Our top picks of books about trailblazing African-American girls and women!
Too often the stories of African-American women, who historically faced both gender and racial discrimination, have been hidden from many mainstream histories. Fortunately, in recent years, many have had their stories told in children's books and, in our blog post, we've featured 99 books for all ages, from tots to teens, about trailblazing African-American women and their diverse contributions to history. Their stories are heroic, heartbreaking, and hopeful, and are perfect for reading with your kids during Black History Month and all year round!
You can find more books about African-American girls and women throughout history in our African-American History Collection.
Books About African-American Women Of History
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."
"I look up to Michelle Obama. Let me tell you why..." Introduce your baby, toddler, or preschooler to a woman you admire with this book from the I Look Up To... series. This detailed board book distills Michelle Obama's excellent qualities into delicious little bites, with vibrant illustrations that are appealing for babies and toddlers but text that's interesting enough for preschoolers. Each spread is accented with a quote from Michelle Obama herself, encouraging kids to follow in the footsteps of this inspiring woman. For two more board books from this series featuring pioneering African American women, check out I Look Up To... Misty Copeland and I Look Up To... Oprah Winfrey.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery — but she knew that everyone should be free. She made a courageous escape and journey north through the Underground Railroad, but she couldn't bear to stay there knowing others needed her help. Harriet would return over and over to help more people escape to freedom; in all of her missions, she never lost a "passenger." This simplified board book adaptation of Harriet Tubman (Little People, Big Dreams) is an accessible way to introduce Tubman's inspiring story to toddlers. For more board books about inspiring Black women, we recommend Maya: My First Maya Angelou, Wilma: My First Wilma Rudolph and Rosa: My First Rosa Parks.
In Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Vashti Harrison introduced school-aged kids to inspiring role models they probably won't meet in their history books. Now, in this detailed board book, she adapts 18 of her profiles for preschool readers! With simple text and her trademark illustrations that throw back to classic mid-century children's literature, she shows kids a variety of heroes and role models in every field — and inspires them to dream of how they themselves might change the world. Harrison is also the author of another board book, Think Big, Little One, which shares the story of women creators from around the world.
Ruby is excited to see a real ballet — and best of all, it's a performance of The Nutcracker starring her idol, ballerina Misty Copeland! As she and her sister Jasmine get ready to watch the curtain rise, Ruby talks about Copeland's life and career: her late start on ballet lessons at the age of 13, her stunning rise to fame, and her historic role as the American Ballet Theatre's first African American principal dancer. In this level one book from the I Can Read series, newly independent readers can sound out short sentences with simple words to read a story all by themselves.
Mae Jemison famously became the first African American woman in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992 but years before that historic journey, she was a little girl who dreamed of dancing in space. Her mother told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Little Mae's curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA. This inspirational introduction to a trailblazing astronaut will encourage children to reach for the stars and never give up on their dreams.
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.
When Alice Coachman was born, a Black girl in rural Georgia certainly wasn't going to be a world-class athlete. She had to overcome stereotypes about women and about African-Americans in order to earn a place on the 1948 Olympic team. As thousands of spectators watched, members of the US track and field women's team went down to defeat one by one... until Alice Coachman ruled the high jump event and became the first Black woman to ever win a gold medal. This inspiring story depicts a woman determined to overcome every obstacle, both the physical bar she had to leap and the metaphorical ones she faced on her way there. For another great book about Coachman, check out Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper for ages 4 to 8.
Learn all about pioneering ballerina Misty Copeland in this Little Golden Book biography! Although Misty always loved to move to music, her family's struggles with poverty meant she didn't walk into her first ballet class until she was almost thirteen. But there, she proved she had unstoppable talent! Although she faced racism from the ballet world, she persevered, and eventually became the first Black principal dancer int he history of the American Ballet Theatre. Today, she shares her inspiring story with people around the world, encouraging girls everywhere to pursue their dreams. Told in the beloved Little Golden Book format, this biography provides a child-friendly introduction to Copeland's life and career, full of empowering messages about determination, hope, and following your passion.
As a child, Simone Biles was a bundle of unchannelled energy, trying to find a place to belong during her time in foster care. When her grandparents adopted her, they thought gymnastics might give her a place to thrive — and they were right! Soon, she was racing through new skills, "shooting off the vault / like a rocket blast." Her path wasn't always easy — she even missed getting on the national team at first — but the same resilience and determination that drove her as a child would eventually help her make her way to the gold medal podium at the 2016 Olympics! This lyrical picture book biography celebrates talent, perseverance, and the importance of a supportive family through they eyes of one of the greatest athletes of our time.
When Edna Lewis became a chef, it was strange enough to see a woman in a professional kitchen, let alone an African-American woman. Long before the natural-food movement became popular, she sang the praises of eating local foods, choosing pure, wholesome ingredients, and taking food from farm to table. In this lyrical book, readers follow Lewis through one year, from planting to growing season to harvest and finally to a family dinner with a table piled high with delicious foods. An author's note about Lewis' life provides more information, while eager young chefs can test out the five kid-friendly recipes that are also included.
In the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, surrounded by big names like Zora Neale Hurston, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and more, Florence Mills made her own important contributions. She danced and sang on some of 1920s Broadway's biggest stages, inspiring songs and whole plays, but doing so required her to shatter racial boundaries over and over. And when she sang "I’m a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird," she was really crying out for racial equality. Full of information but with a jazzy, rhythmic text and lively illustrations, this picture book biography celebrates Mills' generous personality and her big dreams. For another book about Mills, check out Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up The Stage, also for ages 3 to 8.
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. Independent readers can learn more about Ruby Bridges in Ruby Bridges Goes to School for ages 5 to 8 and Through My Eyes for ages 8 to 12.
Today, Beyoncé is a world famous superstar, but as a child, she was quiet — so quiet that most people overlooked her completely. Fortunately, a special teacher discovered her gift: on stage, she was confident and dazzling, with a voice that astounded everyone. In this picture book biography, kids will learn about Beyoncé's rise (as well as the mistakes and obstacles she encountered along the way) and leave with an empowering message: find a way to follow your dreams, and you too can shine.
Billie Holiday's life was big and bold: she had a powerful voice, gardenias in her hair, and country-wide fame as Lady Day, one of the great performers of her time. She also had lots of dogs: a coat-pocket poodle, a beagle, Chihuahuas, a Great Dane, and more. But her favorite was Mister, a boxer who bolstered her courage when she needed it — like before her big performance at Carnegie Hall. This charming story tells the story of Holiday's bond with Mister, accented with stylish and colorful illustrations. An author's note includes more details about Holiday's troubled life, as well as a photograph of Holiday with the real-life Mister.
Flo, Mary, and Diana were friends who grew up in the projects of Detroit — but they had big dreams and the ambition to become superstars. But in 1960, it's not easy for a singing group made up of three African American women to get taken seriously, and on their first big audition for a Motown Records label, the manager doesn't think they can hit it big. But they persevered, and soon The Supremes were born! They would become famous both across America and around the world, making them the US' most successful vocal group ever. And even though they sometimes disagreed, their friendship helped them stay strong. This inspiring picture book from the Friends Change The World series celebrates three friends whose pioneering careers made beautiful music.
