A Mighty Girl's top 50 books for children and teens about heroic girls and women who fought for justice during the Civil Rights Movement.
From the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, school integrations, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, the Selma to Montgomery marches, we hear many stories about the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement, but so many are about the remarkable men in leadership positions at the time. But what of the women? What of the girls? Rosa Parks’ story is a powerful and important one, but surely hers can’t be the only story of courageous girls and women in the Civil Rights era.
In this blog post, we highlight numerous books for both children and teens that tell the stories of girls and women's contributions to the monumental events of this period and to the national movement to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. In the first section, we've featured books about real-life girls and women who fought for justice, while in the second section, we've shared fictional stories about the Civil Rights Movement for both children and teens. By sharing these stories of past champions of civil rights, we can inspire the current generation of Mighty Girls to be the champions of the future.
For more books about the experience of African-American girls and women throughout history, visit our African-American History & Historical Fiction collection.
Heroes of the Movement: Biographies
From Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old child who desegregated the first elementary school in the South, to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to switch seats on a bus is only one example of her devotion to civil rights causes, there are many Mighty Girls and women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. These books will teach children and teens about these heroes and their dedication to justice.
Celebrate the courage and determination of Rosa Parks in this board book version of the New York Times bestselling biography I Am Rosa Parks! The friendly Ordinary People Change The World biography series teaches kids that everyone has the power to be a hero — they just need to figure out how to unlock it. This board book's simple rhyming text and short sidebars reminds young readers that, just like Rosa Parks, they can "Stand strong and do what's true."
To kids today, the idea of a child having to be escorted to school by armed guards to protect her from an angry mob is shocking, but 6-year-old Ruby Bridges faced exactly that in 1960. After a judge ordered that Ruby should attend the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School, parents withdrew their children and held angry protests in front of the school. This compelling depiction of the child who became a civil rights hero just by attending first grade is now available in a special anniversary edition, which includes an updates afterword about Ruby's ongoing life and legacy.
Paula Young Shelton, the daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, grew up in a world where everyone she knew was dedicated to the fight for equality. Even children knew the injustice of segregation — she recalls crying loudly when owners of a restaurant refused to seat her family in "my very first protest, my own little sit-in." And as she grew, her understanding of her father's cause grew, until it became her own and she too marched from Selma to Montgomery. In this unique child's eye view of the Civil Rights struggle, Shelton balances honesty about the struggles her father and his friends faced with the sense of hope that drove them forward.
When kids hear about Rosa Parks' defiant refusal to move seats, they may think that it takes special courage to take that big a step — but the reality is that ordinary people can do incredible things! This title from Brad Meltzer's Ordinary People Change The World series shows how Parks' willingness to stand up for justice began with small moments from childhood, but became a driving force in her life that made her a major figure for the Civil Rights movement. It also shows just how much resistance she had to face along the way. It's an excellent choice to introduce younger kids to this Civil Rights hero.
Many people know her only as Coretta Scott King, but she holds her own place in Civil Rights history for her work both before and after her husband's death. In this poetic picture book, Ntozake Shange captures her childhood — including defining moments like walking five miles to the colored school while the white kids' bus showered her with dust — to the marches at Selma and Washington, and ends with stirring images of protesters set to lines from the gospel song "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round." This evocative book is a powerful way to introduce this key figure of history. Kids can learn more in Coretta Scott King: I Kept On Marching for ages 7 to 10.
Ruby Bridges was just six years old when she walked through an angry crowd, escorted by federal marshals, to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans — by starting kindergarten. In this early reader, Bridges aptly tells her story to her young audience and accents it with historical photographs, allowing emerging readers to develop an understanding of segregation and to explore an iconic moment in the struggle for civil rights. It's an inspiring story about a courageous girl, told in her own voice! For a picture book telling of Bridges' story, check out The Story of Ruby Bridges for ages 4 to 8.
