12 Inspiring STEM Books for Girls

Edutopia

Science, technology, engineering, and math are more important than ever, so we’ve put together a list of books to encourage girls to persevere in these subjects.

Representation matters: Girls do better on science tests when their textbooks include images of female scientists. And a 2017 survey by Microsoft found that girls in Europe begin to show interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at 11 years old but lose it at around 15—and a lack of female role models is one reason for the drop in interest.

That’s why we’ve created this list of books showing girls and women who are passionate about STEM fields. After asking librarians for recommendations, pulling still more from School Library Journal, and checking best-seller and award lists, we selected picture books, biographies, novels, and memoirs appropriate for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. These books—most of which were published in 2016—represent a wide range of STEM fields, from marine biology to volcanology to math.

Kindergarten to Grade 3

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Andrea Beaty’s New York Times best-selling picture book explores growth mindset, perseverance, and failure. Rosie Revere wants to create a contraption that flies, but it only hovers. Her great-great-aunt, Rosie the Riveter, describes her failure as a success and tells her, “You can only truly fail if you quit.” (Grades K and up; Lexile measure: AD860L)

 

Ada Twist, Scientist
Ada Twist, Scientist, also by Andrea Beaty, follows Ada Twist, a young black girl who uses science to explore her world. Ada’s curiosity takes her on a journey to uncover the source of a horrible smell in her house. Through asking questions, experimenting, and gathering facts, Ada realizes that some questions lead to more questions rather than answers. (Grades K–2; Lexile measure: 550)

Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
Heather Lang’s illustrated biography chronicles Japanese-American Eugenie Clark’s lifelong fascination with sharks and her journey to becoming a marine biologist in the 1940s. Through her curiosity and research, Clark disproved the popular opinion that sharks were dangerous killers. (Grades K–3; Lexile measure: 770)

Grades 4 to 6

The Fourteenth Goldfish
Three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm introduces young readers to the world of science through fifth grader Ellie. When she meets Melvin, a teen who looks like her scientist grandfather, she wonders whether Grandpa really did discover how to reverse the aging process. The book explores themes of family, friendship, life, death, and what’s possible through science. It includes a gallery of scientists and other STEM resources. (Grades 4–7; Lexile measure: 0550)

 

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science
In this novel written in verse, Jeannine Atkins shares the lives of three real-life scientists: entomologist Maria Merian (1647–1717), paleontologist Mary Anning (1799–1847), and astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818–89)—all of whom were interested in science from childhood on. (Grades 4–8)

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
In this beautifully illustrated book, Rachel Ignotofsky highlights 50 women from around the world who impacted STEM fields from A.D. 400 to the present. Readers will find geneticists, volcanologists, and primatologists, as well as mathematicians and chemists. A historical timeline notes pivotal moments for women in STEM. The book includes statistics showing the gender gap in the STEM workforce, an illustrated glossary, and other resources. (Grades 6 and up)

Grades 7 to 8

Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World
Winifred Conkling’s nonfiction narrative profiles two female physicists whose discoveries paved the way for nuclear energy—and the atomic bomb. Set in the 1930s, this book is a combination of history and suspense, and details the glass ceiling of a male-dominated field. Educational sidebars throughout the book explain the science. (Grades 7 and up; Lexile measure: 1160L)

 

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Sam Maggs, a writer who frequently explores what it means to be a woman in geek culture, uses illustrated biographies to examine the lives of scientists, engineers, inventors, and more. With a dash of humor, references to pop culture, and a conversational tone, Maggs captures the amazing achievements of women throughout history. (Grades 7 and up)

3:59
Josie Byrne and her doppelgänger, Jo, live in different universes that open to each other every 12 hours, at 3:59. In this science fiction/horror story by Gretchen McNeil, Josie believes she’s just dreaming this alternate world until she switches places with Jo. Josie and Jo realize that their worlds are in danger, and use physics to save them both. (Grades 8–11)

Grades 9 to 12

Lab Girl
Winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and noted by Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Amazon as a best memoir or best book of 2016. Hope Jahren chronicles her lifelong passion for nature and science. Her memoir explores her relationship with her parents and the impact it had in cultivating her love of science as a child, and how her passion for plants and science gave her a deeper insight into herself. (Grades 9–12; Lexile measure: 1240L)

 

