28 Amazing Picture Book Biographies by Black Authors to Celebrate Black History All Year Long
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions African Americans have made in society. Carter G. Woodson noticed a lack of information on the achievements of Black people and in response founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1926, the group started Negro History Week, which was later adopted as Black History Month in the 70's.
We believe Black History is American History is World History and that it should all be taught and studied all year long. We've created this list of 28 picture book biographies for the 28 days in Black History Month. All of the books are #ownvoices books and are perfect for learning Black history anytime of year.
Quick note: What are #ownvoices books? #OwnVoices is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group. Only a small percentage of books about or featuring Black people are actually written by Black people.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history." Carter G. Woodson
Even as a young child growing up in the 1920s, Shirley Chisholm was a leader. At the age of three, older children were already following her lead in their Brooklyn neighborhood.
In 1964, Shirley took her voice and leadership to politics, becoming the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly, and in 1968, the first Black woman elected to Congress. Then in 1972, she became the first Black woman to seek the presidency of the United States. She pushed for laws that helped women, children, students, poor people, farm workers, Native people, and others who were often ignored. She fought for healthcare. She spoke up for military veterans. She spoke out against war.
Shirley Chisholm, a woman of many firsts, was an unforgettable political trailblazer, a candidate of the people and catalyst of change who opened the door for women in the political arena and for the first Black president of the United States.
The inspirational, true story of how Frederick Douglass found his way to freedom one word at a time.
This picture book biography chronicles the youth of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African American figures in American history. Douglass spent his life advocating for the equality of all, and it was through reading that he was able to stand up for himself and others.
In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read.
From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge Mora comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who--with perseverance and dedication--proved that you're never too old to learn.
"Who's that playing out there?" Bo Diddley asked the New Orleans crowd. It was a small child who'd been nicknamed "Trombone Shorty" because his trombone was twice as large as he was. Trombone Shorty was lifted in the air and carried through the audience until he reached the stage with Bo Diddley. He has been onstage ever since.
Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, where music always floated in the air, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews didn't always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. This is the story of how he made his dream take flight.
Today, Troy Andrews is a Grammy-nominated musician who tours the world with his band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. He continues to inspire hope for the next generation in New Orleans and for music lovers everywhere.
The mist in Charleston Inner Harbor was heavy, but not heavy enough to disguise the stolen Confederate steamship, the Planter, from Confederate soldiers.
In the early hours of May 13, 1862, in the midst of the deadly U.S. Civil War, an enslaved man named Robert Smalls was about to carry out a perilous plan of escape. Standing at the helm of the ship, Smalls impersonated the captain as he and his crew passed heavily armed Confederate forts to enter Union territory, where escaped slaves were given shelter. The suspenseful escape of the determined crew is celebrated with beautiful artwork and insightful prose, detailing the true account of an unsung American hero.
William Still's parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled north. And then one day, a strangely familiar man came into William's office, searching for information about his long-lost family. Could it be?
Motivated by his own family's experience, William began collecting the stories of thousands of other freedom seekers. As a result, he was able to reunite other families and build a remarkable source of information, including encounters with Harriet Tubman, Henry "Box" Brown, and William and Ellen Craft.
The mere mention of the name conjures up visions of basketball played at its absolute best. But as a child, Michael almost gave up on his hoop dreams, all because he feared he'd never grow tall enough to play the game that would one day make him famous. That's when his mother and father stepped in and shared the invaluable lesson of what really goes into the making of a champion -- patience, determination, and hard work.
Deloris Jordan, mother of the basketball phenomenon, teams up with his sister Roslyn to tell this heartwarming and inspirational story that only the members of the Jordan family could tell. It's a tale about faith and hope and how any family working together can help a child make his or her dreams come true.
Ona Judge was enslaved by the Washingtons, and served the President's wife, Martha. Ona was widely known for her excellent skills as a seamstress, and was raised alongside Washington's grandchildren. Indeed, she was frequently mistaken for his granddaughter. This biography follows her childhood and adolescence until she decides to run away.