When Sharon Langley was almost a year old, she got to ride a carousel — and she had no idea that ride represented a civil rights victory. In the early 1960s, most amusement parks in the South were segregated, so few African-American families had the chance to enjoy the fun. In the summer of 1963, Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland desegregated, and Sharon was the first African-American child to ride — on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In this picture book retelling of the story, Langley explores how her ride represented the possibilities of the dream of equality: "Nobody first and nobody last, everyone equal, having fun together."
In Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, thousands of children joined the ranks of civil rights protestors in the Children's Crusade. One fictional girl reveals how many restrictions were placed on African Americans: everything from water fountains to playgrounds were off limits. She remembers the furious white onlookers and police officers who met their protest with violence and hate. Despite it all, though, the children stood together: "Our march made the difference," she proclaims proudly. This vivid telling of an important moment in Civil Rights history reminds kids that they, too, can make a difference.
Ella Baker's grandfather was a preacher who questioned his flock: "What do you hope to accomplish?" Ella Baker's mother gave her the answer that everyone should "lift as you climb": use your own success and influence to help others. As an adult, Baker joined the Civil Rights Movement, and took both her relatives' words to heart, educating her fellow African Americans about their rights. She partnered with Martin Luther King, Jr. to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and worked with the NAACP and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, too. In this stunning biography in verse about Baker's little-appreciated influence in the fight for equal rights, kids are invited to consider how they, too, will lift others up.
When Ida B. Wells was born in 1862, she and her family were still enslaved — so she knew just how important freedom was. When she was only 16, her parents died, and she took on the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. But she had big dreams for her future, and built a career as a journalist and newspaper owner. And she was the person who spoke up about the real motivations for lynching — even when facing threats to her own life. Told in a compelling personal voice by Wells' great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, and featuring multitextured art by Coretta Scott King Award Honoree artist Laura Freeman, this powerful profile captures Wells' determination, hope, and constant quest for justice.
When the Montgomery Bus Boycotts broke out to protest segregated seating, cook Georgia Gilmore wanted to help. She knew that the boycotters would need cars and gas, and for that, they needed money — so she recruited a bunch of her fellow cooks and bakers to make food to sell. Supporting the boycott was risky, so Gilmore only took cash, and whenever someone asked where the food or money came from, the answer was always the same: "nowhere." This celebration of a little-known figure of the Civil Rights movement celebrates the power of community and how one person can fuel a movement.
Kids will be shocked to learn that there was a time when it was illegal to marry someone with a different skin color. Mildred Loving and Richard Perry Loving had been in love for years, but when they moved back to their hometown after getting married, they were arrested. In this charming picture book, author Selina Alko follows the Lovings as they marry, get arrested, and then dare to challenge these unjust laws — all the way to the Supreme Court. Mixed media illustrations capture the love of this adoring couple, as well as their strength as they defied prejudice.
Ella Fitzgerald had a gorgeous voice that captivated jazz audiences — and one of her fans was an actress named Marilyn Monroe, who was fighting against sexism for better roles and more voice in her career. When Marilyn got a role with lots of singing, she listened to Ella's recordings to prepare. Her success helped her negotiate better pay and more creative control, and she wanted to thank Ella in person. And when she learned that Ella got turned away from the biggest club in town because she was black, Marilyn knew she could help Ella's voice be heard too. This powerful true story about these two close friends celebrates how far we can go when we lift one another up.
Audrey was only 9 years old, but that didn't mean she didn't listen when the grown-ups talked about wiping out Birmingham's segregation laws. So when she heard them say that they were going to picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails! — she stepped right up and said, "I'll do it!" This picture book biography of the youngest person to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham will encourage kids to think about how they can make a difference on the issues that matter to them.
It wasn't just the US that wrestled with segregation and civil rights; Canada has its own civil rights heroes, among them this savvy businesswoman who found herself the center of the fight for equality when she sat down in a movie theater. When Viola Desmond bought her ticket in 1946, she was arrested after refusing to move from the main floor to the balcony. The varying perspectives in this book capture the emotional intensity of Desmond's trial, and Richard Rudnicki's illustration depict her as a confident woman who was determined not to give way.