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom
This memoir by Qanta A. Ahmed, a British Muslim doctor, begins in the late 1990s when her application to renew her U.S. visa is denied and she accepts a job in Saudi Arabia. Though excited about the prospect of forming a deeper connection to her faith, she struggles with being a feminist, a doctor, and a Western woman living and working in a country that’s deeply oppressive to women. (Grades 9–12)

Hidden Figures
Recently adapted to film—with Oscar nominations for best picture and best adapted screenplay—Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book depicts the lives of four black women who, as mathematicians and engineers, helped send the first American astronaut into space. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden fought to progress up the ranks at NASA in the 1950s. (Grades 9–12)

Photo

CreditGiselle Potter

My son, Galen, had been shooting hoops since he was 4, barely big enough to hold the ball. Now 11, he was 5-foot-6, a head taller than his mom, and light and agile on his feet. He could sink a basket from anywhere on the driveway, including a shot that passed between the branches of the maple tree on its way to the net. Basketball, I’d long believed, was his destiny.

Galen was a standout his first season at the YMCA, when he was 8. The next year we signed up for the club team, which turned our six-week rec league season into six months of intense tournament play. When it became clear that every kid on his team had been a YMCA standout (or had bypassed the Y league altogether), I arranged for him to take private lessons with the captain of the basketball team at the college where I teach.

He played in a 3-on-3 league over the summer and, at the conclusion of the club season the following spring, he began playing with an Amateur Athletic Union team, a national youth sports organization that, in addition to increasing the level of competition also expanded our travel radius to a tristate region. Three weekends a month, from October to July, we crisscrossed the Upper Midwest traveling to tournaments. All the parents complained about the endless driving, the lost weekends, the hours spent in the bleachers, yet all agreed the sacrifices were worth it. They were the cost of success.

I was no stranger to the world of hyper-intense sports. I’d grown up swimming and had spent my share of weekends camped out in stifling, chlorinated natatoriums. I was good enough to swim, on scholarship, at a large Division I university where I routinely lost to swimmers who’d go on to win Olympic medals. Twenty years later, I still swam every morning and I still believed in the power of sports — to focus both body and mind, release stress-busting endorphins, forge lifelong friendships. Even the defeats were useful. Anyone who’s ever loved a sport has learned the hard way that sometimes life isn’t fair.

But while I (most of the time) looked forward to swimming practices and meets, the chance to test my mettle against my peers, basketball tournaments made Galen nothing but miserable. He’d punish himself for days over missed shots and flubbed passes, even if his team prevailed in the end. Whenever a shot went in, he looked more relieved than happy, grateful not to have screwed up again. During the lulls between games, he sat by himself, brooding into his iPad. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even me.

For a while I thought I was the problem. I was failing my son by not loving his sport enough for the both of us — until the Saturday I took a seat on the bleachers beside another dad. He told me his older kids had also played competitive basketball; he’d been coming to tournaments for 15 years and figured he had at least a decade more to go. When I asked if his oldest daughter still played, he laughed and said, “By the end of high school she was so burned out she never wanted to see a basketball again. She won’t even watch it on TV with her brothers.”

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

“Builds character,” he said, half-grinning. I could tell he didn’t believe it, not all the way. I’d begun to wonder whether it was even true. Did youth sports really impart discipline and determination in ways that other activities — like learning Greek, say, or taking long hikes in the backcountry, or painting a fence — could not? How often does a childhood sacrificed on the altar of sports really confer advantages in adult life?

“Did she have fun at least?” I asked the dad.

“Some of the time,” he said. “But it wasn’t really about fun.”

To me, it should be, and John Engh, executive director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, agreed. “Kids need diversity both socially and athletically,” he said in an email. “When their main outlet for both becomes the same activity, then a bad (or even a mediocre) experience can leave them disliking not only their sport but also physical activity of any kind.”

Driving home from Galen’s final tournament, after nearly a year of constant practices and games, I made a radical proposal. “Maybe it’s time to quit,” I said. “Basketball isn’t making you happy.”

I’d been afraid to utter the Q-word for months. Saying it felt a little like suggesting we rob a bank.

“If I quit basketball, what sport do I play?” Galen asked.

“How about NO sport,” I said. “At least not for a while. You can play basketball with friends all you want, but you don’t have to play on a team. We can spend our weekends camping and backpacking, skiing in the winter. You know, things we actually enjoy.”

He hesitated. “Every kid at my school plays something.”

If he didn’t have a sport, he continued, “I’ll be a nobody.”

“I’m only trying to consider how our light is spent,” I told Galen.

He looked at me. “What’s that mean? Is that poetry?”