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.
Aretha Franklin was born to perform: even as a child singing in her father's church choir, she astounded everyone with her powerful voice and her incredible stage presence. As an adult, she started singing rhythm and blues, captivating audiences wherever she went — particularly with a song by Otis Redding called "Respect," which became an anthem for African-American women like her. Aretha would go on to be called the "Queen of Soul" and was the first woman installed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! This book from the best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series includes back matter with a timeline, historical photos, and inspiring facts about this pioneering artist. For another picture book about Franklin, we recommend A Voice Named Aretha for ages 5 to 9.
As soon as she could walk, Ann Cole Lowe learned how to sew. She worked alongside her mother in her dress shop, sewing party dresses for glamorous, wealthy women. After her mother died, Lowe decided to go to design school and set up her own shop. She ended up becoming "society's best kept secret" and sewed exquisite creations, including Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress and Olivia de Havilland's dress at the Oscars when she won for Best Actress. This picture book biography of an influential yet little-known fashion designer celebrates art, vision, and those who create beautiful things.
Everyone she knows, from her parents to her teachers to the police officer on the local beat, agrees that Althea Gibson is nothing but trouble. But when Buddy Walker, the play leader on Althea's street in Harlem, sees her play paddle tennis, he sees something else: talent. Buddy bought Althea her first stringed tennis racket, and soon, she was rocketing through the tennis ranks! Gibson would become the first African American ever to compete in and win the Wimbledon Cup — and a role model for Black children everywhere. This exuberant biography captures Gibson's spirit and energy, the same traits that both made her "nothing but trouble" and also pushed her to the top of her game. For another picture book about Gibson, we recommend Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet-of-Foot Girl for ages 5 to 9.
As a girl, Mae Jemison dreamed of being an astronaut — but when she watched the Moon landings, none of the astronauts were women. Worse, when she told a teacher she wanted to be an astronaut, the teacher thought she'd probably rather be a nurse! Instead, the intelligent young woman started college at 16 and medical school at 20, and joined the Peace Corps to help people around the world. And by the time she came back to America, women could be astronauts... and she became the first Black woman in space. This inspiring book from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series is the perfect way to inspire a new generation to reach new heights, just like Mae.
She was born on a Mississippi pig farm, but from the age of three, Oprah Winfrey performed at churches, becoming known to crowds as the Little Speaker. When people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, "I want to be paid to talk." It seemed like a crazy dream, but after years of dedication, she would become a news anchor, the host of a talk show, a TV producer, and ,eventually, the owner of a media empire that turned her into the first Black female billionaire. This book focuses on Winfrey's childhood, portraying her determination to overcome stereotypes and prejudice to achieve her dreams; an author's note includes additional details about her adult life. Older kids can learn more about Winfrey in Who Is Oprah Winfrey? for ages 8 to 12.
As a slave girl on a plantation in Georgia, Harriet Powers learned how to sew and quilt — so after she was freed following the Civil War, it only made sense to turn to her skill with a needle and thread to support herself and her family. She eventually started making pictorial quilts, illustrating everything from Bible stories to local legends. Today, these quilts are priceless examples of African American folk art. This conversational biography about an important but little-known figure from the American art world will give kids a new perspective on the power of sewing stories, as well as the challenges and triumphs that African-American people experienced when slavery was ended.
When Harriet Tubman was a slave, her faith convinced her that she was meant to be free, and she risked tremendous danger to escape. But how could she leave others in the same bondage she had left behind? So Tubman became one of the most famous Underground Railroad conductors, leading hundreds of others to freedom. This poetic book compares the Biblical story of Moses to Tubman's story, reinforcing why so many people called her Moses. Poetic language and dark, dramatic artwork make this a stand out title for teaching African American history. Young readers can learn more about Tubman in the picture books Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman and I Am Harriet Tubman, both for ages 4 to 8, and in the early reader Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter for ages 4 to 7, while adults can read more in Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.
Folk artist Clementine Hunter created beautiful artwork, even if she didn't have a canvas to use: window shades, glass bottles, old boards, and more became her medium if that's what it took to paint. Her pictures captured both the backbreaking work and the many joys of working on a southern farm. When her talent was discovered, her art went from hanging outside her home to big, important galleries... segregated galleries that Hunter wasn't allowed to enter, even as people admired her work. This charming picture book biography celebrates creative expression and reminds young readers that there's no such thing as the perfect time to make art — so you may as well do it whenever you can!
Amanda Gorman grew up reading everything she could get her hands on — a cereal box would do if nothing else was available! But she had a speech impediment and an auditory processing disorder, both of which meant she had to work extra hard. She found strength in her successes, and when her teacher read aloud to the class, she found inspiration: she wanted to be a poet, and to read her poetry to people around the world. At the age of 19 she became America's first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, and then in January 2021, she got to perform her poem The Hill We Climb at the Presidential Inauguration! This book from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series, with stylish information and fun facts, introduces young readers to Amanda Gorman's life and how she learned to combine poetry and activism.
Raven Wilkinson saw her first ballet performance when she was five, and from that moment on, she wanted to dance. But no Black ballerina had ever danced with a major touring troupe before, and even when she won role after role, she encountered racism and bigotry from her audiences. For a while, she even left to dance in Holland, where "people were far more interested in who I was, rather than what I was." But she returned to her home country, and danced with the New York City Opera until she was fifty, inspiring a new generation of dancers — including famous names like Misty Copeland. This elegant picture book biography of a dance pioneer celebrates the power of refusing to give up on your dream.
Even as a young girl, Mahalia Jackson loved singing gospel music: no matter how difficult her life was, gospel made her heart feel light. And as she got older, she realized that her voice also had the power to bring joy to everyone around her and she wanted to share it with the world. Eventually, Jackson's determination took her all the way to Washington, where her voice helped inspire Martin Luther King Jr. — and everyone else during the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Full of rich, colorful illustrations, this poignant, inspiring story will fascinate kids.
In Cascade, Montana, in 1895, a stagecoach driver had a critical job: without the stagecoach, nothing could get through the mountains to St. Peter's Mission and the people there. But when Mary Fields, a tough and unflappable former slave — a woman in her 60s, no less — applied for the job, everyone thought the idea was ridiculous... until she proved she can hitch a team of six horses faster than any other applicant. For eight years, with nothing but her gun and her pet eagle to protect her, Fields would ride the dangerous path, never once losing a package or passenger. Author Tami Charles creates a vibrant portrait of this determined woman — and, in an author's note, explains what details about Fields weren't recorded, inviting kids to think about who and what gets included in the history we read.
Kamala Harris was still using a pacifier when she joined her parents at civil rights marches! As she grew up, she also grew a belief in freedom and justice — one which drove her to become a lawyer and a politician, using her voice to speak for those who could not. When the time came for the Democratic Party to choose a candidate for president, she threw her hat in the ring... and even though she wasn't chosen, she knew her story wasn't over. Before long, she was setting her sights on a new role: the vice presidential nominee for the 2020 election. Nikki Grimes' elegant poetry, which frames the story as a conversation between a girl and her mother, and luminous illustrations by Laura Freeman, create a portrait of a woman who knows that she will never give up on what matters.