Shirley Chisholm was determined to be "unbossed and unbought": she was going to fight for change, no matter what! She became the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, and four years later, she became the first African American woman to run for president under one of the two big political parties. She may not have won, but she knew what was most important was that everyone across the country saw her, and started to realize that what mattered most wasn't whether you were male or female, or black or white, but whether you had the ability to be a leader. This book from the You Should Meet early reader series is perfect for newly independent readers to learn about this trailblazing politician! For a picture book about Chisholm, we recommend She Was The First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm for ages 5 to 9.
Most people only know Coretta Scott King as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the truth is that she was an activist and leader in her own right — and she kept the Civil Rights Movement working even after her husband's assassination! In this chapter book inspired by the best-selling series She Persisted, award-winning author Kelly Starling Lyons tells the story of King's work as a singer, author, and activist, including how she drove the ongoing quest for equal rights and supported other important causes like women's rights and LGBTQ rights. With compelling text and black and white illustrations throughout, this is the perfect chapter book to introduce emerging readers to this bold woman!
Even as a child, Ethel Payne loved hearing stories — and the best ones were the true ones. Her English teacher encouraged her writing, and her chance came when she got a job as a correspondent in Japan for a Chicago newspaper. An article she wrote about discrimination in the military made nationwide news, and soon she was breaking all kinds of gender and racial barriers for women in journalism. She wasn't afraid to ask the tough questions — even once she received a White House press pass — and it wasn't long before she was known as the "First Lady of the Black Press." This is an inspiring story of a woman who defied expectation and dedicated herself to truth and progress.
When Ruby Bridges was ready to go to school, her family faced a tough choice: schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, had just been desegregated. If she went to William Frantz Elementary School, 6-year-old Ruby would be the first Black student to integrate the school... and many people didn't want her there. Every day, she had to walk past an angry mob, escorted by federal marshals, and she was alone in the classroom because every other parent had pulled their children out of school. Her quiet courage inspired people across the country, and took an important step towards full desegregation of schools. This early chapter book from the bestselling She Persisted series by award-winning author Kekla Magoon is a tribute to a girl who changed history!
By the time she was 19, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland had been arrested more than once for her work to support the Civil Rights Movement. As one of the Freedom Riders, she was jailed in the notorious Parchman Penitentiary. During the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins in Jackson, Mississippi, Mulholland was the first white person to join the protest. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington and Selma voting rights marches, Mulholland was there too. This picture book biography sheds light on a little known leader of the Civil Rights Movement, who to this day urges people to take their place as allies for justice. This inspiring story is also available for readers ages 8 to 12 in She Stood For Freedom (Middle Grade Edition).
Elizabeth Jennings lived in New York, a "free state" where slavery was outlawed — but that didn't mean she was equal. That truth became shockingly clear one day in 1854 when she was in a rush for church. She boarded a streetcar, only to be ordered off by the conductor because it was a "whites only" car. When she refused to leave, she was thrown off the streetcar. Jennings decided to take her case to court — complete with testimony from a white witness — and won the first legal victory for equal rights on public transportation. This compelling picture book about Jennings' famous case also features back matter about how Jennings' case set a precedent for future battles, including Rosa Parks' future transit protest.
Claudette Colvin was 15 when she was told to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It was months before Rosa Parks' famous protest and the bus boycott, but Colvin knew what was right, and she refused to move. The Civil Rights Movement leaders didn't think she would make the right face for a case that could stir the nation to action, but she knew that she had taken a critical first step towards ending unjust laws. Inspired by the best-selling picture book She Persisted, this early chapter book is an empowering introduction to a young activist who persisted despite all obstacles.
