The demand for titles that address the challenges and triumphs of women and girls continues to grow. New and forthcoming books—including nonfiction about women who achieved great things despite social restrictions, abuse, and assault, and fiction that imagines and anticipates possibility for women and girls—empower the women’s movement, instill girls with a passion to achieve, and offer a vision of a society committed to gender equality and social justice.
PW reached out to a wide range of adult and children’s publishers to find out how their publishing programs serve women and girls. Publishers who responded include Liza Baker, v-p, publisher, Cartwheel Books and Orchard Press; Claire Eddy, executive editor, Tor, Nightfire, Tor Teen, Starscape; Nancy Inteli, v-p, publishing director, HarperCollins Children’s; Maha Moushabeck, managing director, Interlink; Michelle Nagler, v-p, associate director, publishing, Random House Children’s; Wendy Wong, associate editor, Harper Business; Carolyn P. Yoder, editorial director, Calkins Creek, Astra Books for Young Readers; and Claire Zion, v-p, editor-in-chief, Berkley.
What are some of your biggest recent and forthcoming women’s empowerment and/or girl-power titles, and how do these titles reflect your acquisitions strategy?
Nagler: As the publisher of Barbara Park and Denise Brunkus’s Junie B. Jones series and YA fantasy author Tamora Pierce, Random House has a long tradition of publishing girl power titles at all age levels, and upcoming lists are no different. If anything, it’s bigger than ever, with bestselling picture books like Misty the Cloud by Dylan Dreyer, illustrated by Rosie Butcher; Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue’s Katie the Catsitter graphic novel series; and YA like Natasha Bowen’s fantasy blockbuster Skin of the Sea. Notably, we are pushing boundaries in categories that have perhaps been traditionally seen as ‘boy’ spaces—like our licensed novel adaptation program with DC Comics: we have Aisha Saeed’s fresh middle grade twist on the world’s #1 female superhero in the Wonder Woman Adventures trilogy, and Harley Quinn: Reckoning, a wicked YA series by Rachael Allen that highlights the feminist in everyone’s favorite villainess.
Inteli: I’ve always been drawn to stories, both fiction and nonfiction, that showcase female protagonists overcoming obstacles and forging a new path. From an early age, I was interested in social causes—thanks to my older sisters!—and I graduated from an all-women’s college at Rutgers University, where I devoured my women’s studies texts.
My first nonfiction picture book collaboration with Susan Hood, Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World, just out in paperback, was a necessary antidote to the results of the 2016 election and the familiar rage I felt after Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the Senate floor in 2017. That book, with a powerful cover by Oge Mora, was created by women and featured 13 different artists working today who are as talented and fierce as the trailblazers featured within. Now, senior editor Megan Ilnitzki and I have more incredible feminist books coming from Susan, including two middle grade novels in verse. One, Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis [Mar.], is an inspirational nonfiction novel in verse about Zhanna Arshanskaya, a Ukrainian Jewish girl using the alias Anna, whose phenomenal piano-playing skills saved her life and the life of her sister Frina during the Holocaust. My maternal family is Jewish, and this novel in particular spoke to me. Susan cowrote this book with Greg Dawson, who is the main protagonist’s son. This book came to be because of Greg’s daughter—Zhanna’s granddaughter—who discovered her grandmother’s fascinating story because of a school project.
We also have more to come from the brilliant Anika Aldamuy Denise, who won the Pura Belpré Honor for Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Colombian artist Paola Escobar. Senior editor Luana Horry has another nonfiction picture biography from Anika, Phenomenal AOC: The Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, illustrated by Loris Lora, which pubs in September.
Eddy: Shelly Parker-Chan’s fantasy novel She Who Became the Sun is a great example of a female empowerment story. It started as a pure mash-up of Eastern and Western genre tropes: a rise-to-power historical fantasy epic, it has all the same kinds of battles, vendettas, and tragic romances found in the most addictive Chinese historical TV dramas, and the core of the story is a girl claiming the path to greatness destined for her brother. It is that perspective that drives the narrative, giving readers not just a great story but one that inspires every little girl to go out and change—or conquer—the world. The same is true with Nghi Vo’s debut novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful, a magical realism retelling of The Great Gatsby following Jordan Baker, the young socialite girlfriend to Nick Carroway, in a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess. These two titles upend the traditionally male-endowed genre settings to not only entertain but give a unique angle for the audience to ponder.
As for an acquisition strategy, we at Tor have always had female-forward fantasies—Jacqueline Carey’s alternate-Earth epic Kushiel’s Dart is a prime example. In many ways we are just extending that passion; I think we are entering a new age, one in which we can publish a lot more fiction that opens up all the genre tropes to tell the stories in a unique way—and we know that there is an audience hungry for female positive fiction.
Yoder: We are excited to be publishing Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes “The French Chef” [Feb.], a biography of Julia Child written by her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme and illustrated by Sarah Green. While Calkins Creek tends to spotlight unsung female heroes, I was drawn to the idea of a biography introducing this iconic chef to young readers, showing how Julia became Julia. Because cooking and cooking shows are hugely popular, I knew that Julia and her passion for all things food would greatly appeal to young readers.