Katherine Johnson loved to count, and despite the prejudices against both women and African Americans, she was determined to find a way to make her love of math into a career. As one of NASA's "human computers," Johnson hand calculated elaborate equations... including the trajectories that helped launch the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When disaster befell the Apollo 13 mission, it was Johnson's flight-path calculations that brought the astronauts safely home. This inspiring biography of the mathematician catapulted to fame by Hidden Figures celebrates a love of math and encourages kids to follow their passions. For another picture book about Johnson and her colleagues, check out Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.
It's 1937, and contralto Marian Anderson is about to give another performance to an admiring crowd in New Jersey. This time, there's an odd-looking man near the front, with eccentric clothes and wild white hair. When her performance is over, Marian just wants to rest — but the venue's staff rudely tell her that the local hotels are for Whites only, and the people who cheered for her moments ago ignore her. Then the man with the white hair approaches: Albert Einstein! He invites her to stay at his house, and shares with her his own stories of experiencing prejudice as a Jew in Germany. Before long, the two have become friends, finding common ground in their love of music and their determination to pursue their passions. With vibrant illustrations, this picture book tells a story of a little-known friendship that highlights how small acts of kindness fight injustice.
When Mamie Johnson was growing up, she had a passion for baseball that drove her to overcome every obstacle: when she couldn't find gear to practice with, she made a bat from a branch and a ball from stone wrapped with twine and tape. She had a strong right arm and a pitcher's eye — but she couldn't find a team. The All-American Girls Pro Baseball League didn't admit Black women, and while Jackie Robinson had already broken the color barrier in the Brooklyn Dodgers, the men's teams wouldn't even consider a woman. Finally, she got her chance in 1953, and after signing with the Negro Leagues' Indianapolis Clowns, she became the first female pitcher to play on a men's professional team! This empowering biography celebrates how a passion for baseball drove Johnson to become a pioneer for women in sports.
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.
Imagine learning to read at the age of 116! When Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848, she wasn't allowed to learn to read — and even once she was freed at the age of 15, there was too much work to do to learn... or so she thought. But she was healthy and strong, and at the age of 114, she had outlived all her other family. It was time, perhaps, to follow that long-held dream: "Could someone her age learn to read? She didn’t know, but by God, she was going to try." Walker was certified the nation's oldest student twice over, and at 116, she learned! This inspiring story proves that, with perseverance and dedication, there's nothing you can't achieve.
In 1930s Yonkers, young Ella danced the Lindy Hop for pocket change, but that wasn't enough to support an orphan with ragged clothes and nowhere to spend the night. One night amateur night at the Apollo Theater, Ella let the music flow through her voice instead of her feet — and soon, she was on her way to a feature spot with Chick Webb's band and a number one radio hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." With rhythmic text and jazzy mixed-media illustrations, this is a fascinating introduction to the woman who became known as "The First Lady of Song." Fans of Fitzgerald can also read Ella: Queen of Jazz for ages 4 to 8 and Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa for ages 5 to 9.
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.
As a girl, Isabella was born into slavery but but possessed a mind and a vision that knew no bounds. She was never taught to read or write, and she was separated from her mother, brothers, and sisters — and then, when she was older, from her children. But she knew she, like every person, deserved to be free. And her vision of her future led her to take a new name: Sojourner Truth. This luminous picture book biography captures Truth's strength and perseverance as it tells the story of this giant in the struggle for civil rights.
Wilma Rudolph was born so tiny that no one expected her to reach her first birthday — but she did. Then, before she was five years old, her left leg was paralyzed by polio, and no one expected her to walk again — but she did that too, working so hard on her leg exercises that she stopped using a leg brace before she turned twelve. Eight years later, she represented the US at the 1960 Olympiad, where she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympic Games. Kathleen Krull's telling of this piece of sports history lets Rudolph's determination and drive shine through. For another picture book biography of Rudolph, we recommend Wilma Rudolph (Little People, Big Dreams) for ages 5 to 8. For a picture book that captures how Rudolph inspired the girls who watched her performance, check out the fictional The Quickest Kid in Clarksville which is suitable for ages 4 to 8.
When Sylvia Townsend saw Swan Lake on TV, she was captivated. She borrowed books about dance from the bookmobile and taught herself — and picked the skills up so quickly that she started teaching other kids, too! When her fourth grade teacher offered to pay for lessons, Sylvia discovered another, unexpected obstacle: in the 1950s, dance studios won't teach an African American girl. But eventually, Sylvia found a teacher who did appreciate her talent — and she grew up to teach other children who are ready to fly! This inspiring picture book biography is a celebration of dance and determination — and a reminder of the value of libraries.
Melba Doretta Liston loved music as far back as she could remember, but it was when she was seven years old that she fell in love with an instrument: a shiny brass trombone. She taught herself how to play, and by the time she was a teenager, she had entered the world of jazz, joining a band and touring the country. Overcoming prejudices based on both her race and her gender, she became both a renowned trombone player and a masterful arranger who worked with jazz greats like Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones. This exuberant biography of one of music's little-known trailblazers is bursting at the seams with the joy of music.
At the age of three, Shirley Chisholm was leading games in her Brooklyn neighborhood; by college, she was a debate team champion who never backed down when she knew her point was sound. She fought for the rights of women and minorities in her community, but she wanted to do more. So in 1964, she became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly — and then in 1968, the first Black women elected to Congress. She fought for anyone who was neglected: children, students, people in poverty, Native Americans, and many more. And in 1972, she pushed even further, and became the first Black woman to run for president of the United States. This inspiring picture book biography celebrates a trailblazing woman who opened doors for generations still to come.
When Ann Cole Lowe grew up, she learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother. She didn't want to make simple garments, though; she dreamed of being a designer! She managed to get into design school — although she was forced to learn segregated from the other students — and she became "society's best kept secret," sewing the dress Olivia de Havilland wore when she won an Oscar and even Jacqueline Kennedy's wedding dress! She always insisted on the very best: for her designs, for her clients, and for herself. Award-winning author Kate Messner, costume historian Margaret E. Powell, and fashion designer and illustrator Erin Robinson tell Lowe's inspiring story with verve and style that's sure to captivate young creative thinkers.
When Patricia Bath was coming of age, the intelligent young woman was determined to become a doctor, but she had many obstacles in her way: sexism, racism, and poverty all seemed to be working against her. Despite it all, she broke new ground for both women and African Americans in her chosen field of ophthalmology. In 1981, Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe, a quick and nearly painless way to treat cataracts — one which has now been used on millions of patients around the world! This inspiring story from the Amazing Scientists picture book series, which includes a note from Bath herself, highlights the power of fighting for a dream. For another inspiring book about Bath, we recommend Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight for ages 5 to 9.