Throughout American history, there were bold, daring black women who broke all expectations and boundaries to make the world a better place! In this engaging picture book, author/illustrator Vashti Harrison introduces young readers to forty trailblazing women, including abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. This inspiring book, filled with stunning full-page illustrations of each of the featured women, reminds young readers that every great leader began as a little leader, taking their first steps towards something big. Fans of Harrison's work can check out the sequel, Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around The World, or the Leaders and Dreamers box set, which includes both books. Younger readers can also enjoy the board book Dream Big, Little One for ages 2 to 5.
It's one thing to hear the story of Ruby Bridges in the third person, but in this remarkable book, you get to imagine it through her own eyes. In simple language, Bridges recounts the experience of simultaneously knowing that she was part of a bigger era in history, yet still being a child who didn't fully understand why people were so angry at her. With additional material including photographs, sidebars about Bridges' influence in popular culture, and an update on her later life and civil rights work, this volume creates a newly complex portrait of this iconic figure and her incredible courage.
The "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" gets her own entry in the popular Who Was...? biography series This accessible biography introduces the influences in Rosa Parks' life that led her to devote her life to the cause of civil rights. Useful sidebars and timelines help kids understand both Parks' work and the overarching progress of the Civil Rights movement. Engaging and accessible, it's a great way to introduce middle grade readers to this inspiring figure. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.
Ten women who contributed to the fight for equal rights, from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman during the time of slavery to Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height during the Civil Rights era, each get their own profile in this inspiring book. Andrea Davis Pinkney's text bursts with admiration for these dedicated campaigners for abolition, desegregation, and women's rights, while her use of colloquialisms and vivid description will have kids flipping the pages to find out what happens. Each profile is accented by a dramatic, stylized portrait from Alcorn. This lively book will bring history to life for young readers.
When Ida B. Wells was born in 1862, slavery was still legal; she was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865. But just because slavery had ended didn't mean things were fair. The intelligent girl saw injustice all around her, and she was determined to end it. As a journalist, she drew the world's attention to the horrors of lynching and other prejudices based on race and sex. As an activist, she helped cofound the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she marched as a suffragist, too! This exciting book from the Who Was...? biography series introduces middle grade readers to Wells' life as a civil rights activist, anti-lynching campaigner, and pioneering journalist.
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired", Hamer once famously proclaimed, and that sentiment drove her to be a champion of civil rights for over two decades. Her booming oratorical voice and her signature song "This Little Light of Mine" became a key part of the movement, including the Freedom Summer of 1964; her speech at the Democratic National Convention aired on national news despite interference from President Johnson and spurred people to action. Told in the first person, this book's lyrical text and collage illustrations depict the perseverance and courage of this heroic woman.
As a child, Kathlyn J. Kirkwood was drawn to activism, particularly to the Civil Rights Movement. As a teenager, she attended protests where she, like many others, drew courage from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s example. When King was assassinated, it would have been easy to lose hope, but Kathlyn and millions of others persevered... and they were also determined that King's memory would not be forgotten. In addition to their fight for justice, they now had a new cause: ensuring that King's birthday was marked with a national holiday. This powerful memoir-in-verse is both a coming of age story and a unique look at history in the making — one which will show young readers that ordinary people working together is what really changes the world.
In 1968, after two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment, their colleagues throughout Memphis went on strike. Their two-month protest drew so much attention that Dr. Martin Luther King came to help... only to be assassinated in his hotel after giving his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" sermon. Through the eyes of a fictional girl (inspired by a real child's experience in the strike), author Alice Faye Duncan captures a key moment in both the labor and civil rights movements. Written in emotional free verse, this picture book for older readers provides an accessible introduction to a challenging and heartbreaking moment in American history.
When the Little Rock Nine defied their state's governor to integrate Central High, Elizabeth Eckford didn't get the message to meet the group — so she faced entering the school alone. A local photographer snapped an iconic photograph of a girl jeering at Elizabeth as she stoically walked through the protesting crowd, and that photograph focused the world's attention — and disapproval — on Little Rock's resistance to desegregation. Shelley Tougas' tale of determination and bravery ends with an important postscript to the story: decades later, Elizabeth and Hazel Bryan Massery, the screaming girl in the picture, met and achieved a reconciliation. Touching and heartwrenching, this book captures the power of a single person's photograph to bring change.
