know that sexism and racism would challenge her dream every step of the way. Raye ended up working at the US Navy as a typist, studying engineering at night. One day, when all the engineers were sick with the flu, she astonished everyone by completing all of their work. She went on to become the first person to design a ship on a computer and the Navy's first female ship designer. This inspiring picture book from the Amazing Scientists series celebrates a pioneer who changed ship design forever.
As a girl, Emily Roebling was an eager learner — but girls didn't need to know math and science, and certainly not engineering. As an adult, her husband had an ambitious plan for a bridge that would "link Manhattan and Brooklyn," and when construction began, Roebling insisted on learning more about it. And when her husband fell ill, she stepped in, supervising every aspect of the project, and ensuring that the Brooklyn Bridge, one of New York's most iconic landmarks, was finished. This picture book biography celebrates the secret engineer who refused to give up on an architectural wonder.
Ellen Ochoa dreamed of playing her flute professionally — until she discovered engineering in college and was immediately hooked. People doubted whether she could succeed: a girl from an immigrant family wasn't the right sort of person to become a scientist, they thought. She refused to believe them, and not only did she achieve her career in engineering, but she even became a NASA astronaut. And when she flew into outer space, her flute came with her, so she could play a song for the stars! This appealing biography from the Amazing Scientists series is a colorful tribute to this daring scientist and musician.
As a child growing up in Austria, Hedy Lamarr wanted to know how everything worked — she even took apart her toys! But she also loved acting out her favorite scenes from movies. As an adult, the world knew Hedy Lamarr as a glamorous movie star, but she had a secret: she was also an inventor. And in the middle of World War II, she created an invention for the U.S. Navy that would become the foundation for some of today's most important technologies, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS! Author / illustrator pair Laurie Wallmark and Katie Wu, creators of Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, team up once again for this compelling introduction to a little-known scientific talent.
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers, and to her, the best part of math was when it could solve a problem in the real world! Her love of math introduced her to computers, and then to a job at NASA, where they were planning a mission to the moon — and computers were going to be a part of it. Hamilton hand-wrote the code for the Apollo missions, and when a last-minute problem cropped up as Apollo 11 prepared for a lunar landing, it was Hamilton's forward-thinking code that saved the day! This fascinating and fun picture book biography of a computing pioneer — the woman who coined the term software engineer — beautifully depicts the spirit of curiosity and determination that drove Hamilton to success.
Mary Golda Ross was the only girl in her college math class, and she proved that she could excel. She taught math at several high schools while taking graduate courses in the summers but she dreamed of finding more opportunities to apply her mathematical talents. In 1942, she succeeded, winning a spot at Lockheed as an aerospace engineer. She thrived, and before long, she had been invited to a super secret team called Skunk Works — one which was working on cutting-edge designs for future space travel! This compelling picture book biography captures the fascinating life of this little-known pioneer in STEM who became the first Native American aerospace engineer, celebrating how she blazed a trail for others behind her.
Emma Lilian Todd loved tinkering — even as a child, she took apart clocks and reassembled them to figure out how they worked. As an adult, she worked at the Patent Office, typing up patents for other inventors... and imagining how she would improve them. In the early 1900s, most people didn't think women could be inventors, but Lilian was determined to prove them wrong — by designing he very own airplane! This riveting picture book biography brings to life a nearly-forgotten engineer whose visionary thinking and determination helped her groundbreaking invention take flight.
Engineering touches almost everything we do, whether it's opening a carton of milk for breakfast or crossing a bridge that connects a city! In this book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series, kids will learn about five women in engineering: Ellen Swallow Richards, Emily Warren Roebling, Kate Gleason, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and Mary Jackson. They'll also test out some hands-on STEM projects, from conducting a virtual tour of a model bridge to researching organizational psychology. With a fun narrative style and full-color pages, this book is sure to inspire future engineers.
Carpenter Katie Hughes was often the only woman on a construction site, and she knew that teaching girls to use tools would help. Her non-profit, Girls Build, invites girls ages 8 to 14 to develop confidence and construction skills — and now her first book encourages girls everywhere to do the same! Inside you'll find photos of 45 builder girls, each accompanied by information about her favorite build, her top tips for new builders, and more. Then, check out the how-to guide full of techniques and safety tips for common tools, and use your new skills to create thirteen do-it-yourself projects from picture frames to playhouses. This empowering guide is sure to help a new generation of girls discover they can build anything!
Inspire her dreams of creation with this book featuring biographies of 22 groundbreaking architects, engineers, and landscape designers! Each capsule biography describes that woman's strengths and passions as a child, as well as the challenges they faced as they established themselves in their careers. Intriguing sidebars explore related topics, as well as the landmark events that affected each figure, including the industrial revolution, the women's suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. This entry in the Women of Action series will fascinate budding engineers!