As a child, Laura Wheeler Waring loved mixing paints to get the perfect shade — especially if it was to capture the skin colors of people in her family. But she couldn't help but notice that museums didn't show paintings of people with brown skin. Defying prejudice, she studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then in Paris, where work by Matisse and Gaugin encouraged her to paint the people she knew. And when she returned home to America, her portraits of famous African American people would become classic works of art that still inspire visitors to the National Portrait Gallery. This beautiful picture book about a trailblazing artist celebrates self-expression, diversity, and welcoming different points of view.
When Maya Angelou was born in 1928, there were few opportunities for a Black girl to speak up. In fact, after she was abused by her mother's boyfriend, Maya stopped speaking altogether. But her mother did her best to buoy her up, saying, "Once you start speaking again, / ain’t nobody gonna be able to shut you up." And "Maya's momma was right. / Maya was a preacher, a teacher. / A Black girl whose voice / chased away darkness, ushered in light." Award-winning author Renée Watson and illustrator Bryan Collier have created a stunning portrait of Angelou, whose influence on American culture and history goes far beyond her list of "firsts," which includes being the first Black person and first woman to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.
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.
Years ago, two sisters named Venus and Serena Williams joined their father early in the morning on a litter-strewn tennis court to play. Before long, they've attracted their first onlookers: a group of local older boys who are impressed by the sisters' determination and drive. As time goes on, they attract more attention, and as they rise through the tennis world, they win even more fans. But as they devote themselves to their sport, they face many challenges: studying late at night, injuries, and the stares of people who have never seen Black girls dominate tennis before. Still, wherever they go, they always know they can rely up each other. This touching dual biography celebrates both the Williams' historic influence on their sport and the powerful bond of sisterhood.
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.
As a child in Ohio, Toni Morrison loved listening to her family and friends tell stories — any stories, whether they were myths and legends, stories from the Bible, or just little tales about things that had happened in their own lives. Once she was in school, she also soaked up stories from students from other countries — and she became a voracious reader. She went on to work in a library, then as an editor for New York publisher, but what she really wanted to do was write her own stories. And when she did — in stolen scraps of time while her children were asleep — she would create an astounding body of work. This stunning picture book biography explores the life and legacy of this Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author.
Zelda Jackson, known as Jackie to her friends, had a tremendous artistic talent — and a big imagination to go with it. As a child in the early part of the 20th century, she drew adventures: running through fields, swimming through oceans, anywhere she could dream of. As a high school student, she drew doodles for her high school year book, capturing day to day life. And as an adult, she became a journalist who tackled tough issues — including racism, pollution, and other social justice causes — and became one of the first Black women to have a syndicated newspaper cartoon! Written and illustrated by Liz Montague, one of the first Black cartoonists at the New Yorker, this is an inspiring tribute to a woman used her pen for both words and pictures to change the world.
When Elizabeth Cotten picked up her big brother's guitar for the first time, it was all wrong for her: it was far too big for the little girl, and it wasn't strung for a left-handed player. But she flipped it upside down and backwards and learned anyway! By the time she was eleven, she'd written one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century, "Freight Train"... and while her music was forgotten for a time, by the end of her life, it was famous around the world. This lyrical picture book pays tribute to a determined and talented folk musician whose innovative techniques are still used today — and whose music has delighted millions.
Even as a child, Barbara Jordan's voice made people stand up, take notice, and listen! But what do you do with a voice like that? In Jordan's case, she used it to carry her to places that African American women didn't usually go in the 1960s: to law school, to the Texas state senate, and to the United States Congress. She also used it to give voice to the marginalized people around her, fighting for civil rights and equality. This powerful picture book biography celebrates the power of raising your voice and owning your confidence.
Sarah E. Goode was born into slavery, and after the Emancipation Proclamation she moved to Chicago and opened a furniture store. But many of her customers didn't have much money or much space; they needed small furniture that was inexpensive to buy and served more than one purpose. Goode came up with an innovative idea: a bed that could fold up into a cupboard, leaving a desk exposed. But when she applied for a patent, she was turned down. She refused to give up, and after years of tweaking and reapplying, she became one of the first African-American women to receive a US patent. This inspiring story of a little-known inventor also includes a timeline of other African-American women patent holders.
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.
Alma Thomas grew up in the early 1900s, when racial injustice surrounded her family wherever they went — but so did the stunning colors of the great outdoors. Her parents encouraged her to fill her life with creativity, and she grasped the lesson well, going on to teach art to children when she moved to Washington DC. When she was almost 70 years old, though, she was done working and ready to pursue her own passion. Her artwork, inspired by nature and space travel, would make her the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City — and her work was even chosen for display at the White House. Detailed backmatter and an inspiring message about following your passion make this book perfect for fans of Malala's Magic Pencil and Mae Among the Stars.
Roberta Flack grew up in a Blue Ridge mountain town, in a family full of love and music — and it was obvious early on that she had a gift for it. At the age of four she was playing hymns on the church piano! What she really needed was a piano to play at home — but her family didn't have the money for one. Then her daddy spotted an upright piano in a junkyard, "old, / ratty, beat-up, / weather-worn, / faded, / stained, / stinky"... but fixable. He cleaned it and tuned it and painted it the same green as fresh grown grass, and all the while Roberta dreamed of being able to play. And as she writes, "Grown-up me lived this dream! Year after year after year!" This lyrical, autobiographical picture book celebrates a passion for music and the power of a loving family to support your dreams.
As a child in Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm's father told her: "God gave you a brain, use it." And she did — not only to excel in school, but also to realize that political representation was the key to policies that supported minorities and women. She ran for Congress, and even though people told her "you don't belong here!" during her campaign, she persevered... and won! She became the first African American woman in Congress, served seven terms, and fought for key legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment. And while her Unbought and Unbossed presidential campaign didn't take her to the white house, she continues to inspire politicians both in America and around the world. Award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome pays tribute to Chisholm's life and legacy in this gorgeous picture book about a pioneering politician.
When Nichelle Nichols played the role of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on a new show called Star Trek in the 1960s, people were astonished: she was the first Black woman astronaut anyone had ever seen on screen, and one of the few Black TV characters who wasn't a servant or a caricature. Courageous, smart, and strong, she inspired a generation of kids to dream of the stars — and when the TV show was over, she wasn't done yet! She used her platform as a TV role models to recruit for NASA, inspiring a generation of more diverse astronauts and scientists. This beautiful tribute to a pop culture icon who inspired millions of people — including real-life astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison — is perfect for fans of Hidden Figures and Mae Among the Stars.
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.
In the 1930s, Mabel Fairbanks was a homeless orphan who dreamed of figure skating, even though Black girls like her weren't allowed in public ice rinks. She saved her pennies for a pair of skates and a compassionate rink owner eventually let her in. Her talent was obvious — but she still wasn't allowed to compete. Instead, she performed in clubs and on TV, and later became a coach, eventually becoming the first African-American woman inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. This introduction to a sports pioneer will show kids how each generation helps lift the next up and inspire them to pursue their own dreams!