We also spotlight more well-known women, seen in another light. Young readers are familiar with the Revolutionary War and perhaps the role of the Minutemen, but I assume most do not know the active and daring role of the Minutewomen—especially Prudence Wright, their fearless leader. In the picture book Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence by Beth Anderson, illustrated by Susan Regan [Feb.], young readers will see the war from another point of view. On the flip side, young readers will know the Civil War nurse and humanitarian Clara Barton but perhaps will not have read about her pivotal role at the Battle of Antietam, or read her firsthand account of her work there tending to the wounded, which is the basis for The Front: Clara Barton Braves the Battle of Antietam [Mar.], a picture book by Claudia Friddell and illustrated by Christopher Cyr.
Young readers—and I suspect most adults—might be familiar with Nellie Bly, but may not realize that she entered the “80-day race” with an opponent, whose story isn’t widely known. In Nellie vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists’ Breakneck Race around the World [Feb.] by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, we didn’t want to pit Nellie Bly against Elizabeth Bisland, but instead show two incredibly creative and determined journalists who paved the way for investigative journalists today. The back matter highlights those journalists who carried on Nellie’s and Elizabeth’s mission. In this way, history becomes more alive, meaningful, and relevant to readers today.
Zion: Berkley has seen success recently with books about women embracing their ambitions, seizing their dreams, and forging a path in arenas where women are often underestimated and overlooked. These stories of female empowerment transcend genre, appealing to readers of contemporary and historical fiction, romance, and fantasy, among other areas. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, a Black woman who helped establish and curate the Morgan Library in the early 20th century at a time when few women were encouraged to work full-time. Ali Hazelwood’s The Love Hypothesis is a STEM-inist romance novel centered around a female protagonist who unapologetically pursues a career in science.
Berkley continues to publish and acquire novels about women tapping into their power and determining their own destinies. Take Jayne Cowie’s speculative novel Curfew [Mar.], which imagines a world where women make the rules and men aren’t allowed out after dark, or The Mad Girls of New York: A Nellie Bly Novel by Maya Rodale [Apr.], which looks back at Bly’s trailblazing career. Girl power also shows up in the ongoing popularity of books about witches. These stories are arguably the ultimate take on a woman harnessing her power to fight back against persecution and sexism. Recently Berkley published Cackle, an inventive novel by Rachel Harrison about a modern woman whose evolving self-acceptance and agency prove to be pure magic.
Wong: Aside from Deepa Purushothaman’s The First, the Few, the Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America [Mar.]—a title near and dear to my heart and rooted in my own experiences within corporate America—several of my upcoming books on the business side include Lisa Carmen Wang’s Bad Bitch Business Bible, Jadah Sellner’s She Builds, and Manisha Thakor’s Moneyzen. All three work to undo toxic and prevailing messaging about money, success, and power—messaging doled out by straight, cishet white men—to find a path to personal and professional success that empowers and uplifts women. In fiction, I recently acquired C.E. McGill’s Our Hideous Progeny, a queer feminist spin-off of Frankenstein.
Most of my list centers inclusive feminism and the necessity of including more underrepresented voices, topics deeply informed by my own worldview. I’m interested in work that unspools long-standing myths and moves women into a position where we can feel more comfortable with who we are, what we want to be, and what we want to do. I look for books that fully render the experiences of women and the unique perspectives we each have, rather than tokenizing or caricaturizing us, and I’m eager to see the angst, the power, the uncertainty, the hope, and all the wonderful shades in between that for better or worse make us who we are.
Moushabeck: Our mission has remained consistent over the years: to challenge the way marginalized communities are represented in the U.S., and our publishing strategy in 2022 reflects this. In children’s books, this is a really exciting area. Books are a powerful tool that enable you to speak to children about difficult subjects, areas that we may have otherwise thought too difficult to explore in a children’s book. Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story [July] is a unique picture book, written and illustrated by Palestinian artist Malak Mattar, that tells the true story of her experiences of childhood in Palestine and her rebirth as an artist during the 2014 air strikes on Gaza. This book teaches children how to overcome and channel their fears, and will be one of the few children’s books published by a Palestinian woman author on life under siege.
We will also be publishing the stunning picture book biography by the award-winning author and illustrator Ruth Sanderson, which acts as an ode to underrepresented women everywhere. A Storm of Horses: The Story of Artist Rosa Bonheur [Feb.] tells the story of the 19th-century French artist, who was successful as a commercial artist when few women were. This book is an immaculate rendition of Rosa Bonheur’s life and artistry, but it is also a reflection on how far we have come as women, and how far we still need to go.
In cookbooks, we are thrilled to be publishing another cookbook by the wonderful Asma Khan, whom you may know from her episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Asma’s new book, Ammu: Indian Home Cooking to Nourish Your Soul [Apr.] is a heartwarming collection of recipes from Asma’s childhood, written by an inspiring woman.