This book doesn't shy away from the horrors of slavery, nor the complex role of house servants. Author Ray Anthony Shepard implicates the reader in Ona's decision to emancipate herself by using a rhetorical refrain, "Why you run, Ona Judge?" This haunting meditation welcomes meaningful and necessary conversation among readers.
Critically acclaimed author Jabari Asim and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis give readers a fascinating glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis.
John wants to be a preacher when he grows up--a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm's flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice.
Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story, featuring Jabari Asim's stirring prose and E. B. Lewis's stunning, light-filled impressionistic watercolor paintings, includes an author's note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
Wendell O. Scott made history as the only black driver to win a race in a NASCAR Grand National (now Spring Cup) division. Born in Danville, Virginia, he scrimped and saved to buy his first car, a Model T, at age fourteen. Although he "loved to turn the wheel of a racecar, work magic on an engine, and then push it faster than it was ever meant to go," he never had the resources or sponsorship to buy a brand-new racecar. Using secondhand Fords that he fixed up in his garage, he competed in five hundred races in NASCAR's top division.
Renowned author Lesa Cline-Ransome and celebrated illustrator John Parra unite to tell the inspiring story of Ethel Payne, a groundbreaking African American journalist known as the First Lady of the Black Press.
"I've had a box seat on history." Ethel Payne always had an ear for stories. Seeking truth, justice, and equality, Ethel followed stories from her school newspaper in Chicago to Japan during World War II. It even led her to the White House briefing room, where she broke barriers as the only black female journalist. Ethel wasn't afraid to ask the tough questions of presidents, elected officials, or anyone else in charge, earning her the title, "First Lady of the Black Press."
Fearless and determined, Ethel Payne shined a light on the darkest moments in history, and her ear for stories sought answers to the questions that mattered most in the fight for Civil Rights.
Malcolm X grew to be one of America's most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice.
Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm's optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance.
Together with acclaimed illustrator AG Ford, Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today--that we must all strive to live to our highest potential.
A stunning picture-book biography of iconic African American opera star Leontyne Price.
Born in a small town in Mississippi in 1927, the daughter of a midwife and a sawmill worker, Leontyne Price might have grown up singing the blues. But Leontyne had big dreams--and plenty to be thankful for--as she surrounded herself with church hymns and hallelujahs, soaked up opera arias on the radio, and watched the great Marian Anderson grace the stage.
While racism made it unlikely that a poor black girl from the South would pursue an opera career, Leontyne's wondrous voice and unconquerable spirit prevailed. Bursting through the door Marian had cracked open, Leontyne was soon recognized and celebrated for her leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera and around the world--most notably as the majestic Ethiopian princess in Aida, the part she felt she was born to sing.
A shimmering picture book that shines the light on Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary writer and storycatcher extraordinaire who changed the face of American literature.
Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, "to jump at de sun", because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you'd get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn't been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked...until Zora. Until Zora jumped.
Experience history with this picture book of Martin Luther King's iconic speech, with an audio CD included. This Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book will inspire young readers.
From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King: "My father's dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing I Have a Dream speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us--those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone."
On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, Martin Luther King gave one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in our nation's history. His words, paired with Caldecott Honor winner Kadir Nelson's magnificent paintings, make for a picture book certain to be treasured by children and adults alike.
From Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson and acclaimed author Renee Watson, comes the inspiring true story of Florence Mills.
Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights. Featuring a moving text and colorful illustrations, Harlem's Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one's heart and dreams.
His white teacher tells her all-black class, You'll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.
Told through lyrical verse and atmospheric art, this is the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice.
Based on true events of important US history, this non-fiction narrative, the biography of George Moses Horton introduces students to a story of determination and a profound love of words.