“It’s John Milton,” I said. I’d taught a few of his sonnets the previous spring. “It’s about accepting who we are.”

Galen rolled his eyes. “I just want to go home.”

Over the weeks and months that followed, the idea grew on Galen. Freed from practice, he took to riding his bike and skateboard for hours, turning into the driveway as the last of the dusklight drained from the sky, his cheeks ruddy and his shoulders relaxed. He spent far more time outside without basketball weighing on his mind and schedule. He didn’t become a nobody or stop being an athlete.

Instead, both his definition of sports and his circle of friendships expanded. In the fall, he signed up for a kayaking class and went out for the junior high cross-country team, a far more reasonable eight-week season. When the snow fell, he joined a skiing club. Each new activity introduced him to new friends, and in some cases gave him a chance to hang out with his old basketball teammates without the pressure to win a game. This summer he’s heading to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota for a weeklong canoeing trip.

Now that the weather’s warm, Galen’s back to shooting hoops in the driveway. More than once, I’ve looked out the kitchen window and spotted him dribbling the ball between his legs while talking trash to an imaginary adversary. He fakes right, spins to the left, stops on a dime, swishes a jumper from behind the garbage cans. When he exultantly raises his arms above his head, full of joy and confidence, I know the decision to quit was the right one. A slam dunk.

The Link Between Detached Dads and Risk-Taking Girls

The Wall Street Journal

New research on daughters and risk-taking sexual behavior

ILLUSTRATION: TOMASZ WALENTA

How much do fathers matter to the personal development of their daughters? Scientists studying families have long suspected that domestic instability and insufficient fathering predispose girls to risky sexual behavior, but there was no hard evidence for this view.

A study published in the journal Developmental Psychology in May used an ingenious research design to get some answers. Danielle DelPriore and Bruce Ellis of the University of Utah, working with Gabriel Schlomer of the State University of New York at Albany, teased apart the effects of fathers within families.

They studied 101 pairs of adult sisters from families that had either remained intact or had broken up by the time the younger sister turned 14. In each family the sisters were distant enough from each other in age—at least four years—that they would have had different experiences of their father, especially if he had separated from the family before the younger one reached maturity.

This research design made it possible to control for variables that might interfere with clear conclusions about the effects of fathering. Both sisters randomly received half their genes from the mother, half from the father, so inherited genes couldn’t explain systematic differences. Sibling order could matter: As teens, younger sisters could for some reason be more risk-prone. But that was the point of including intact families. If the sisters differed in sexual risk-taking only in the disrupted families, it would be possible to zero in on how the difference arose.

The researchers used retrospective questionnaires to probe parenting and sexual experiences that the women—who were between 18 and 36 at the time of the study—recalled from high school. Sexual risk-taking included promiscuity, unprotected sex and sex while intoxicated. Older and younger sisters reported similar levels of mothering quality, whether their families were intact or disrupted.

But the most striking finding was in older sisters with a large age gap in the disrupted families. The father’s behavior, for better or worse, usually affected the older sister much more than her younger sibling.

If these older sisters communicated well with their fathers and felt close to them, they experienced much more parental monitoring and hung out far less with sexually risk-prone peers. But this kind of fathering had much less effect on the younger sisters, many of whom didn’t have enough contact with their father for him to make much of a difference.

These factors explained the older sisters’ behavior. “The prolonged presence of a warm and engaged father can buffer girls against early, high-risk sex,” Dr. DelPriore said. This doesn’t mean that divorced fathers can’t provide quality care. “A silver lining,” she adds, “is that what dad does seems to matter more than parental separation.” In other words, a divorce may be less harmful for a girl than more years with a bad dad.

The growing field of evolutionary child psychology adds interesting context to these findings. Biologists find that organisms in unstable environments grow up faster and start reproducing earlier than those in stable ones. Theoretically, in a stable environment you can take more time growing into your reproductive activities, focusing on long-term quality rather than on getting an early start. Conversely, in an unstable situation, it might “pay” (in Darwinian terms) to begin reproducing earlier, since in those girls’ worlds, a good man is hard to find.

This doesn’t rule out more familiar psychological explanations, but in a child’s development, family instability—which, again, is something different from divorce—might provide a catalyst setting off a psychological change and risky behavior.

As Dr. DelPriore phrased the question, “What is it that dad does that shields a daughter from sexual risk?” Dr. Ellis phrased the answer: “It’s all about dosage of exposure to dads; the bigger the dose, the more fathering matters—for better and for worse.”