Tweens can learn the story of Rosa Parks in her own words in this compelling autobiography! Parks' word provide a fresh take on both her famous act of defiance on a Montgomery bus and the many other contributions she made to the Civil Rights movement. In her stirring story, she tells of a childhood listening warily for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the night; time as a secretary for the NAACP; and the experience of becoming a symbol to a nation-wide movement. This book provides a more complex picture of both Parks herself and of the Civil Rights movement as a whole.
Marian Anderson never intended to become a symbol of equal rights; she just knew that she had to sing. But in the 1920s and 1930s, social constraints limited the careers of black performers. Anderson's voice, though, could not be silenced and she achieved international acclaim despite segregation in the arts. But thanks to the help of influential admirers — including Eleanor Roosevelt — her landmark concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 signaled a change for this history of art. This well-researched and expertly told book includes a bibliography, a discography, and an excellent examination of the cultural and social context of Anderson's life turned her into a civil rights icon.
As a 6-year-old child, Ruby Bridges became a symbol of courage and equality when she desegregated an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, escorted past a screaming mob by federal marshals. Now, she calls the next generation of young activists to step up for what's right! In this beautiful gift book, Bridges uses her own story to show young readers how even the youngest of us can work for change. With historical photographs, jacket art using Norman Rockwell's painting The Problem We All Live With, and more, this is an empowering and powerful call to action for both children and adults.
When Jo Ann Allen joined the Clinton 12 — twelve African-American students who integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee — things seemed easy at first... but as time went on, there was unrest, anger, and even violence. Clever and popular Jo Ann became the spokesperson for the group, always aware that she and her peers were fighting for a critical change to the nation's education system. In this novel in verse, she tells her story, reminding readers that court-ordered integration was a double-edged sword ("We’re in, yes./ But it’s more complicated than that") but conveys a message of hope in a future of true racial equality.
Sharon Robinson's 13th birthday happened just before new Alabama governor George Wallace declared "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" on national television in 1963. But for Sharon, the privileged daughter of baseball star Jackie Robinson, she feels pulled between her parents' efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement and her classmates' ignorance about the struggle. In her large house and wealthy life, she feels different from both her white and black peers — and she worries about her brother, who feels like he has to live up to his father's name. Over the course of a year, this memoir traces how Sharon finds her place and her voice as a child of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.
1954's Brown vs. Board of Education was a critical ruling in the desegregation of US schools — but getting there was a long road. The name on the case came from the family of Linda Brown, a black third-grader refused entry to an all-white Topeka, Kansas, school, but there were many additional families involved, including children in South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Award-winning author Susan Goldman Rubin explores the complex history behind this key court decision, as well as the modern, not fully desegregated, school system. This compelling account will open young readers' eyes to the work — and sacrifice — behind the case that's often forgotten.
In every civil rights battle, children and teens took their parts too. This book collects the stories of thirty African Americans who were children or teens during the 1950s and 1960s. Each of them describes what it was like to grow up in a segregated America, how it felt to participate in protests, sit-ins, and school integrations, and the realities of the hatred, violence, and legal threats they faced as they did so. These powerful stories serve as a reminder that it took everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, to fight for the rights African-American people deserved.
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same — but instead rather than receiving support, she found herself shunned by classmates and dismissed by community leaders. And yet she remained determined to effect change, and a year later, she challenged Jim Crow laws again by becoming one of the key plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle, a landmark court case. This National Book Award winner shines a light on an important but little-known figure from Civil Rights history.
As a child, Melba Pattillo Beals saw Klansmen hang a man from the rafters during a prayer meeting; as a teen, she was almost raped when she was unknowingly taken to a KKK meeting. And throughout, she asked tough questions: why should she have to drink from a separate fountain, or live her life feeling unsafe? The adults in her life wanted her to keep quiet out of fear, but she refused: she knew there was a future where she could live free — and as one of the Little Rock Nine, she made her mark on history. This powerful memoir captures the courage and determination of Beals and the other child activists like her who pushed for change.
