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!

Top 10 Girl Power Books [PreK-5]

Children's Literature, Library

Looking for fictional books to empower young girls? You cannot go wrong with these ten. This list is geared toward preschool-second grade readers, but I truly believe picture books are meant for all ages. Most importantly, girl power books are NOT JUST FOR GIRLS! Whatever gender your child identifies with, expose them to female representation. Let’s teach all young readers to be feminists. Read girl, read!

1 | Cece Loves Science

Author: Vashti Harrison

Age-Range: 4-8 years old

Overview: Cece would make a great scientist because she LOVES to ask questions. For school, Cece and her best friend Isaac have to create their very own science project. One night, while Cece is eating dinner, her dog Einstein helps spark the perfect idea. Books showcasing girls in science are always a win!

2 | The Proudest Blue

Author: Ibithaj Muhammed

Age-Range: 4-8 years old

Overview: Faizah is ready for her first day of school. If only she was old enough wear a beautiful blue hijab to school like her sister, Asiya. A wonderful story of a proud black Muslim girl and her admiration for her older sister.

3 | The Paper Bag Princess

Author: Robert Munsch

Age-Range: 4-10 years old

Overview: A fairy tale with a twist. This princess needs saving from the dangerously awful dragon. She’s been locked up in a tower and only a prince can save her…Or so she thought. Her knight in shining armor turns out to be a bum so she goes on to save herself. Who needs a prince when you have girl power?

4 | Ninja Red Riding Hood

Author: Corey Rosen Schwartz

Age-Range: 4-10 years

Overview: You’ve heard of Little Red Riding Hood, but what about Ninja Red Riding Hood? No way this big bad wolf can defeat a karate trained girl and her tai chi granny. This rhyming tale is girl power in the literal sense.

5 | The Water Princess

Author: Susan Verde

Age-Range: 3-8 years old

Overview: Although this book is realistic fiction, the story is based on the life of super model, Georgie Badiel and her childhood in Burkina Faso. With minimal text, this poetic story takes readers through one girl’s journey for clean water in an African village. After reading The Water Princess I encourage you to research the life and work Georgie Badiel. The story is geared toward a younger audience, but I have read the story to middle schoolers with great intrigue! An inspiration for all ages.

6 | Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

Author: Andrea Beaty

Age-Range: 4-9 years old

Overview: Part of a very popular series by Andrea Beaty. On the way to school, Sofia’s abuelo hurts his ankle in a landfill. Upset that her abuelo cannot walk her to school anymore, Sofia gets an idea to clean up the town. She sets out to prove that kids can make change. In addition to Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, check out Ada Twist, Scientist; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Iggy Peck, Architect.

7 | The Little Red Fort

Author: Brenda Maier

Age-Range:

Overview: Ruby decides she wants to build a fort. Her brothers keep telling her she doesn’t know how to build anything, but she is out to prove them wrong. A feminist take on The Little Red Hen. Spoiler alert: Ruby lets the boys enjoy the benefits of her labor by inviting them inside for some cookies. I personally would have eaten all the cookies myself. Bonus: A Spanish version is readily available, too!

8 | I am Enough

Author: Grace Bryers

Age-Range: 3-8 years old

Overview: A beautiful brown skinned girl’s ode to loving herself and respecting others. The words alone are a work of poetry, but I am also obsessed wit Keturah A Bobo’s illustrations. Girls of different shapes, sizes, and skin colors unite to empower. Girls with glasses, girls in wheelchairs, and girls with head scarves are all represented in I am Enough.

9 | Lucía Luchadora

Author: Cynthia Leonor Garza

Age-Range: 4-6 years old

Overview: Lucía wants to be a superhero, but all the boys in her neighborhood tell her it’s not possible. Girls can’t be superheroes, can they? At first, Lucîa feels defeated, that is until her abuela reveals a family secret. After learning about some power female figures from her Mexican culture, Lucía masks up and proves the boys wrong.

10 | Dear Girl

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Age-Range: 3-8 years old

Overview: The title explains it all. A lovely letter to a young girl, reminding her that she is smart, strong and wonderful. Make it a daily affirmation for daughters to hear they are worthy and valuable. You can start with reading this story.

About Our Librarian

Hello! My name is Carolyn Sauer and I am a literary apothecary for young souls–or simply put, a children’s librarian. My goal is to create compassionate and voracious readers through diverse literature.

I have worked on multiple children’s book award committees and if I have learned one thing from my years as a librarian it is that children’s books are created for children. Adults, please remember not to take books too seriously. If a child has deemed a book as good, then it is good. Do not try to ague with the experts.

Want to know what I am currently reading? Check out my instagram @ms_sauer_reads