In honor of Women’s History Month, we spoke with four authors about their picture book biographies that highlight the accomplishments of influential women. For more titles celebrating feminist icons, click here.

Lisa D. Brathwaite

How were you first introduced to Eunice W. Johnson’s story?

I was familiar with Johnson Publishing Company, the iconic business that Eunice W. Johnson helped her husband John H. Johnson found in 1942, through its many publications [from] my growing up experience, namely Ebony and Jet magazines. But I was truly first immersed in her story after touring a museum exhibition called “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” in Atlanta comprising her couture collection—exquisite pieces she purchased over the course of 50 years and showcased in the touring style showcase she established called the Ebony Fashion Fair. I was enthralled by the fashion and had a yearning to learn more about this Black woman who had such a passion and vision for beauty, and a conviction to use her means and influence to share it with the Black community.

What was the most impactful part of Johnson’s journey and how did you portray it in the book?

I believe it was her impeccable style and indomitable spirit. She believed that beauty and dignity were things everyone should experience. Lynn Gaines illustrated this with a depiction I love in the book. Mrs. Johnson is meeting the resistance of a design house gatekeeper with resilience and an “Admit One” ticket. She knew once she gained entry, she’d literally and figuratively make room and space for others. And she did.

How did she find ways to overcome obstacles she faced in her field due to her gender?

Education was very important to Eunice W. Johnson, and she sought hers and became a social worker. The very nature of this work is to help alleviate people’s suffering, advocate for justice, and improve lives and communities. So stitching together her schooling with her savvy and Southern charm as a Selma native, she found ways to navigate and circumvent the obstacles she faced in her field and in her everyday existence. Whether it was finding accommodations for her models and staff in Jim Crow crowds or creating the right shades of makeup for wearers with darker hues, she took time to question and understand a problem, and then spent her efforts and energy creatively seeking solutions. She never rolled over and accepted anything detrimental to her beliefs in who she was, her value, and what she deserved. Because she was educated and knew what she knew, she was a self-assured quiet fire.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the biography?

I hope they will take away a sense of pride, self-worth, and self-determination. Everything about Mrs. Johnson was aspirational. I want them to define for themselves who they are and then set themselves on a path to be just that—and believe it’s their right.

One of the easiest and most accessible ways to do this is through deciding daily what to wear. It could be as simple as donning your favorite color. Some days it may be a tiara, a tutu, or a cape. Other days it may be a baseball cap worn low and a t-shirt that says, “I Eat Monsters for Breakfast,” and that’s okay too. Strut to the beat that’s playing on your runway on any given day. Just keep stepping. Keep striving. Most importantly, at every stage of your life, pursue and be true to your highest, most stylish self, designed most expertly by you.

Miles of Style: Eunice W. Johnson and the ‘Ebony’ Fashion Fair by Lisa D. Brathwaite, illus. by Lynn Gaines. Lee & Low, $20.95 Feb. 6 ISBN 978-1-62014-312-4.

Vivian Kirkfield

How were you first introduced to Annie Londonderry’s story?

I discovered Annie in an online article when an editor asked me to write a picture book about how bikes helped women achieve more freedom and independence. I was immediately hooked! What a fascinating person! Searching for more information about Annie, I came across a book for adults, Around the World on Two Wheels, written by Annie’s great grandnephew, author Peter Zheutlin. I reached out to thank Peter because his book was a wonderful resource for me, and he invited me to a screening of a documentary about Annie that was, coincidentally, happening the next weekend. Getting to meet Peter (who lives in the Boston area, as do I), and having such an Annie expert on my team, was golden!

What was the most impactful part of Londonderry’s journey and how did you portray it in the book?

For me, the most impactful and astounding aspect of the journey was Annie’s courage and sheer tenacity. Even today, a trip around the world is a serious undertaking, and even with cell phones, GPS, and credit cards, problems often arise. In 1894, most women never went further than the next town, but Annie set out on a trip around the world… alone, and on a bicycle, when she’d never ridden one before. Throughout the book, scenes unfold where Annie’s courage and tenacity are tested: her money is stolen and her bike confiscated when Annie lands in France; Annie is set upon by bandits and injured on the road to Marseilles, but continues; she crosses the American desert by following the railroad tracks. And when Annie pedals into Boston after completing the journey, she is not a novice cyclist anymore. How inspiring to see someone who follows their dream and never gives up!

How did Londonderry find ways to overcome obstacles faced in her field due to her gender?

Annie had many obstacles—some even more challenging because of her gender: [she needed to] earn money to pay the way and find a safe place to stay in each city and town. But Annie had a superpower: creativity. Annie always found a way. Braving stares and pointing fingers, Annie shucked skirts in favor of men’s trousers, and traded the heavy woman’s bike for a lightweight men’s racer with no brakes. Although most women didn’t work outside the home, and many men earned only about $1,000 a year, Annie sold signed photographs, gave bike exhibitions, and worked in local shops in towns along the way, and returned home with the $5,000 required for the wager. Annie was one of the first women in sports to be offered paid endorsements, and her clothes fluttered with ribbons advertising companies that paid for the space to spread the word about their products. In addition, Annie telegraphed ahead to towns and cities on the itinerary, alerting journalists, increasing attendance at lectures, and ensuring a warm welcome by local cyclists to each place. She was courageous, tenacious, and a fabulous entrepreneur and businesswoman!

