Top 10 Black Biographies for Children

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Every February I am asked about my favorite African American biographies. Most often, people ask for books about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, or Harriet Tubman. While it’s wonderful to honor Black History Month with these iconic trailblazers, I encourage you to learn about some lesser known figures. It was very difficult to narrow this list to only 10 books, but here is a start. Think of this as a starter list, and remember to continue reading about strong black figures every month of the year.

1 | Mae Among the Stars

Author: Roda Ahmed

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: Mae Among the Stars is based off of the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American female to travel in space. Mae has a big dream to share with her class– she wants to be an astronaut. At a time when most women would grow up to become moms or nurses, her teacher discouraged this wild dream. With her mother’s encouragement, however, Mae proved the world wrong. I love how the last page includes facts about the real Mae Jeminson.

2 | The Youngest Marcher

Author: Cynthia Levinson

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest child arrested during the Civil Rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. At only nine years old, Audrey was determined to take a stand against the unjust segregation laws, even if it meant being jailed in Juvenile Hall.

3 | Trombone Shorty

Author: Troy Andrews

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty, tells the story about how he got his nickname. Trombone Shorty grew up in New Orleans where music was instilled in him from birth. Loving the big brass bands playing in the Mardi Gras Parades, Andrews grows up to become a Grammy Award winning musician. I love how this autobiography showcases Andrews musical passion at such a young age.

4 | Fancy Party Gowns

Author: Deborah Blumenthal

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: As a young girl, Ann Cole Lowe helped her mother make fancy dresses for girls going to fancy parties. When Ann’s mother died, she took over her mother’s business. Read this story and learn about Ann Cole Lowe’s triumphs and struggles to become one of society’s top designers. She even designed The bridesmaid dresses for Jackie and John Kennedy’s wedding!

5 | Whoosh!

Author: Chris Barton

Age-Range: 7-11 years old

Overview: Learn about the famous man behind one of summer’s favorite toys–the Super Soaker! Lonnie Johnson’s dream of being an engineer was challenged, but he never gave up. He was determined to be an inventor and this is the story of his success-even if one of his most famous inventions was created by accident.

6 | Dave the Potter

Author: Laban Carrick Hill

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: The illustrations in this book are enough to pick it up! A beautiful, poetic story about an enslaved man, David Drake, and his artistic creations. Labeled a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award Winner, you can’t go wrong with this short, yet rich biography.

7 | When the Beat Was Born

Author: Laban Carrick Hill

Age-Range: 7-11 years old

Overview: If you like hip hop, you need to know the name Clive Campbell. Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, is known as the creator of hip hop. Learn about his life in the Bronx, his neighborhood dance parties, and his idea of using two turntables to DJ his parties in the biography, When the Beat Was Born.

8 | Counting on Katherine

Author: Helaine Becker

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: Katherine’s curiosity turned her into a star student, but being black in America held her back from achieving her academic dreams–that is until NASA started hiring Black mathematicians. Katherine Johnson is one of the historic Hidden Figures from Apollo 13. Read about her journey to greatness in this picture book.

9 | Ira’s Shakespeare Dream

Author: Glenda Armand

Age-Range: 7-11 years old

Overview: A story of perseverance, Ira Aldridge dreamed of becoming a Shakespearean actor. At the time, however, only white men were allowed to perform in plays. Ira knew he was talented and was determined to make his dream come true. Learn the story of Ira Aldridge and how he became an honored actor in Europe during the late 1800s.

10| Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Author: Nikki Grimes

Age-Range: 6-11 years old

Overview: Learn about America’s Black, female Vice President, Kamala Harris, and her journey to become a renowned political leader. This story takes you from her childhood to her seat in the senate. Note: this story was published in August of 2020, and lets readers know Kamala Harris is still “writing her American story.” Still, a worthwhile read!

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