You probably think you know Rosa Parks' story: on a day when she was tired, she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, setting off the Montgomery bus boycott and a critical Civil Rights Movement win. But that's not the real story! Parks was a long-time activist who made a deliberate, strategic decision... and paid the price for her public defiance of Jim Crow laws. In this young readers edition of the award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, young people can learn the true story of Parks' lifelong devotion to equality — and be inspired to fight for it themselves.
Lynda Lowery was the youngest marcher in the 1965 Selma protest, but her youth never protected her; she had been arrested eleven times, and sent to jail nine times, before her fifteenth birthday. This gripping memoir captures the experience of being a teenage protester in Selma, from the constant threats of violence to the inhumane "sweatbox" steel cell where she and twenty other girls were imprisoned until they all passed out. And yet, Lowery's memoir is one of home and optimism: while she doesn't shy away from the realities of what protesters faced, she highlights that she suffered these ordeals in order to change American history for the better.
Melba Patillo turned sixteen in 1957, the same year that she became an unwitting warrior for desegregation. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she faced a firestorm of opposition as she entered the previously all-white Central High. In a harrowing ordeal, Melba faced everything from taunts to threats to an attack with acid that injured her eyes, but she never gave up her courage or her dignity. "Searing" is exactly the right description for this affecting story of friendship, faith, and personal commitment, and young adult readers will be shocked to learn just how hard African American teens had to fight for their right to receive an equal education.
Fighting for justice: Historical Fiction
In order to understand the impact the Civil Rights Movement has had on American history, kids need to learn what life was like before these hard-fought changes. These works of historical fiction depict life during segregation, as well as the fierce resistance that civil rights campaigners and groundbreakers faced every day.
Belle is looking forward to an exciting summer: Grandmama Coles is touring the South with a swing jazz band, and Belle gets to come! But while the places she visits are new, some things are just the same... like the segregation Belle and Grandmama face at every stop. When Grandmama sings, though, everyone comes to listen, and Grandmama says she can see a day when people are united all the time. "That's the kind of world I want for you," she tells Belle. This book doesn't shy away from the realities of segregation, but the optimistic tone highlights the power of art to bring people together.
When Connie and her mother go shopping at Woolworth's, they can have a soda as a treat — but they have to drink them standing up, since African Americans aren't allowed at the lunch counter. In fact, all over town there are signs telling Connie where she can't go. Then, one day, her father says that Dr. King is coming to town, and soon Connie gets to see her older brother and sister joining the sit-in protests, in hopes that someday, anyone can sit down where they please. Carole Weatherford perfectly captures a child's perspective, but still conveys an important message about the power of peaceful protest.
In Clover’s 1950s town, a fence runs down the middle: one side is for young Clover's African American community, while the other side is where the white people live. But one day, Clover meets a little girl named Annie who lives on the other side of the fence. Cautiously, the two girls approach each other, wondering how they can play together without breaking the rules. Finally, the solution occurs to them — and they spend the day sitting on the fence together. Elegant watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis pair perfectly with Woodson’s thoughtful text to effectively communicate the deep truth behind Annie’s comment: “Someday somebody's going to come along and knock this old fence down.”
A little girl and her sister sneak out of the house, down the street to where men and women are gathering for a protest march. In the air is the sweet smell of roses; in their minds, the sweet hope of justice and equality. Inspired by the many children who also participated in protests and marches, Johnson has written a poetic tribute to the spirit of optimism that pervaded the Civil Rights movement, perfectly accented with Velasquez' charcoal illustrations, where small pops of color illuminate key details like the ribbon on a teddy bear, the roses, and the American flag.