As a 7-year-old during WWII, Raye Montague toured a captured German submarine and immediately set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know that sexism and racism would challenge her dream every step of the way. Raye ended up working at the US Navy as a typist, studying engineering at night. One day, when all the engineers were sick with the flu, she astonished everyone by completing all of their work. She went on to become the first person to design a ship on a computer and the Navy's first female ship designer. This inspiring picture book from the Amazing Scientists series celebrates a pioneer who changed ship design forever.
As a child, MaVynee Betsch loved American Beach, a private beach her grandfather had bought so African Americans like her could visit when Jim Crow laws kept them off most public beaches. There, she met artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston who inspired her love of singing. MaVynee became an opera singer and traveled around the world, but when she finally came home, she discovered that American Beach had been neglected, and developers wanted to buy it. She refused to let the beach go, though, and devoted herself to preserving both its natural beauty and its historic importance. This stunning picture book, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes, is a tribute to a pioneering singer and conservationist, and the special place that her beloved beach had in the lives of so many people.
In this story inspired by the life of Ella Shepperd Moore, young Ella attends the Fisk School, the first school for freed slaves. There, she sings and plays piano with the Jubilee Singers, helping to preserve traditional spirituals like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Go Down, Moses." When the Fisk School is at risk of closing, their concert tour not only saved the school; it also raised enough money to build Jubilee Hall, the first permanent structure in the American South for the education of African-American students. While this account is fictionalized, it draws on historical facts to create a compelling story of Moore's work and her part in the Jubilee Singers.
In 1920s, there is no girls' baseball — so Marcenia Lyle joins the boys playing on the local team. Her parents, though, wish that she would focus on appropriate careers: teaching, nursing, or being a maid. When Gabby Street, a famous baseball manager, comes to scout kids for a summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals, Marcenia plays her absolute best, but she's crushed when Mr. Street says it doesn't matter: there are no girls in his camp. However, she's determined to win that spot anyway, and her spectacular showing convinces both Mr. Street and her skeptical parents that baseball is her future. This story about the girl who would grow up to be "Toni Stone," the first woman to play on a professional baseball team, is sure to delight young sports fans.
Effa Manley was a baseball-loving girl: she used to go to Yankee Stadium just to get a glimpse of Babe Ruth swinging for a home run. But as a biracial girl, she was used to a lot of obstacles and a lot of prejudice, all couched as being "just the way things are.” She refused to believe that, though, and she not only became founder and co-owner of a Negro League team, but she successfully lobbied for "her players" to be accepted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, she would share that honor, becoming the first woman accepted into the Hall of Fame. This biography highlights Manley's activism, from labor protests to her campaigns in the baseball world, and celebrates a business and baseball pioneer.
Mae Jemison dreamed of becoming an astronaut from childhood. She went to medical school and joined the Peace Corps, but she never forgot that dream — so in 1985, she applied to NASA, and in 1992, Jemison became the first African-American woman to go into space! In this Level 3 Ready-To-Read book from the You Should Meet series, newly independent readers can learn all about Jemison's fascinating life and career. Additional material at the end includes information about math and history, and even a timeline with fun facts about space! For an inspiring picture book about Jemison, check out Mae Among The Stars for ages 4 to 8.
A girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago became a lawyer, a girl's rights advocate, and the first African American First Lady of the United States! In this Level 3 Step Into Reading book, kids will learn how Michelle Obama's parents' lessons about hard work and refusing to give up propelled her to Princeton, to Harvard Law School, and finally into the White House. Her parents also taught her the importance of serving a community and giving back to others in need — something else she embodied throughout her career. This book, perfect for newly independent readers, will fascinate kids with the realization that their hero was once a girl just like them.
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.
In North Carolina, a little girl named Eunice Kathleen Waymon learned to sing before she could talk. She started playing the piano as a tiny child, and with the help of her family and community, she took lessons that introduced her to some of the great classical composers. But she also saw early on how racial discrimination affected everyone. As an adult, she took the stage name Nina Simone, and as her star rose, so did the Civil Rights Movement — and she added her voice to the chorus, speaking out about discrimination, racial inequality, and the need for change. This exuberant picture book, with stunning illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson, is a tribute to Simone's legacy of music and activism.
She's been called one of the greatest American minds of all time, and when NASA first started using computers to calculate launch trajectories, they only trusted them after she double-checked the math! Katherine Johnson broke both gender and racial boundaries when she started working for NASA in the 1950s as a human computer, performing the complex calculations necessary to launch rockets, satellites, and eventually, the Apollo 11 moon mission. New chapter book readers who are fans of the hit movie Hidden Figures will be excited to read their very own book about Johnson from Ready to Read's You Should Meet series. Older readers can check out Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition for ages 8 to 13.
Gwendolyn Brooks fell in love with poetry at a young age, thanks to her father's recitations and her mother's encouragement. She first picked up a pen to write her own poems when she was 7. Unlike many poets, she wrote about real life: about love and loneliness, the poverty of the Great Depression and the family that helped her survive. For many years, her published poetry earned little money — but in 1950, she became the first Black poet to with the Pulitzer Prize! This beautiful picture book biography explores how race, gender, and poverty intersected in Brooks' life, and celebrates the power of self-expression and creativity in difficult times.
Trailblazing journalist and activist Ida B. Wells was a suffragist, a civil rights campaigner, and an anti-lynching pioneer. This book takes young readers through Wells' life, from her birth in slavery to her remarkable academic career, and then highlights her work as a teacher and crusader for equality on multiple fronts. Long before boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides, Ida B. Wells was hard at work to better the lives of African Americans and used fierce determination and the power of the pen to educate the world about the unequal treatment of Blacks in the United States. Older kids can read about Wells in Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement for ages 10 and up.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly was born enslaved on a Virginia plantation in 1818, and she saw — and experienced — the cruelty of slaveowners first-hand. When a new master learned she could sew, he sent her to work for a tailor; the tailor paid the master, not her, for her work. But her gorgeous gowns caught the eye of Virginia's elite, including Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln. Before long, her patrons offered to buy her freedom, but she only agreed if she could pay them back — stitch by stitch. And when she was a free woman, she bought her son's freedom, too, and built a life for herself where she could enjoy the profit from her own labors. This poignant and inspiring story celebrates a talented African American woman who stitched her way to freedom.
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.
As a girl growing up in Florida, Ketanji Brown Jackson's father told her: "You can do anything. You can be anything." With her parents at her back, she knew that was true! So when she ran into people who doubted her abilities, she never let them stop her, whether she was running for high school class president or applying to Harvard. As an adult, she stood confidently in front of juries, became the first Black woman to become a U.S. District Judge, and then finally, endured grilling by the Senate on her way to being confirmed America's first Black woman Supreme Court Justice! Empowering prose and vibrant illustrations combine in an inspiring portrait of woman whose story is a tribute both to personal determination and the power of a supportive community.
As an enslaved child in Kentucky, Lilly Ann Granderson learned to read from her master's children as they played school, and she passed on what she learned to others on the plantation. When she was sold to a plantation in Mississippi, she learned that it was illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write, and the punishment was brutal: thirty-nine lashes. Granderson was still determined to teach others, however, so she formed a secret night school, despite the risks, and taught hundreds of people. This inspiring story about a little-known champion of literacy captures Granderson's unwavering belief in the power and importance of education.