In the nineteenth century, North Carolina slave George Moses Horton taught himself to read and earned money to purchase his time-though not his freedom. Horton became the first African American to be published in the South, protesting slavery in the form of verse. Told with vivid, figurative language; metaphor, simile and hyperbole. Students will use story elements; setting, plot and character development as they understand themes of determination, pride, talent, freedom, slavery, abolition and poetry as a form of expression.
A gripping biography of the mail carrier who orchestrated the Great Savannah boycott -- and was instrumental in bringing equality to his community.
"Grow up and be somebody," Westley Wallace Law's grandmother encouraged him as a young boy living in poverty in segregated Savannah, Georgia. Determined to make a difference in his community, W.W. Law assisted blacks in registering to vote, joined the NAACP and trained protestors in the use of nonviolent civil disobedience, and, in 1961, led the Great Savannah Boycott. In that famous protest, blacks refused to shop in downtown Savannah. When city leaders finally agreed to declare all of its citizens equal, Savannah became the first city in the south to end racial discrimination.
A lifelong mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, W.W. Law saw fostering communication between blacks and whites as a fundamental part of his job. As this affecting, strikingly illustrated biography makes clear, this "unsung hero" delivered far more than the mail to the citizens of the city he loved.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or astronauts walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as "human computers" used their knowledge, pencils, adding machines, and writing paper to calculate the orbital mechanics needed to launch spacecraft. Katherine Johnson was one of these mathematicians who used trajectories and complex equations to chart the space program. Even as Virginia's Jim Crow laws were in place in the early 1950s, Katherine worked analyzing data at the NACA (later NASA) Langley laboratory.
In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine Johnson was called upon and John Glenn said "get the girl" (Katherine Johnson) to run the numbers by hand to chart the complexity of the orbital flight. He knew that his flight couldn't work without her unique skills.
You've seen the building. Now meet the man whose life went into it.
Philip Freelon's grandfather was an acclaimed painter of the Harlem Renaissance. His father was a successful businessman who attended the 1963 March on Washington. When Phil decided to attend architecture school, he created his own focus on African American and Islamic designers. He later chose not to build casinos or prisons, instead concentrating on schools, libraries, and museums--buildings that connect people with heritage and fill hearts with joy. And in 2009, Phil's team won a commission that let him use his personal history in service to the country's: the extraordinary Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon celebrates a contemporary black STEAM role model, a man whose quiet work enabled the creation of an iconic building reflecting America's past and future. With a stirring text by Kelly Starling Lyons, vibrant pictures by Laura Freeman, and an afterword from Philip Freelon himself, it is sure to inspire the next generation of dreamers and builders.
A little-known but fascinating and larger-than-life character, Mary Fields is one of the unsung, trailblazing African American women who helped settle the American West. A former slave, Fields became the first African American woman stagecoach driver in 1895, when, in her 60s, she beat out all the cowboys applying for the job by being the fastest to hitch a team of six horses. She won the dangerous and challenging job, and for many years traveled the badlands with her pet eagle, protecting the mail from outlaws and wild animals, never losing a single horse or package. Fields helped pave the way for other women and people of color to become stagecoach drivers and postal workers.
Ever since Barack Obama was young, Hope has lived inside him. From the beaches of Hawaii to the streets of Chicago, from the jungles of Indonesia to the plains of Kenya, he has held on to Hope. Even as a boy, Barack knew he wasn't quite like anybody else, but through his journeys he found the ability to listen to Hope and become what he was meant to be: a bridge to bring people together.
This is the moving story of our 44th President, told by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier, both winners of the Coretta Scott King Award. Barack Obama has motivated Americans to believe with him, to believe that every one of us has the power to change ourselves and change our world.
Celebrated poet and playwright Ntozake Shange captures the spirit of Civil Rights pioneer Coretta Scott King in this picture book biography gorgeously illustrated by Caldecott Medal artist Kadir Nelson.
Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta Scott knew the unfairness of life in the segregated south. A yearning for equality began to grow.
Together with Martin Luther King, Jr., she helped lead change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey--with dreams of freedom for all.