Breaking Glass Ceilings: A Student Reading List

By Kasey Short

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve compiled a student reading list of fiction and nonfiction books that represent a wide range of women’s voices and experiences.

All students benefit from reading about strong, smart, innovative, powerful, determined, brave and heroic women who break glass ceilings and make a positive impact on our world.

The nonfiction books leave the reader feeling inspired and provide a deeper understanding of how women have revolutionized our history and continue to impact our world today. The fiction books show what is possible when girls are the hero of their own stories and that there are many ways to be a hero.


Forward: My Story by Abby Wambach 

An motivational story of the two-time Olympic gold medalist and record breaking soccer player Abby Wambach, who also fights for women’s rights and equality and shows the reader the importance of being true to themselves. (Young Readers Edition)

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

A thoughtful and accessible tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that highlights her revolutionary career and contributions to women’s rights. It is also filled with engaging photographs that enhance the reader’s experience.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel highlights women throughout history and across the globe who have rebelled against societies’ expectations of women and inspire today’s youth with their “brazen” approach toward life.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

A young readers’ version of Malala’s story that shows that age does not determine someone’s ability to positively impact the world. It details her journey from being shot while trying to attend school to becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Young Readers Edition)

Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias

This engaging book tells story of Marley Dias and her journey that started with hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks and is filled with suggestions for how readers can use their voices and passions to make our world a better place.

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

The young readers edition of Kamala Harris’s memoir shows how her family and community, along with her own values, led her to become a woman who fights for justice and breaks glass ceilings. It also inspires the reader to believe in themselves and reach for goals that may seem impossible at the time. (Young Readers Version)

RAD American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! By Kate Schatz (Author) and Miriam Klein Stahl (Illustrator)

This book tells the story of 26 distinct women who have all changed the world with their talents, passions, and determination. The book uses images and short narratives to engage and teach the reader about each of these women.

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

This engaging and accessible book tells the story of three lesser known but important scientists (Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell) through breathtaking poetry and beautiful images.

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

This memoir tells Jazz Jennings’s story of transitioning to life as a girl in the spotlight. It highlights her challenges as she learns to navigate what it means so live life as a transgender teen and activist.

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman (Adapter) and David Polonsky (Illustrator)

This graphic novel adaptation to Anne Frank’s diary includes beautiful illustrations and tells her story in an accessible and engaging format. (Pantheon Graphic Library)

Teen Trailblazers: 30 Fearless Girls Who Changed the World Before They Were 20 by Jennifer Calvert (Author) and Vesna Asanovic (Illustrator)

This engaging book includes the stories of 30 women throughout history who changed the world as teens. It is inspirational for young people to see that age does not determine one’s ability to make an impact.

Hidden Figures  by Margot Lee Shetterly

This young reader version tells the story of four African American women who worked as mathematicians for NASA and were essential to the advancements made in the mid-20th century space race. (Young Readers Edition)

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince

This memoir tells Michaela DePrince’s inspring and heartbreaking story from being an orphan in Sierra Leone to an adopted American daughter, sister and dancer who worked toward breaking racial barriers in ballet.



Front Desk and Three Keys by Kelly Yang

These engaging and inspiring books tell the story of 10-year-old Chinese immigrant Mia who is helping her parents manage a motel. Mia is brave, smart, and determined. She uses writing to speak out against injustice and positively impact friends, family, and their entire community.

Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song by Hena Khan

These thoughtful and powerful books tell the story of a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina, who grapples with her identity and finds the courage to use her voice. Amina is talented, determined, and brave, and she uses her voice and music to support her community and honor her heritage.

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

This thrilling and powerful book uses verse to tell the story of Nora, who is grappling with her mother’s violent death while she struggles to stay alive while trapped in a canyon. Nora is mentally and physically strong, courageous, and determined to survive.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

This engaging book tells the story of Zoe who loves to bake and is fighting to have her innocent father released from prison. Zoe is creative, courageous, and determined to fight for justice even when it feels impossible.

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

This inspiring book tells the story of Molly, who is fed up with the sexist dress code at her middle school and uses her voice to speak out against injustice. Molly is a rebel in the best possible way and is willing stand up against authority to fight injustice.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This powerful book tells the story of Lanesha who is faced with what feels like the impossible task of surviving Hurricane Katrina. Lanesha is strong, brave, resilient and fights with everything she has to survive and save others.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

This uplifting novel tells the story of Mila who finds a way to speak out against the sexual harassment she is facing at school. Mila is the powerful hero of her own story as she finds her voice, stands up for herself, and shows readers that consent matters.

Quintessence by Jess Redman

This magical book tells the story of Alma who just moved to a new town, begins having panic attacks, and then finds herself on a journey to save a starling. Alma is courageous and relentless and shows the reader the value of using one’s individual strengths.

The Land of Cranes by Aida Salazar

This heartbreaking and powerful book uses verse to tell the story of a Latinx girl, Betita, who is taken to a detention center with her pregnant mother. Even in dehumanizing conditions, she is brave and determined, and uses poetry to find hope in what feels like a hopeless situation.

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

This thoughtful historical fiction novel tells the story of two girls whose lives are changed forever after Chernobyl. Both girls are brave, resilient, and strong and show the reader the beauty, strength, and value of friendship.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

This gripping book tells the story Shayla, who transitions from someone who goes out of their way to avoid “trouble” to a girl who is willing to protest injustice even if it means causing “trouble.” Shayla is courageous and powerful, and uses her voice to stand up for justice.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

This important climate fiction novel tells the story of April, a young girl who befriends and works to save a stranded polar bear. April is strong, innovative and adventurous, and takes action to make a difference.

Please share your own favorite titles in the comments below.

Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) loves to share ideas from her classroom and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. She is currently an eighth grade ELA teacher and English Department chair at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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