As a child, Zora Neale Hurston's mother told her to "jump at de sun" if she wanted something: even if she didn't reach it, she'd get off the ground. Zora took that advice to heart as she listened to folktales in her hometown of Eatonville, then went to college at Howard University, and then moved to Harlem in the big city. As an anthropologist and folklorist, she captures the stories shared by African Americans — ones which had never been written down before. And as an author of fiction, she captured their world in a way that no one had before. This picture book biography is just as extraordinary as Hurston herself.
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.
MacNolia Cox loved words and reading — so when she was introduced to spelling bees, she was hooked. She won the 1936 Akron, Ohio spelling bee, becoming the first African American student to do so and earning a spot at the prestigious National Spelling Bee in Washington DC, where she and a girl from New Jersey would be the first Black students invited since the competition was founded. Her city celebrated her as she left, but once she crosses into segregated Maryland, she faces discrimination head on... even from the judges of the spelling bee. Still, she stood steadfast, and even though she didn't win, she triumphed by proving that she deserved to be there. Award-winning creators Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison have created a moving portrait of perseverance in the face of prejudice and hate.
It sounds like a familiar story at first: an African American girl is told she can't return to school, because it's for Whites only, and her family challenges the city with a court case. But the girl was Sarah Roberts, and the year was 1847 — over a hundred years before the famous battles faced by Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine. Roberts v. the City of Boston was the first court case challenging segregated schools, and it marked one of the first steps toward achieving legal equality for all people in the United States. With dramatic text from Susan E. Goodman and captivating artwork from E. B. Lewis, this book is a must have for any collection about the battle for equal rights.
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!
Bessie Coleman knew she wanted to "find a bigger life" — one where her future didn't involve picking cotton and struggling to get by. When she grew up, she moved to Chicago and heard tales of the first World War from veterans... including stories of women pilots in France. So when no one in America would teach her how to fly, she saved every penny she could and traveled there, where she became the first African American to earn a pilot's license. Coleman would return to America and become a famous stunt pilot, and everywhere she went, she would remind kids, "You can fly high just like me." This evocative picture book biography captures the determination and drive of this aviation pioneer. For another book about Coleman, check out Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Bessie Coleman for ages 7 to 10.
Growing up in Chicago in the 1940s, Diane Nash didn't know how how segregation could affect everyday life. It wasn't until she visited the Tennessee State Fair in 1959 as a university student that she saw how much of an impact it had in the South. So Diane connected with other university students — including student preacher John Lewis — and took charge of the Nashville Movement. She lead them with powerful words and nonviolent actions of protest, once leading thousands of marchers to the Nashville courthouse to convince the mayor to integrate lunch counters. She joined the Freedom Rides to integrate interstate buses. And she gained support from luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. This illuminating picture book introduces young readers to one of the strongest voices of the Civil Rights Movement in a powerful tribute to this courageous leader.
Former slave Isabella Baumfree transformed herself into Sojourner Truth, speaking out for equal rights on behalf of both the abolitionists and the women's rights movement. This beautifully illustrated picture book biography is written in the voice of Truth herself, like a monologue in dialect, giving young readers a sense of the power of the spoken word to influence people. The story begins with Truth still in slavery and follows her as she escapes, finds a new life, and then is reborn into a remarkable orator. This moving and passionate story is a fitting tribute to a dedicated and inspirational figure from American history. For more books about Truth, we recommend Sojourner Truth's Step Stomp Slide for ages 5 to 8, Only Passing Through for ages 7 to 11, and Who Was Sojourner Truth? for ages 8 to 12.
This first volume of an early chapter book biography series inspired by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger's bestselling She Persisted series introduces newly independent readers to an American hero! Harriet Tubman was born enslaved, but with her family's love to support her, she knew she deserved to be free. Not only did she escape herself, but she rose up to become a successful and famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad — and to fight in the Civil War, helping to ensure freedom for everyone. Written by bestselling and award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney, with black and white illustrations by Gillian Flint, this is the perfect book for young readers eager to learn more about Tubman's courage and persistence — and how it changed the world.
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!
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.
Mumbet was a slave in Massachusetts when she heard the state constitution's provision, "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights." If that's so, she thought, then I should be free too! With the help of a young lawyer named Theodore Sedgwick, Mumbet dared to challenge the legality of slavery under the constitution. Thanks to their work, in 1783 slavery was officially outlawed in Massachusetts — freeing 5,000 slaves in the state. This fascinating picture book biography tells Mumbet's story, accented with vivid illustrations, creating a sense of hope that all injustice can be righted with determination.
By the age of 2, Lena Horne was already a member of the NAACP, following her activist family. Inspired by her mother's dream, Lena became the first Black actress to receive a studio contract. As her fame grew, she dared to decline the stereotypical roles that she was offered, and she refused to use segregated entrances. Her powerful voice became an rallying cry to many as she joined civil rights rallies and urged people to remember, "You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way." While written as a picture book, this biography of Horne's challenging themes and advanced vocabulary make it an intriguing and inspiring pick for older children.
Simone Biles exploded on to the scene with a stunning performance in the 2016 Olympic Games that won her four Olympic gold medals! In this book from the Trailblazers biography series, kids can read all about her path to the international gymnastics stage: her search for a home after spending time in foster care, discovering a passion for her sport, and realizing that her determination and strength could make her a superstar. With a timeline and a list of further reading at the back, this is the perfect book to inspire readers to remember that, like Simone says, "We always have more to give."
She was born in the slums of St. Louis and became one of the most glamorous stars in the world; she was a dancer, a singer, and a civil rights activist, and even a spy in occupied Europe during World War II. Josephine Baker was passionate about everything she did, whether it was performing for cheering crowds or fighting for racial equality by refusing to dance in segregated halls. Author Patricia Hruby Powell tells Baker's story in a free verse poem, perfect for capturing the sense of rhythm and music that wound its way through her life, while Christian Robinson's colorful illustrations capture her dramatic flair. It's a fitting introduction to the life and work of this remarkable, multifaceted woman. Teens can learn more about Baker in The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy for ages 12 and up
Sarah Breedlove Walker was born in 1870 to former slaves, and she was determined to become more than her family could have dreamed possible a generation earlier. In her 30s, she realized that no company was making cosmetics or hair care products for African-American women. After tinkering with formulas (and changing her name to the more French-sounding Madam C. J. Walker) she started selling door to door. By 1912, the Mme. C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was one of the biggest companies in America and Walker was the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire. This true story of the inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who created a whole new field of beauty products is sure to fascinate readers. Adults can read more about Walker in On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.
Growing up in Florida in the 1890s, young Augusta loved playing with clay, sculpting it into little figures of animals and people. Her father, a stern preacher, felt she was wasting time on idle nonsense. However, as she grew, Savage's sculpting talent grew too, until she had to make a choice: pursuing her dream would mean leaving behind everything she knew. She dared to take the step of moving to New York City, and got accepted to an art school. Surrounded by other artists of the Harlem Renaissance, she became an artist and an instructor, passing on her love of art to others. This lovely biography draws on the spare facts about Savage's life and childhood to create a warm portrait of a woman who never gave up on her dream.
