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Representation matters! : Books for Girls in STEM (Middle School)

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

By Pahal Bhasin

A 2017 study 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. Another study discovered that girls had better academic results if their science textbooks featured details of female scientists. Too often have the achievements and contributions of women in STEM fields been overlooked.

Representation matters! Having more exposure to female role models can have a positive effect on girls’ motivation to study STEM subjects. If girls can’t see themselves in the stories and media around them, it can hinder their interests in various fields and activities. That’s why we’ve created this list of books showing girls and women who are passionate about STEM. These eight books (including a few specific books related to Black and Latina women) are inspiring examples of exactly the kind of diverse representation we need to see a lot more of in STEM fields.

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson

This book is an inspiring autobiography of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped launch Apollo 11. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges. Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.” In the early 1950s, Katherine worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon. In this most authentic, highly personal account, Katherine writes her own story at the age of 100! Katherine’s intelligent, softly confident voice helps readers get to know her personally. Johnson makes her own story available for tweens, hoping to inspire the next generation to always do their best.

Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World

Winifred Conkling’s book shares the fascinating story of how two brilliant female physicists’ ground breaking 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. Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History

The author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations—all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future. With a dash of humor, references to pop culture, and a conversational tone, Maggs captures the amazing achievements of women throughout history. As told by Maggs, the lives of these trailblazing women leap off the page, bursting with entertaining anecdotes and fascinating facts that are sure to capture the imaginations of younger readers.


Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science

Jeannine Atkins’s evocative and beautiful novel vividly imagines the lives of three girls in three different time periods as they grow up to become groundbreaking scientists. Told in vibrant poems, this stunning novel celebrates the joy of discovery and finding wonder in the world around us. Inspirational and informative, the author shows how pursuing one’s passion for science, math, or any field considered nontraditional is worth the risk.

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

From the author Jeannine Atkins, we learn about seven ground-breaking women in math and science in this gorgeously written biographical novel-in-verse, a companion to Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. Told in evocative poems, the novel shares amazing stories of seven remarkable women who used math as their key to explore the mysteries of the universe and grew up to do innovative work that changed the world. Presented chronologically in engaging verse with a feminist tone, the text artfully weaves scientific data and history.  Thoroughly researched and creatively presented, the book shares inspiring real-life role models for girls who love math.

Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist

The inspiring memoir for young readers about a Latina rocket scientist whose early life was transformed by joining the Girl Scouts and who most recently served as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Sylvia Acevedo navigated shifting cultural expectations at school and at home, forging her own trail to become one of the first Latinx to graduate with a master's in engineering from Stanford University and going on to become a rocket scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Acevedo’s moving autobiographical account shines in its honesty, personal details, and inspirational message. The story of Acevedo’s life touches upon a number of salient points for young readers including racism, gender roles, and educational inequality.

101 Black Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Beyond a Black History book, this book will spark curiosity and motivate children, as well as adults to learn more about STEM related topics while making them proud of their heritage. Black Women in STEM honors incredible and inspiring black women who pushed past the bounds of human knowledge and broke down the thought barriers of their and our time. Spotlighting their stories is about more than just augmenting black history. It’s about understanding the cultural attitudes, historical forces, and social realities that made science what it is today—and what it will be tomorrow. If just one of these women had gotten fed up and quit, as others do, the history of science would have been poorer for it. The book introduces STEM-related concepts and presents STEM-associated careers in an inspiring and entertaining way.

Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures

The author Karen Gibson’s Women in Space profiles 23 pioneers, including Eileen Collins, the first woman to command the space shuttle; Peggy Whitson, who logged more than a year in orbit aboard the International Space Station; and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; as well as astronauts from Japan, Canada, Italy, South Korea, France, and more. Readers will also learn about the Mercury 13, American women selected by NASA in the late 1950s to train for spaceflight. Though they matched and sometimes surpassed their male counterparts in performance, they were ultimately denied the opportunity to head out to the launching pad. By breaking the stratospheric ceiling, these women forged a path for many female astronauts, cosmonauts, and mission specialists to follow, and it demonstrates the vital role women have played in the quest for scientific understanding.

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