When girls get building, big things happen! Emily Pilloton founded the nonprofit Girls Garage in 2013, using her background in architecture and construction to help girls get confident with tools as they build real-world projects to help their community. Now, in this book, she provides the same guidance to girls everywhere! This book includes all the information a would-be builder needs, including 175 illustrated tool guides, 21 essential skills, and 11 how-to projects she can try herself. Plus, this 300-page compendium includes encouraging stories from real-life girls and women builders. Part how-to manual, part inspirational guide, this book will give girls confidence that there's nothing they can't plan, fix, or build!
Putting It Together: Fictional Stories of Engineers and Tinkerers
Accurate enough to satisfy an expert, yet simple enough for baby, this colorful book about a science-loving little girl explores the basics of flight – from birds, to planes and rockets – and ties it all to a baby’s world. Beautiful, visually stimulating illustrations complement age-appropriate language to encourage baby’s sense of wonder. Parents and caregivers may learn a thing or two, as well! For more volumes from this fun and inspiring series, including ones focused on quantum physics, thermodynamics, and coding, visit our Baby Loves Science Collection.
When this little girl builds her own robot, she thinks she's got the perfect best friend: one who will do whatever she says! But even robots can get tired of being told what to do all the time, and eventually — after being ordered to mow the grass and hoe the garden — the robot storms off. The little girl will have to figure out the right way to make amends before the friends can play again. This simple comic reader from the Step Into Reading series is a great read-aloud for very young kids and is easy enough for early readers to read on their own.
This retelling transports Cinderella into outer space! Hardworking Cinderella is kept doing menial appliance repairs, but at night, she studies how to build and repair rocket ships. When her family strands her on an empty planet. all Cinderella's fairy godrobot needs to provide are tools; that allows Cinderella to repair a ship, get off the planet, and provide some much needed mechanical assistance to the Prince! She’s also smart enough to know she’s too young for marriage, opting to take up the post of chief royal mechanic instead. Tinkering kids will love this mechanically-inclined Cinderella.
Meg loves building with boxes, and she always stuns both her peers and adults with what she makes. But then a new kid shows up at Maker School. Simone is a boxitect too — a good one — and it's not long before the two have become fierce rivals. Then the worst happens: the two are paired as a team for the annual Maker Match. Rather than work together, they each take half the materials and build one half of their creation... a plan that ends in disaster. But when they sit down and find a way to combine their talents, it turns out there's nothing they can't do! This funny and realistic story about two girls who realize that they can make amazing things when they work together is sure to inspire a little "boxitecture" in young readers!
The little girl in this story has an idea in her head for the most MAGNIFICENT thing... so with the help of her puppy sidekick, she collects some bits and pieces and starts building. Except that the result isn't quite as magnificent as she wanted, so she tries again... and again... and again. Eventually, frustration overtakes her, and she not only smashes, pummels, and explodes, she also quits. It's not until she takes a walk with her dog and clears her head that she can see the potential in all her previous design and build something that she really does feel is magnificent. This fun picture book sends a great message to young readers about the importance of persistence.
Goldilocks loves inventing things — but today, it seems like all of her ideas hit a dead end. She has inventor's block! To clear her head, she heads out for a walk, leaving all her projects — a porridge-stirring bowl, a remote-control rocking bed, and more — on her workbench. When Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear discover the house, they know just how to tweak and fix the devices so they work. Kids will giggle at this STEM-themed fairy tale, with its peppy rhyming text and colorful illustrations, and learn that teamwork can be the key when you're stuck. For two more fractured fairy tales by this author-illustrator team, check out Mary Had A Little Lab and The Princess and the Petri Dish.
Young Charlotte is always tinkering, coding, and clicking — but one day her parents give her a most puzzling toy: a doll! After all, Charlotte wonders, what's she supposed to do with a "human-shaped pillow"? Then she discovers her doll has a battery-driven voice box and decides to upgrade it to Doll-E 1.0. Soon Charlotte discovers the fun to be had with her new friend and the value of a little balance between high-tech and pretend play. Filled with author-illustrator Shanda McCloskey's cheerful illustrations and witty narrative, this refreshing modern look at the joy of imaginative play also celebrates the joy of engineering!
Cleonardo's father is an inventor... and so was her grandfather, her great-grandfather, and even more generations gone by. She desperately wants to be an inventor too, but no matter how many ideas she gives her father, he never uses any of them. So Cleonardo — with the help of Leonardo, her grandfather — decides to make her own invention, which she does successfully. She thinks it's wonderful, but will others think the same — especially her dad? This book celebrates both the desire to create and invent and the importance of fathers and daughters spending time together.
