15 Children’s Books on Extraordinary Black Athletes by Black Authors

Illustration by Floyd Cooper from Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams

This list of 15 children’s books on extraordinary Black athletes was created by The Conscious Kid, in partnership with LINE4LINE. The Conscious Kid is a critical literacy organization that promotes access to children’s books by and about underrepresented groups. LINE4LINE is a Baton Rouge-based barbershop program that strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. All of the books featured are written by Black authors. They will be available to read at the LINE4LINE barbershop program during the month of September.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke: The true story of Marcenia Lyle, an African American girl who grew up to become “Toni Stone,” the first woman to play for a professional baseball team. One day in the 1930s, Marcenia and the boys she plays ball with learn that Gabby Street, a famous baseball manager, is scouting children for a baseball summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals. Eager to earn a spot, Marcenia plays her best, but is discouraged when Mr. Street tells her there are no girls in his camp. Convinced that baseball is her destiny, Marcenia won’t give up, ultimately proving her skill and passion to Mr. Street and her parents. Ages 6–10.

Why Are They Kneeling? by Damon Wyatt Thornton, illustrated by Bryan Brown: Kendrick thinks this Sunday will be like any other Sunday but is in for a surprise when he notices some of his favorite football players take a knee during our National Anthem. Kendrick finds the courage to ask a question and his family and friends find the courage to answer it. Ages 4–8.

Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant, illustrated by Floyd Cooper: Everyone knows the names Venus & Serena Williams. They’ve become synonymous with championships, hard work, and with shaking up the tennis world. This inspirational true story, written by award-winning sports journalist, Howard Bryant, and brought to beautiful life by Coretta Scott Kind Award and Honor winner, Floyd Cooper, details the sisters’ journey from a barely-there tennis court in Compton, CA, to Olympic gold medals and becoming the #1 ranked women in the sport of tennis. Here is a worthy ode to Venus and Serena Williams, the incredible sister duo who will go down in history as two of the greatest athletes of all time. Ages 4–8.

Young Pelé by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome: How did a poor boy named Edson — who kicked rocks down roads and dribbled balls made from rags — go on to become the greatest soccer player of all time? Here is the story of the boy who with great determination, lightning speed, and amazing skill overcame tremendous odds to become the world champion soccer star, Pelé. Talented author/illustrator team Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome bring his inspirational story vibrantly to life. Ages 4–8.

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers: In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl — an every girl — whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird. Ages 4–8.

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez: Jesse Owens grew up during the time of Jim Crow laws, but segregation never slowed him down. After setting world records for track in high school and college, he won a slot on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. That year, the Olympics were in Berlin, then controlled by the Nazis, and Hitler was certain they would be a chance to prove to the world that Aryans were superior to all other races. But the triumph of Jesse’s will helped him run through any barrier, winning four gold medals and the hearts of millions, setting two world records, and proving the Nazi dictator unmistakably wrong. The story of Jesse Owens comes alive for young readers with Carole Boston Weatherford’s award-winning free verse poetry. Ages 7–11.

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Robert McGuire: Born into an African American sharecropping family in 1880s Kentucky, Jimmy Winkfield grew up loving horses. The large, powerful animals inspired little Jimmy to think big. Looking beyond his family’s farm, he longed for a life riding on action-packed racetracks around the world. Like his hero, the great Isaac Murphy, Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield would stop at nothing to make it as a jockey. Though his path to success was wrought with obstacles both on the track and off, Wink faced each challenge with passion and a steadfast spirit. Along the way he carved out a lasting legacy as one of history’s finest horsemen and the last African American ever to win the Kentucky Derby. The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby brings to life a vivacious hero from a little-known chapter of American sports history. Readers are transported trackside to witness the heart-pounding story of a vibrant young man chasing down his dream. Ages 6–9.

Proud (Young Readers Edition): Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad: At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ibtihaj Muhammad smashed barriers as the first American to compete wearing a hijab, and made history as the first Muslim-American woman to medal. But it wasn’t an easy road — in a sport most popular among wealthy white people, Ibtihaj often felt out of place. She was fast, hardworking, and devoted to her faith, but rivals and teammates (as well as coaches and officials) pointed out her differences, insisting she would never succeed. Yet Ibtihaj powered on. Her inspiring journey from a young outsider to an Olympic hero is a relatable, memorable, and uniquely American tale of hard work, determination, and self-reliance. Ages 10–13.

