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young people's book creators Katherine Paterson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jeannine Atkins, Heather Lang, and Ekua Holmes in a panel discussion

Celebrating Heroines

Acclaimed authors and illustrators for young people — Jeannine Atkins, Ekua Holmes, Rita Williams-Garcia, Heather Lang, and Katherine Paterson got together to talk about women and girls in fiction and nonfiction books — and what makes a heroine.  

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Popular and award-winning authors for young people — Katherine Paterson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jeannine Atkins, and Heather Lang — and award-winning illustrator Ekua Holmes gathered at An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe (opens in a new window) in Plainville, Massachusetts on May 4, 2017 for a spirited discussion about girls and women in books for young people. 

This event, created especially for teachers, librarians, and parents, was moderated by librarian Grace Worcester Greene. Mary Brigid Barrett, President of The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) (opens in a new window), a literacy organization for children, organized the event.

How to Get and Keep Boys Reading

Don’t miss this other panel discussion with children’s book creators. Listen in to this lively, funny panel discussion featuring award-winning authors Jon Scieszka, Gene Luen Yang, Jarrett Krosoczka, Jeff Kinney, and Jack Gantos. Watch video ›

Watch the discussion

About the panelists

Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson is the author of Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, both winners of the Newbery Medal. She has won the National Book Award twice and has received both the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and Hans Christian Andersen Medal. She served as the second United States National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Katherine is also a vice president of the board of directors of the NCBLA. Her most recent books are Stories of My Life, Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving with illustrations by the renowned scherenschnitte artist Pamela Dalton (opens in a new window), and A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season.

Learn more about Katherine and her books on her official website (opens in a new window). Watch our video interview with Katherine Paterson ›

Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning novel, One Crazy Summer, which was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and a New York Times bestseller. The sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, was also a Coretta Scott King Award winner and an ALA Notable Children’s Book for Middle Readers. She is also the author of six distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, a National Book Award finalist; No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies (a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book), and Fast Talk on a Slow Track (all ALA Best Books for Young Adults); Blue Tights; and Like Sisters on the Homefront, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, New York, is on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children & Young Adults Program, and has two adult daughters, Stephanie and Michelle, and a son-in-law, Adam.

Watch our video interview with Rita Williams-Garcia ›

Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins writes mostly about strong girls and women. Her historical verse includes Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis, and Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and dog, who makes sure she gets in the woods each day, and teaches writing in the MFA program at Simmons at the Carle.

Learn more about Jeannine and her books on her official website. (opens in a new window)

Ekua Holmes

Ekua Holmes

Ekua Holmes is a fine artist whose work explores themes of family, relationships, hope, and faith. Her first picture book Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (written by Carole Boston Weatherford), was awarded a Caldecott Honor, a Robert F. Sibert Honor, and the Flora Stieglitz Strauss Award from Bank Street College. Voice of Freedom was also named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book, and its illustrations received the Society of Illustrators Original Art Silver medal and the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award for New Talent.

Ekua Holmes is a native of Roxbury, MA and a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has devoted her practice to sustaining contemporary Black Art traditions in Boston, as an artist, curator of exhibitions, and as an active member of Boston’s art community. Currently Holmes serves as Assistant Director of MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships, and manages sparc! the ArtMobile, the institution’s vehicle for community outreach pursuing a mission of “igniting art and design in the neighborhood!”

Learn more about Ekua and her work on her official website (opens in a new window).

Heather Lang

Heather Lang

Heather Lang loves to research and write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her latest picture book biography, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, joins the “Shark Lady” as she uncovers the secrets of the world’s most feared fish. Heather’s other award-winning picture book biographies include, Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, and Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion. All four of her books were selected for the ALA Amelia Bloomer List, which honors children’s books with feminist themes. When she is not writing or doing detective work for her next book, she loves to go on adventures with her husband and four children.

Learn more about Heather and her books on her official website (opens in a new window).

Grace Greene

Grace Worcester Greene

Grace Worcester Greene has spent her career working in libraries with and for young people. Greene recently retired from her position as the Youth Services Consultant at the Vermont Department of Libraries, where she worked for nearly three decades. Previously Greene was the Head of Children’s Services at the Robbins Library in Arlington, Massachusetts. In addition to her library positions, Greene has served as adjunct faculty at several New England colleges teaching courses in children’s literature and collection development.

Her professional activities have included memberships and leadership positions in multiple literacy and library nonprofits and organizations, including the Children’s Literacy Foundation, Vermont Center for the Book, and the American Library Association. Greene has also chaired the prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee and served as a member of both the Newbery and the Caldecott Medal Award committees. She holds an M.S. degree in Library Science. Greene currently resides in Vermont.

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

Founded in 1997 by a motley crew of young people’s authors and illustrators, The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) (opens in a new window) is a small, action-oriented education and advocacy organization whose core mission is to educate, inform, and advocate for young people, literacy, literature, and libraries.

Mary Brigid Barrett

Mary Brigid Barrett

Mary Brigid Barrett is the founder, president, and executive director of NCBLA. Barrett is also a children’s book author and illustrator and an educator. She taught children’s book writing and illustration and professional practices for illustrators at The Rhode Island School of Design, is a guest lecturer at area colleges and universities, and conducts writing and illustration workshops for children and adults. Her most recent books are All Fall Down and Pat-A-Cake, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and Shoebox Sam, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Both All Fall Down and Pat-A-Cake were named by Bank Street College to its 2015 Best Children’s Books of the Year list.

To find out more about Mary Brigid’s books and illustration work, visit her official website (opens in a new window). Watch our video interview with Mary Brigid Barrett ›

Children’s books about strong girls and women

Check out this extensive bibliography (opens in a new window) of picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and websites featuring strong female characters compiled by librarian Grace Worcester Greene and the Celebrating Heroines children’s book creators for The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance.

Browse these booklists from Reading Rockets about amazing girls and women. You can find additional books using our Book Finder tool (the results are filtered for ‘Women’s History”).

Discussion and activity guides

Author Jeannine Atkins: Education Resource Guide (opens in a new window) for Atkins’ nonfiction book Finding Wonder: Three Girls Who Changed Science, including discussion questions, science activities, and art exploration exercises.

Illustrator Ekua Holmes: Discussion Guide (opens in a new window) and Teachers’ Guide (opens in a new window) from Candlewick Press (complete with Common Core Connections) for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer.

Author Heather Lang: Classroom discussion and activity guides for Lang’s books: Swimming with Sharks (opens in a new window), Fearless Flyer (opens in a new window), Queen of the Track (opens in a new window), and The Original Cowgirl (opens in a new window).

Author Katherine Paterson: Education Resource Guide for Katherine Paterson (opens in a new window), created by NCBLA, featuring materials on The Great Gilly Hopkins and The Same Stuff as Stars.

Author Rita Williams-Garcia: Education Resource Guide (opens in a new window) for Williams-Garcia’s novel P.S. Be Eleven.