Violet Van Winkle could fix almost anything in her house by the time she was two. By eight, she's building incredible flying machines, even though the kids at school tease her for her eccentric creations. She decides to earn their respect by winning the blue ribbon at the Air Show, but on her way to the show, Violet sees a Boy Scout troop in trouble and has to decide which is more important: showing off her creation for applause, or using it to do the right thing. Kids who dream of careers as pilots or aeronautics engineers will cheer as Violet shows the world the joy of flight!
The eager young scientist in this book has a great idea for her school's science fair: a real-life robot! But in the process of building, she gets a little carried away, adding a superclaw, a laser eye, and even the power to control dogs' minds. It's not until she turns it on at the fair, though, that she realizes her biggest mistake: she forgot to give it a way to register her commands. It's going to take all her ingenuity to save the day now... This hilarious story also provides a good reminder for budding inventors: plan your design very, very carefully! Fans of this book will enjoy the sequel, Oh, No! Not Again! (Or How I Built A Time Machine To Save History) (Or At Least My History Grade), which touches on the perils of time travel.
Quiet Rosie dreams of inventing gizmos and gadgets, so when she hears her Great-Aunt Rose (of Rosie the Riveter fame) sighing that she never fulfilled her dream to fly, Rosie decides to create a solution that will let Aunt Rose soar. Despite her hard work, though, the heli-o-cheese-copter hovers for just a moment before crashing to the ground. Although Rosie considers it a failure, Aunt Rose reassures her that it was actually a tremendous success — because you only truly fail if you quit. Fans of Rosie will also want to check out Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers, as well as her first early chapter book appearance in Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters.
A little girl who loves to tinker and fix things finds a robot in the woods — and is shocked when the push of a button activates him for the first time! Soon, the pair are the best of friends, but the little robot is also curious about its own kind. Unfortunately, the large, sinister robots at the factory that made the little robot are looking for him too and they don’t care who they hurt along the way to get him back. Now, the two new friends will have to fight for the little robot’s freedom! This fun and charming wordless graphic novel, which stars an inventive and intelligent Mighty Girl, will be a hit with any young reader who’s imagined having their own robot friend.
Ellie prides herself on her engineering skills, and loves inventing things in her backyard workshop. So when her best friend Kit's birthday approaches, she's determined to make something — and when she hears Kit's mom saying they're getting her a dog, she knows just what to build: a doghouse. But her plans get more and more elaborate, and soon she's got to enlist help from other kids in the neighborhood — kids who don't always get along. Can she create the doghouse of Kit's dreams and still keep it a secret? This exuberant story includes fun backmatter, including a how-to guide to tools, that will delight would-be engineers.
Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery With Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself
Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery With Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself
Nick and Tesla are 11-year-old sleuths who use science and technology to save the day! In this adventure, a rash of robberies has hit the town of Half Moon Bay, and to catch the criminal, the pair will have to build several different robots. Step-by-step directions using mostly household items guide kids through building hoverbots, robo-roaches, and more as they work to solve the case. Budding young builders will love puzzling out the solution to the mystery as they learn about real-life science concepts.
11-year-old Penny Rose is lonely in her new town; the science-loving girl only has her homemade robots to keep her company. When she spies on Lark, the girl next door, she realizes that she, too, loves making things, and before long the two girls have struck up a friendship — and created a magical world where Penny Rose's robots come to life. Then Penny Rose gets the break she's been waiting for: an opportunity to try out for the Secret Science Society, run by the popular kids at school. Her robots, of course, would be the perfect way to show off her skills... but revealing them may risk both the robots and her friendship with Lark. This quirky illustrated chapter book celebrates ingenuity and true friendship, as well as the joy of creativity and imagination.
Gifted 12-year-old coder Lacey Chu dreams of working as a "companioneer" for MONCHA, the tech firm that invented the customizable robotic companions called baku — just like her father did before he mysteriously disappeared. The first step is winning admission to the corporate-run Profectus Academy, so when she's rejected, Lacey is heartbroken. When she finds a broken baku she names Jinx and repairs him, he seems more real than mechanical... and suddenly her rejection to the Profectus Academy gets overturned. As she faces competition from classmates and mysteries at MONCHA, Lacey will uncover secrets about the corporation, her family... and Jinx. This technological adventure is the first of a series that promises plenty of action to come!
When her mother was still alive, Nicolette learned to be an inventor by her side; now that she's gone, her stepsisters laugh and call her "Mechanica." But when she discovers a secret workshop full of mechanical tools powered in part by fey magic, she sees the opportunity to escape her miserable situation: with both a technological exhibition and a royal ball approaching, if Nicolette can't impress the prince, perhaps she can impress investors. This innovative fairy tale, featuring a steampunk Cinderella, celebrates a mechanically-inclined Mighty Girl and also conveys important lessons about the value of independence and freedom.
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future. No one — including Cinder herself — knows that Earth's fate hinges on one very special young woman... To follow Cinder's further adventures, all five books in the series are available in The Lunar Chronicles Box Set.