In the midst of the Civil War, the Confederate leadership was duped by an "illiterate" young Black woman who managed to infiltrate at the highest level and smuggle their secrets back to the Union side. Mary Bowser had a photographic memory that allowed her to "copy" documents at a glance, and a knack for evading detection. As they read this title, tweens will also use spycraft tools provided in the book, allowing them to determine the answer to the ultimate mystery: where did Mary hide her secret diary? This innovative interactive history book is sure to fascinate young would-be spies and detectives.
As a child, Aretha Franklin sang for her church; when she was a little older, she had some success as a gospel singer. But she wanted more — she wanted everyone to know her name. With her powerful voice, she won a record deal at the age of 18 — and went on to perform hit after hit, becoming one of the bestselling artists of all time! This book from the popular Who Was...? biography series shows why Aretha Franklin garners so much R-E-S-P-E-C-T and includes details of her many accolades, including her 18 Grammys and becoming the first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On her way to church in July 1854, Elizabeth Jennings was refused a seat on a streetcar, and when she sat down anyway, she was forced off the car by the conductor and a police officer, leaving her bruised and injured. She decided to take her case to court with the support of her family and her community, and legal representation by a future President of the United States! Her victory is little known today, but it was a pivotal moment in the long fight for desegregation of public transportation. Amy Hill Hearth turns a journalist's eye to telling this inspiring story, packing in facts about life in mid-1800s New York and vivid storytelling that will keep middle readers engrossed until they reach the triumphant conclusion.
Rebeka Uwitonze was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that twisted her hands and feet — and in Rwanda, there was little medical help to offer. The determined girl taught herself to walk on the tops of her feet by age 7, but she dreamed of getting the care she needed to stay mobile. Then, when she was 9, she received an incredible offer: the chance to travel to the US for the multiple surgeries she needed. To do so, however, she would have to live in America for a year — without her family. “Amahirwe aza rimwe,” her family says: “chance comes once.” With the help of the Davis family in Texas, Rebeka studied English, went through multiple surgeries, and finally learned to walk again. This inspiring book about courage in the face of disability and medical intervention celebrates perseverance and optimism.
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.
In 1924, 5-year-old Norma Miller decided what she wanted to do when she grew up: she wanted to dance! Living behind New York's Savoy Ballroom, the only dance hall where White people and Black people could dance together, she watched the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance and she practiced her steps. At 12, she matched steps with Twist Mouth George, a premier dancer of the day. By her teens, she would be one of the first performers of the acrobatic Lindy Hop, touring Europe and even performing on the silver screen. Author Alan Govenar drew on extensive interviews with Miller to write this vital, wryly funny portrayal of this indomitable woman.
Gwendolyn Brooks grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and she loved words: even as a child, she was constantly reading and writing. Her parents fostered her gifts, and as she grew older, Brooks developed her own voice: clever, thoughtful, and steeped in both the experience of Black people in America's cities and the struggles of women in a world run by men. She would publish 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and a novel — and become the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. This elegantly written and complex picture book for older readers from the People Who Shaped Our World series is a stirring introduction to this distinguished poet.
Before people could orbit the Earth or fly to the moon, there was a group of "human computers": dedicated female mathematician who used pencil and slide rule to calculate how to launch rockets. Four African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, were critical to the story of space flight — and yet their story was largely untold. In this young readers edition of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tweens will learn how these women, so little appreciated in their time, changed both NASA and America for the better. Younger readers can check out the picture book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race for ages 5 to 9.
A a child in Stamps, Arkansas, Maya Angelou seemed ordinary — even though she faced brutal trauma that left her feeling like a caged bird. But Angelou's love of the written and spoken word helped her survive her emotional pain, triumphing over all the forces that could have ground the inspiration out of her. In this luminous picture book, lyrical text by Bethany Hegedus and metaphorical illustrations by Tonya Engel create a unique, vibrant portrait of one of the 20th century's most distinctive voices. This powerful picture book biography for tween readers, written for the 50th anniversary of the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is both comprehensive and emotionally moving.
When Misty Copeland first started dancing at the age of 13, it was hard to imagine herself as a world-famous ballerina — in part because she rarely saw faces like hers on stage. But after she saw an African American ballerina on a magazine cover at the age of 16, she realized that there were other trailblazing women, just like her. In this powerful book, Copeland introduces young readers to 27 pioneering women of color who changed American ballet, exploring how their stories have affected dance as a whole and her own career in particular. This is an empowering, gorgeously illustrated celebration of women of color in dance.
"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.
When Misty Copeland first started dancing at age thirteen, no one could have guessed she would become the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. The quiet girl from a struggling family quickly demonstrated remarkable talent, and soon she was making a name for herself. But at the same time as she was discovering a new home onstage, her chaotic home life and a difficult relationship with her mother made things even more challenging. Copeland first told her story of resilience and following her dream for older teens and adults in Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina; now tween readers can enjoy her story as well. Younger fans of Copeland can check out When I Grow Up: Misty Copeland; Copeland is also the author of a picture book, Firebird, which is suitable for ages 5 to 9.
Zora Neale Hurston was astonishingly confident: she famously declared that she found discrimination confusing because "how can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?" As an author of the Harlem Renaissance, she wrote alongside others like Langston Hughes and Alain Locke, supplementing the meager income from her books by working as a housemaid or a personal assistant. As a folklorist, she collected stories that would have too easily been forgotten. And when a new generation discovered such extraordinary works as Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston finally achieved the renown she deserved. This book captures Hurston's big, bold personality, her astonishing creativity, and the challenges she encountered living in her times.
When Mae Jemison watched the Apollo moon landings, one of her questions was this: why weren't any of the astronauts women? After all, she loved science; couldn't she go to space too? Jemison would go on to become the first African American woman in space — and now her story can inspire the trailblazers of tomorrow! This book from the Work It, Girl series tells Jemison's life story, accented by brightly colored 3-D cut paper art, and provides ten tips from her own life for those who want to follow in her footsteps — and beyond. For more books from this series celebrating inspiring Black women, check out Become A Leader Like Michelle Obama and Run the Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey.
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.
Michelle Obama grew up with a close-knit family that believed in the importance of education. She worked hard at school, got into Princeton and Harvard, and qualified as a lawyer. She knew she wanted to give back by helping other girls believe that they could achieve their dreams. And when her husband, Barack Obama, became President, that gave her an opportunity to be a role model to a whole nation. In this book you'll learn all about this inspirational leader — and discover 10 tips from her life that you can apply to your own exciting career. For more books from the Work It, Girl series celebrating inspiring Black women, check out Blast Off Into Space Like Mae Jemison and Run the Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey.
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.