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives? Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement. Ages 10–12.

Patina by Jason Reynolds: A newbie to the track team, Patina must learn to rely on her teammates as she tries to outrun her personal demons. Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons — to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT? Ages 10 and up.

Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld: The first memoir for young readers by sports legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At one time, Lew Alcindor was just another kid from New York City with all the usual problems: He struggled with fitting in, with pleasing a strict father, and with overcoming shyness that made him feel socially awkward. But with a talent for basketball, and an unmatched team of supporters, Lew Alcindor was able to transform and to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. From a childhood made difficult by racism and prejudice to a record-smashing career on the basketball court as an adult, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s life was packed with “coaches” who taught him right from wrong and led him on the path to greatness. His parents, coaches Jack Donahue and John Wooden, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and many others played important roles in Abdul-Jabbar’s life and sparked him to become an activist for social change and advancement. The inspiration from those around him, and his drive to find his own path in life, are highlighted in this personal and awe-inspiring journey. Written especially for young readers, Becoming Kareem chronicles how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar become the icon and legend he is today, both on and off the court. Ages 10–13.

Booked by Kwame Alexander: In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read. 
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match! Ages 10–12.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles: Simone Biles’ entrance into the world of gymnastics may have started on a daycare field trip in her hometown of Spring, Texas, but her God-given talent, passion, and perseverance have made her one of the top gymnasts in the world, as well as a four-time winner of Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro. But there is more to Simone than the nineteen medals — fourteen of them gold — and the Olympic successes. Through years of hard work and determination, she has relied on her faith and family to stay focused and positive, while having fun competing at the highest level and doing what she loves. Here, in her own words, Simone takes you through the events, challenges, and trials that carried her from an early childhood in foster care to a coveted spot on the 2016 Olympic team. Along the way, Simone shares the details of her inspiring personal story — one filled with the kinds of daily acts of courage that led her, and can lead you, to even the most unlikely of dreams. Ages 8 and up.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds: Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds. Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons — it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems — and running away from them — until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him? Ages 10 and up.

12 Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated Bryan Collier: From the moment a fired-up teenager won 1960 Olympic gold to the day when a retired legend, hands shaking from Parkinson’s, returned to raise the Olympic torch, the boxer known as “The Greatest” waged many a fight. Some were in the ring, against opponents like Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier; others were against societal prejudice and a war he refused to support because of his Islamic faith. The rap-inspired verse weaves and bobs and jabs, while bold collage artwork matches every move, capturing the “Louisville loudmouth with the great gift of rhyme” who shed the name Cassius Clay to take on the world as Muhammad Ali. Ages 10 and up.


The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and critical literacy organization dedicated to cultivating equity, uplifting counter-narratives, and promoting positive identity development in youth. The Conscious Kid works with schools, organizations and families nationally and internationally to promote access to children’s books that center underrepresented groups. www.theconsciouskid.org

LINE4LINE strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color in a creative way by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. Within the African American Community barbershops have historically served as social hubs. By bringing reading into this culturally significant space, youth not only build self-esteem with a fresh new haircut but also strengthen reading skills in a familiar environment. Using relatable role model mentors, LINE4LINE builds community from within. Founded in 2014 by O’Neil Curtis, LINE4LINE takes place at his Baton Rouge barbershop the first Monday of each month from 4–7pm. During this time LINE4LINE has given 1500 haircuts; placed over 3000 books into homes; created an onsite 24/7 Free Little Library; built a Barbershop Library of multi-cultural books; started a program with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public schools; participated in community outreach events, and established a back-to-school giveaway, serving an additional 3000 youth and families. In 2016, LINE4LINE received its 501c3 status and kicked off the 449 Book Club giving new books to boys which are read and discussed at the following month’s program. In 2017 LINE4LINE began seeking funds through grants and private donations and entered a partnership with The Conscious Kid to further diversify its Barbershop Library. Looking to the future, LINE4LINE plans to create an on-site space for youth to gather during out of school time with a lending library, support services and programs that seek to develop life passions. https://www.facebook.com/Line4LineBR/