I must also mention Saka Saka: South of the Sahara—Adventures in African Cooking [Mar.], the stunning debut cookbook by Anto Cocagne. We knew the world needed another African cookbook after the huge success of Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa, but this time we wanted to highlight another underrepresented group: female African chefs. Our cookbook ethos has always been to publish cookbooks that double as cultural guides—ones you can use in the kitchen as well as read in bed.
Lastly, our lead fiction title this coming season is The Book of Queens [Mar.] by award-winning Lebanese author Joumana Haddad. While the protagonists of this novel—four queens of a deck of cards dealt a bad hand by fate—are caught up in the tragic whirlwind of turf wars and suffering, Joumana brings a sense of complexity and intensity that goes against the grain. This is a very courageous and illuminating book about women in the Arab world that will open eyes and destroy prejudices.
Baker: Stand Up: How Ten Mighty Women Changed the World by Brittney Cooper [Aug.] is one of our biggest forthcoming titles. Brittney is a preeminent Black feminist thought leader and the bestselling author of the adult nonfiction work Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. We are delighted to have signed her up to a multibook publishing program that spans picture books and middle grade series, and all her books embody her message and devotion to Black girl love. We Shall Overcome, a picture book by Bryan Collier, is another story with a feminist message. The visual narrative Bryan brilliantly tells focuses on a girl’s walk to school. The story simultaneously traverses back in time to the early days of civil rights, told in arresting black-and-white illustration, and the modern-day peaceful protest she attends, told in vivid color.
You Are a Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg! [Feb.] by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sarah Green, is another picture book on our list that celebrates the groundbreaking life of this iconic advocate for women’s rights. Her story, told in accessible language and inviting comic panels, captures the momentous events in her remarkable life.
Going forward, what publishing trends do you see related to women’s empowerment and girl power?
Inteli: There have been many excellent girl power/women’s empowerment books published, particularly in the last few years. And while the 2016 election breathed new life into this category, it also proved that its resonance goes beyond the school and library market—into the commercial space. Books that challenge assumptions and have the potential to be transformative in all categories and genres are here to stay. With the rise of book banning and the controversies around critical race theory, we need books about women’s empowerment and girl power, along with other important social justice topics, to be published for every age level and in every genre.
Nagler: We are increasingly seeing and promoting intersectionality. Many of our girl power books are also written by and about women of color, and representation is critical to inclusive female empowerment. Our upcoming picture book Most Perfect You by Jazmyn Simon, illustrated by Tamisha Anthony, is a shining example, emphasizing the beauty, possibility, and joy in being a young Black girl. Honest June, a magical middle grade series by Tina Wells, features a nuanced Black tween girl whom every reader can relate to. We need all girls to see themselves in books if they are to feel empowered.
Baker: Lifting up all marginalized voices is a priority for us across all of our imprints, but it is critical for readers up to age eight, as that is when most children first experience books, and is when their worldview and self-image are dramatically shaped. It is critical that all children see themselves in the pages of the stories they read right at the start, and that they are invited to celebrate the beautiful diversity of stories, the rich history and legacy from which they come. Raising girls to know their strength, and the potential of all they can achieve is a key part of our mission, and our books reflect that. This is not a trend—it is core to our publishing mission.
Yoder: We are continuing to pursue picture book stories of women in little-covered fields, as well as stories on diverse women. Coming up, we are publishing picture books on women inventors, mathematicians, soldiers, activists, musicians, and politicians.
Wong: On both the fiction and nonfiction side, there’s been a large influx of books showing that there is no one definition of what a woman should be like, look like, or act like. We’re seeing more cultural criticism dissecting feminism, plus a strong interest in women’s empowerment that focuses on community. I expect and am hopeful that we’ll continue to see a much-needed emphasis on intersectionality—women of color, queer women, disabled women, and those with multiple marginalizations.
Moushabeck: I think we’ll see more books published that break down misrepresentations of women around the world. This might mean that we publish women authors who are not only marginalized on a national level but also on the world stage, at least in books published in English. I would love to see more Middle Eastern, African, or South American—and so many more—authors published in English in a manner that goes beyond just representation.
We’re also seeing a growing movement toward self-acceptance and self-love—in areas such as body positivity and acceptance of cultural differences. We are beginning to see more protagonists who represent a marginalized group, whether they be fat, trans, or Muslim. I think we’ll see this area continue to expand, not only because it is our moral responsibility to do so, but also because there is a market for all of these areas—particularly in a country such as the U.S., which has so many immigrant families, like mine.
Eddy: The thing that really excites me is that we now have the potential to tell all sorts of stories that I know in my bones have a huge audience. It’s not that women throughout history haven’t been living all sorts of exciting lives that leave them with amazing stories to tell; it’s just that we haven’t been “seen” doing it. I think we are going to see an exponential growth of writers playing with established tropes using nontraditional gender roles, and we are going to see a lot more fiction showing women in situations that have traditionally featured male characters. And I can’t wait to read all of them!