What do you hope young readers will take away from the biography?

I hope they embrace Annie’s willingness to take on a challenge. I hope they, too, embrace a can-do attitude as they go through life. And I hope they will appreciate Annie and others who blazed trails that opened the way for others. We all need to have hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be, because nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.

Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World by Vivian Kirkfield, illus. by Alison Jay. Calkins Creek, $18.99 Feb. 20 ISBN 978-1-63592-682-8.

NoNieqa Ramos

How were you first introduced to Evelina Antonetty, Lillian López, and Elba Cabrera’s story?

During the pandemic, I came across an organization called Casita Maria in the Bronx, a community center for local residents “to play, create, learn, and grow.” On the wall, graffiti artist Tats Cru had painted three smiling sisters, whom I would learn were called The Tres Hermanas. Further research revealed that Evelina López Antonetty, Lillian López, and Elba Cabrera were three pioneers and visionaries of the Puerto Rican community. I grew up in the Bronx, but had never heard of these extraordinary women or the contributions they had made to the Bronx, to New York, and to the country. The more I learned about their achievements in promoting education, literacy, and the arts, the more I knew someone had to put their story into the hands of all children. Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” That someone turned out to be me.

What was the most impactful part of their journey and how did you portray it in the book?

Through poetry in verse, I wrote Best Believe as a manifesto and an ode to the power of collaboration and community. These sisters never stopped helping—and they helped raise generations of helpers.

How did they find ways to overcome obstacles faced in their field due to their gender?

How did these three Puerto Rican women who migrated from Puerto Rico to Spanish Harlem overcome systemic and institutionalized sexism and racism? How did Evelina organize an army of women to bring equity to New York City schools? How did Lillian bring bilingual and Spanish books to libraries to the everyday person? And how did Elba promote Latinx culture and art on her radio and T.V. shows? Their story starts with their loving and hardworking mother, and it continues with the support of their aunt. Ultimately, the deep, fierce, and infinite support they had for each other is why they were so successful. In this biography, sheroes abound!

What do you hope young readers will take away from the biography?

The Tres Hermanas fought for BIPOC children to have a good education, safe housing, healthy food, and diverse books regardless of their income. I want children to understand that they deserve all of the above. When the Tres Hermanas saw injustice, they got angry, and that anger motivated them to unite with community members and come up with solutions to problems. I want my readers to know that the best way to fight injustice is with conversation, imagination, and teamwork. [As I write in the book], “Helping each other in times of need is the superpower of community.”

Best Believe: The Tres Hermanas, a Sisterhood for the Common Good by NoNieqa Ramos, illus. by Nicole Medina. Carolrhoda, $18.99 Feb. 6 ISBN 978-1-72846-044-4.

Pamela S. Turner

How were you first introduced to Caroline Herschel’s story?

I was flipping through a book about the history of science and read a throwaway line to the effect of: “William Herschel became a famous astronomer, but his sister Caroline did all the mathematical work.”

Hmm, I thought. Sounds like Caroline deserves a lot more recognition. And that set me off on a research mission. Luckily, Caroline wrote not one but two autobiographies that give a wonderful sense of her personality, drive, and determination. I wove some of my favorite quotes from Caroline into the text of Comet Chaser.

What was the most impactful part of Herschel’s journey and how did you portray it in the book?

Caroline could have limited herself to collaborations with her brother William—certainly their astronomical surveys were wildly ambitious and very time-consuming. But when William was away being feted for his discoveries, Caroline chose to work solo using her “comet sweeper” telescope. In the book, I portray her alone in the dewy grass, in the quiet of the night, experiencing the sweetest moment in any scientist’s career: the thrill of realizing they are the first person in the history of the world to know something. For Caroline, her thrill was spotting a comet no one else had ever seen.

How did Herschel find ways to overcome obstacles faced in her field due to her gender?

Caroline worked extremely hard. She was incredibly diligent, detail-oriented, and a self-starter. She had courage and a stubborn sense of self-worth despite her difficult childhood. Even though women weren’t considered part of the scientific club, Caroline had the confidence to reach out to other astronomers to share her comet discoveries. Because of her meticulous work with William, Caroline was taken seriously, and the scientific community recognized her independent contributions to astronomy.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the biography?

Despite the differences between Caroline’s age and ours, some things are evergreen: the dreams and hopes of childhood. The little voice that keeps whispering “I can do it” when the world seems to be shouting “No, you can’t.” The draw of whatever it is that speaks to your heart—a constellation of stars, a paintbrush in your hand, or taking apart an engine to figure out how it works. I hope young readers will realize that, like Caroline, they can make their dreams come true by being their own fairy godmothers.

Comet Chaser: The True Cinderella Story of Caroline Herschel, the First Professional Woman Astronomer by Pamela S. Turner, illus. by Vivien Mildenberger. Chronicle, Mar. $19.99 ISBN 978-1-4521-4543-3.