Picture Books and Primary Sources: Rosie the Riveter: The Legacy of an American Icon by Sarah Dvojack

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

Many of my Picture Book and Primary Sources blog posts I write focus on an individual. And so many of those picture book biographies include a moment from that person’s childhood. But this picture book, Rosie the Riveter by Sarah Dvojack does not do that. It can’t. Because, as Dvojack writes, Rosie “was born all grown up”.

The idea of exploring a fictional icon who is also the embodiment of so many American women during World War II was intriguing. I knew there would be primary sources to explore. Dvojack’s story encouraged me to also look at the decades following World War II all the way up to the present in my search for historical documents.

Exploring the Story

Rosie is seen throughout the picture book along with her early sightings in a famous painting, song, poster, and film. Running parallel to that story, and with Rosie always visible in the spread, is the story of women during the second World War. 

While the first sightings of Rosie are shared, when sharing this story, it may be beneficial to ask students two questions:
Why was Rosie the Riveter created during the War?
Why was this created figure so popular that she was portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting and a movie?

Students will be able to draw from Dvojack’s story for their responses. Including a reading of the rich back matter can yield even better responses. 

Introducing Primary Sources

New Britain, Connecticut. Women welders at the Landers, Frary, and Clark plant

New Britain, Connecticut. Women welders at the Landers, Frary, and Clark plant

After students share their thinking, invite them to explore primary sources to deepen their thinking. Searching the Library of Congress and the Digital Public Library of America for “Rosie the Riveter” does result in many images of women working during WWII. I’ve curated a group of images that can be used in the learning. 

Students can use a modified See, Think, Wonder analysis in the photos. Ask students what they see in the photo. As they make observations, ask them how they think the photo may be connected to Rosie the Riveter and what she stands for. Encourage students to also ask questions that may spur discussion, a deeper reading into the picture book or back matter, or further research.

Extending Thinking With the Picture Book and Additional Primary Sources

Dvojack invites all readers to think of women and girls today as their own version of Rosie. She states that Rosie, and those that embody her, persist, persevere, and endure. This is a perfect time to invite students to make personal connections to what Rosie represents. Ask students how they see characteristics of those representations in themselves and others today.

Do It! Save Lives, Stay Home

Do It! Save Lives, Stay Home

Also included in the curated set of primary sources are other images of women that are labeled with or show a representation of Rosie the Riveter. These span the decades from the 1950s to within the last decade. Students’ ideas about why this icon has persisted through the decades can be aided by exploring these photos.

Another way to explore character traits of women through the ages related to the Rosie symbol is the endpapers along with pages 16 and 17 of the book. There you will find dozens of famous women illustrated. Students may take this as an opportunity for further research by connecting to the Rosie the Riveter symbol being the guide. While I recognized several of Dvojack’s illustrations, I was thankful that the full list is listed on the title page verso.

A symbol can be fascinating to explore. Why was it made? Why does it persist? How does what it represents change over time? All of these are questions worth students’ exploration when reading Dvojack’s book and analyzing accompanying primary sources.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

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