Six year old Sarah Marie is excited to visit her grandmother, but she's never seen the segregation of the Deep South. Her family tries to protect the children from the realities of Jim Crow — her mother tells them that the seats are the back at the best, and that they aren't going to the lunch counter because they brought something delicious to eat — but Sarah Marie still realizes that something deeply unjust is going on. Young readers will empathize with Sarah Marie's confusion, and with her delight when, on a future trip, Sarah Marie discovers that the segregated spaces are gone. This gentle and powerful book introduces the history of segregation and celebrates how families like Sarah Marie's resisted with quiet dignity.
Today is election day, and nothing — not even the steep hill she has to climb to get to the polling station — will keep 100-year-old Lillian from placing her ballot. As she walks, she remembers the path through history that resulting in her path to the polls: her great-grandfather, voting for the first time after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment; her parents, trying and failing to register to vote; and her own participation, many years ago, in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. This vivid story of one woman's determination provides an apt metaphor for the determination of those who fought for equal rights for all.
Ella Mae is excited when she outgrows her hand-me-down shoes — for the first time, she'll get a new pair of her very own! But when they go to the shoe store, Ella Mae and her mother discover the shop owner only allows white people to buy. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her friend Charlotte create their own business, gathering used shoes and repairing and polishing them to perfection. And at their shoe sale, the African American members of their community get to "try on all the shoes they want." This story provides an introduction to the concept of segregation, but also a powerful message of optimism.
In this story-within-a-story, a granddaughter listens raptly as her grandmother tells her a tale of the segregated South. As a child, she saw a water fountain labelled with a sign reading "Whites only." Innocently, she misinterpreted the sign to mean that she could only drink if she stood at the fountain in her white socks, so she kicked off her shoes... only to get pulled away by an angry white man, threatening to whip her. However, the African American adults nearby rallied to her aid, one by one kicking off their own shoes and taking their own deep drinks from the fountain. The depiction of segregation in this story is simplified to make it more accessible to young readers, but the message is clear: judging people by the color of their skin is as silly as judging them by the color of their socks.
It's the 1950s, and Ruth's family is excited: they've just bought a new car and are ready to set off to visit Ruth's grandmother in Alabama! But they soon discover that Jim Crow laws make traveling difficult, since many hotels and gas stations won't serve African Americans. Then, a friendly gas station attendant introduces them to The Green Book, a guide specifically for African-American travelers that tells them where they will be welcomed. Filled with gorgeous oil wash paintings, this thoughtful story is a loving tribute to The Green Book through the eyes of a curious young girl.
There's plenty of talk about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Mrs. Smyre is the first African American teacher in the town; it's 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For 12-year-old Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can't she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn't for anybody who wants to learn — or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.
With the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, Dawnie's world is turned upside down. Now, she has to attend a previously all-white school — alone, without her friends beside her — and face the harsh realities of angry reactions to enforced integration. Dawnie struggles to prove that she deserves the opportunity for a good education, but when her father loses his job and her brother is bullied, she questions whether it is all worth it. Fortunately, Dawnie has the determination to face these challenges head on, in hopes that others won't face them in the future. This book from the popular Dear America historical fiction series captures the reality of what many students faced every day on the journey to school integration.
At the heart of battles against school segregation were children — children just like the ones in classrooms today. In this remarkable book by beloved author Toni Morrison, she uses archival photographs of the Civil Rights movement, most of them depicting the ordinary young people whose lives were so deeply affected. Alongside these images, she crafts dialogue that captures what these children, who carried so much on their shoulders, were feeling and experiencing. Morrison's vibrant fictional account of "separate but equal" schooling and the battle for integrated classrooms, published for the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, is a powerful way to teach kids about this important part of American history.
Glory has always looked forward to celebrating her July 4th birthday at the community pool. But in 1964, the summer she turns 12, that proves to be complicated. The town is in an uproar: Yankee "freedom people" are insisting that the pool be desegregated, and in response, the town has closed the pool "for repairs" indefinitely. As the conflict continues, and Glory comes of age, she begins to look beyond her own situation and see the closure of the pool in the context of the broader world. This memorable story captures the thoughts and feelings of a girl caught on the cusp of adulthood and facing true injustice she had never noticed before.
