The kids at school tease her, but they have no idea what she’s capable of. Maybe she could earn their respect by winning the blue ribbon in the upcoming Air Show. Or maybe something even better will happen—something involving her best-ever invention, a Boy Scout troop in peril, and even the mayor himself!” –Penguin Random House
As mentioned in our review of Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, “women in STEM” books have become favorites around our house. Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen, while a fictional tale, is still a picture book to put in this category. This beautiful book showcases a STEM-loving female protagonist whose interests and abilities initially make her an outcast, but ultimately a town hero.
Breen portrays Violet as a girl that loves design, engineering, and building. In fact, this is how Violet prefers to spend the majority of her time, even though the kids at school ridicule her for it. But instead of conforming to the ideals of her peers, Violet sets out to show them just how good she is at engineering by entering her own custom-built plane in an airshow.
I appreciate how Violet doesn’t try to change what she loves or try to become someone different based on the opinions of the other children at school. This not only sends readers a powerful message of self-love and acceptance, but also communicates the idea that STEM learning can be recreational. Breen shows Violet’s building and design process as incredibly fun, engaging, and achievable. Plus, Violet builds her machines outside of school time, so Breen also shows the potential for STEM activities to exist outside of the classroom.
The text isn’t overtly technical and doesn’t explain engineering concepts outright, but Breen’s illustrations pay homage to famous scientists and aviators. Breen, who is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, creates scenes of Violet’s bedroom with photos of Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and Leonardo Di Vinci upon her walls. Breen also ends the story by showing the protagonist herself on the cover of Popular Science Magazine.
I particularly love how Violet the Pilot shows STEM learning as being inspirational: ultimately, Violet’s efforts in building her own aircraft allow her to actually save lives and become the town hero. But the true magic in this story really lies in how it can encourage children to foster their developing love of science, design, building, or engineering. Violet the Pilot might just be the story that nudges your child to spend more free time building, tinkering, or designing because it shows these activities as ambitious, exciting, important, and just plain fun!
If you enjoy Violet the Pilot, be sure to also check out these picture book titles with more female scientists, designers, and engineers:
Sally Jean the Bicycle Queen by Cari Best and Christine Davenier
From Macmillan Publishers:
“Sally Jean was born to ride. And her bicycle, Flash, is just about her best friend. But one day something terrible – and wonderful – happens. Sally Jean grows. Suddenly she finds herself too big for Flash. What’s a Bicycle Queen to do? Finally, by collecting old bicycle parts to make a new bike – and giving Flash to a young friend who longs for a bigger bike of his own – she rides again!”
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
From Abrams Books:
“Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she’s a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal—to fly—Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt’s dream come true. But when her contraption doesn’t fly but rather hovers for a moment and then crashes, Rosie deems the invention a failure. On the contrary, Aunt Rose insists that Rosie’s contraption was a raging success: you can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.”
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
From Abrams Books:
“Inspired by real-life makers such as Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, Ada Twist, Scientist champions girl power and women scientists, and brings welcome diversity to picture books about girls in science. Touching on themes of never giving up and problem solving, Ada comes to learn that her questions might not always lead to answers, but rather to more questions…but with a supportive family and the space to figure it out, she’ll be able to feed her curiosity in the ways a young scientist should.”
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
From Kids Can Press:
“Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires has created a charming picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, who happens to be a dog. The girl has a wonderful idea. “She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Eventually, the girl gets really, really mad. She is so mad, in fact, that she quits. But after her dog convinces her to take a walk, she comes back to her project with renewed enthusiasm and manages to get it just right.”
Mira Forecasts the Future by Kell Andrews and Lissy Marlin
From the author’s website:
“Telling the future is a gift: you either have it, or you don’t. And Mira, daughter of the famous fortune teller Madame Mirabella, just doesn’t. When Madame gazes into the crystal ball, magic swirls. When Mira looks . . . nothing. Then one day Mira gets a pinwheel and a windsock, she finds her own special way of making predictions, and ends up saving the day. This engaging tale, with a fun touch of science thrown in, helps kids understand that we all have our own special talent.”