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 Ibtihaj Muhammad was in school, she was the only African American Muslim student — and when she discovered a love of fencing, she stood out even more in a sport most popular with wealthy White people. Ibtihaj was fast and hardworking, but as she rose through the ranks, she faced constant scrutiny from those who insisted she was too different to succeed. Instead of listening to them, she persevered and became the first Muslim-American woman to medal at an Olympic Games. This young readers edition of Muhammad's memoir Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream will inspire kids with her determination, faith, and courage.
Michelle Obama's best-selling memoir Becoming is now available in this adaptation for tween and teen readers! From South Side Chicago, to Princeton and Harvard Law, to the White House, Michelle's life has gone through many changes — often forcing her to wrestle with who she was and who she wanted to be. In this memoir, she tells her story, honestly and authentically, and encourages young readers to use her example as they stride forth into their own lives. She shows how life may play havoc with your plans, and how going with the flow can lead you to unexpected (and wonderful) things. Most importantly, she asks them: how will you use your life to help yourself, help others, and make the world better?
Black women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have faced both racial and gender boundaries throughout history — and yet they have persevered, changing our world for the better! In this inspiring volume, award-winning author Tonya Bolden explores the stories of more than 50 Black women, from pioneers for the past to the trailblazers of the 21st century. She explores how the intersection of race and gender affected their careers, and how their contributions benefit us today. Complete with extensive back matter, this empowering book encourages readers to let their curiosity drive them to success.
Author Jacqueline Woodson tells her personal story in this collection of biographical poems. In her two homes, South Carolina and New York, Woodson never felt quite like she belonged, and growing up African-American in the 1960s and 1970s meant dealing with the remnants of Jim Crow laws and a dawning awareness of the Civil Rights Movement. In these poems, Woodson explores her search for her place in the world, her struggles with reading as a child, and her joy at discovering a talent for writing that allowed her to express her thoughts and feelings. Powerful and intimate, readers will enjoy seeing a glimpse into the childhood emotional life of one of their favorite authors.
In the midst of World War II, the United States Army found itself in desperate need of personnel — and women, including African American women, stepped up to serve. Black community leaders, including civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, saw it as an opportunity to end segregation — but the "separate but equal" policy stood. This book centers on Major Charity Adams and her 6888th Central Postal Battalion, but uses her story as a jumping off point to talk about other women who helped integrate the armed forces. Rich with historical detail, and including an inspiring forward by Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson, Army (Ret.). this book gives these little-known military pioneers a voice.
For centuries, accomplished women — of all races — have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts. In this stunning volume, bestselling author Nikki Grimes aims to give these women the recognition they deserve, paying tribute to figures like Mae V. Cowdery, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Esther Popel. Accompanying each poem is a unique, full-color portrait from one of today's most acclaimed female African-American illustrators, including Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, and Vashti Harrison. This gorgeous collection is a unique and powerful celebration of women's voices from a unique period in American history.
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.
When Michaela DePrince was orphaned and abandoned during the war in Sierra Leone, the people at the orphanage called her a "devil child" because of the spots on her skin from vitiligo. But the orphanage was also where she saw an image of a ballerina that would change her life. After she was adopted by an American family, she asked to learn to dance, and it wasn't long before it was obvious she had phenomenal talent. DePrince would go on to become the youngest principal dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and a soloist for the Dutch National Ballet. In this moving and personal memoir, DePrince tells her own story of perseverance and hope. Younger readers can learn DePrince's story in the Step Into Reading level 4 biography, Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer, which is suitable for ages 6 to 9.
Kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1761 to the Wheatley family of Boston, the woman who would become known as Phillis Wheatley had a tremendous gift for poetry. While the Wheatley's recognized her gift and educated her along with their own children, she was still never considered their equal. Even once she became the first published African-American poet, she wrestled with the dilemma of not fitting in with either White or slave society. in this historical novel, author Ann Rinaldi tells Wheatley's unique story, and explores the details of life in colonial America. Younger readers can learn more about Wheatley in A Voice of Her Own: A Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet for ages 8 to 12.
In 1848, 13-year-old Emily Edmonson and her siblings took a bold chance: they, along with seventy other slaves, boarded the Pearl in Washington, D.C., hoping to sail north to freedom. But the ship was captured before reaching its destination, and in retribution, the escapees were auctioned to plantations in the Deep South where they would experience even crueler treatment. However, Edmonson never gave up her dream of freedom, and eventually she would achieve it, becoming a teacher at a school for young African-American women. Author Winifred Conkling provides plenty of resources to reference about the real experiences of enslaved people and the risk associated with attempting to escape and failing, but also about the courage of people like Edmonson who refused to accept that they should not be free.
Simone Biles is best known for her 25 World Championship medals, but getting there took perseverance and resiliency that many people didn't see. In her memoir, Biles talks about the challenges that faced her long before she had her sights set on the podium, from an early childhood in foster care to her adoption by her grandparents, who she now calls Mom and Dad. Their love and support helped her keep balanced as she rose through the ranks of gymnastics competition, ensuring that she always found joy in the sport in which she excelled. This optimistic and inspiring memoir will be a hit with anyone who finds themselves spellbound watching Biles soar to new heights.
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.
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.
Kamala Harris is a pioneering vice presidential candidate — and it was the values and influences of her childhood that led her to a political career. In this young readers edition of her adult memoir The Truths We Hold, Harris tells her own story and explores how her family and community taught her to fight for fairness and justice. She examines her work as a lawyer, an attorney general, and a senator, and lays bare the professional and personal challenges she faced along the way. Most importantly, she tells young readers that, when things seem darkest, it's time to step up: "Do we retreat or do we fight? I say we fight."
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.
When Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love, they didn't intend to change American history; they just wanted to get married. But in Virginia, miscegenation laws made it illegal for interracial couples to marry and have children — and after the Lovings married in another state, they were arrested and charged. So they decided to fight... all the way to the Supreme Court. This novel in verse alternates between Mildred and Richard's perspectives and also incorporates news clippings, maps, and archival photos as it tells the story of an ordinary couple who became the face of a landmark civil rights case.
Few things are known for certain about Edmonia Lewis, whose sculptures of historical figures captivated the world. The daughter of an Ojibwe woman and an African-Haitian man, Lewis had the had the rare opportunity to study at Oberlin, but was forced to leave after being accused of poisoning and theft. She eventually moved to Italy, where her career finally took off. In this novel in verse, author Jeannine Atkins creates a fictionalized story of Lewis' life that fills in the spaces between events of historical record, imagining the emotional life of an artist whose determination to create beauty required her to force her way through many obstacles.
As a child, Augusta Savage showed a gift for sculpture — but her father believed it was sinful and she was "beaten for making art." Still, she was determined to keep creating. Although she struggled against racism, even being denied an artists' fellowship on the basis of race, she became a pillar of the Harlem Renaissance, creating stunning artwork — and teaching a generation of African American artists. She was even one of the featured artists at the 1939 World's Fair but, tragically, her sculpture was destroyed after the Fair was over because she couldn't afford to ship it home. This stunning biography in poems, accented with photographs of Savage's work, creates a vibrant and powerful portrait of a trailblazing artist who pursued a "hunger/ to pull something out of yourself."