Billie Simms may only be 13, but she is already determined to see an end to segregation in her hometown of Anniston, Alabama — even if few people agree with her. When she hears that the Freedom Riders will pass through Anniston, Billie hopes that the town will see the justice in their cause; instead, they show the depths of their racism and prejudice. With the buses about to move on, Billie has to decide what to do: stay safe at home, or join the cause she believes in so passionately. In addition to the presentation of historical events, this novel explores Billie's developing awareness of her own internalized racism, which provides an intriguing starting point for discussion about racial issues of today.
It's 1958, and twelve-year-old Marlee is struggling: the Governor of Arkansas has shut all high schools to avoid the federal order to integrate schools, so her sister has been sent away so she doesn't miss a year. Always shy, Marlee responds to the chaos by retreating even more... until she meets Liz, the new girl at her middle school. Fearless and determined, Liz knows just what to say to encourage Marlee to find her voice. Then, one day, Liz is gone; rumor has it that she was actually black, and pretending to be white. Liz's friendship helps Marlee understand the damage that segregation does — and the value of fighting it. As racial tensions rise, danger looms for both the girls and their families as they stand up for integration, but their friendship helps them stand strong. Heartfelt and satisfying, this story of friendship and the fight for justice will make young readers cheer.
Loretta Little is a sharecropper, picking cotton in the late 1920s; she had no idea that her niece will get to view the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement's fight for the vote. Told in three narratives — one by Loretta from 1927 to 1930, one by her brother Roly from 1942 to 1950, and one by Roly's daughter Aggie from 1962 to 1968, this novel brings the hardships facing African Americans to vivid life — poverty, racism, and violence — while also capturing the courage, dignity, and hope of each generation as they fight for a better future. With its innovative format and gorgeous spot illustrations, this is a one-of-a-kind novel that tells an important tale of U.S. history.
Dani's Grandma Beans hasn't spoken to Avadelle Richardson for decades, and no one seems to know why — until Grandma Beans tells Dani to find an envelope and a key that she's hidden. Dani decides to investigate, and with the help of her friends she uncovers a whole history of their hometown in Oxford, Mississippi that they'd never heard before: segregation, violence, race riots, and a betrayal that cut Grandma Beans to the bone. For kids who usually hear a sanitized version of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, this book will open their eyes to the brutality of the process — and to the injustices that linger to this day.
In Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964, the adults all say they're "being invaded" — by people from up north coming to help voter registrations in something called the Freedom Summer. At first, Sunny doesn't even worry about that; she's caught up in her own invasion, a new stepmother and siblings pushing their way into her life. But a moment at a public pool opens her eyes to the racism that pervades her hometown, and soon Sunny is trying to figure out how she too can fight for what's right and fair. Real source materials — including an actual KKK pamphlet from the time period — drive home the viciousness that civil rights campaigners faced during the time period. Deborah Wiles, award-winning author of Countdown, tells a riveting story of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what's right.
12-year-old Sylvia is an honor student who is both thrilled and scared to be selected as one of the students to integrate Central High School in 1957 Little Rock. Unlike her older brother, she doesn't want to be a hero; she just wants a chance to learn. And as the racism in Little Rock explodes — and even members of Sylvia's own community speak out against integration — Sylvia starts to wonder if she would be better off in the black-only school, focusing on getting to college instead of changing the world. In addition to its unflinching look at the realities of being the ones to desegregate a school, this book challenges young adult readers to consider how their decisions shape the future.
Additional Recommended Resources
- For more books about the struggle for civil rights and liberties, visit our Top Mighty Girl Books About Civil Rights History.
- For more resources about some of the key figures mentioned above, visit our Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Coretta Scott King collections.
- For books about social issues relating to prejudice, visit our selection of books about Racial / Ethnic Discrimination.
- For more books for Black History Month, visit our African American History Collection.