Black Power: 47 Children’s Books on Black Activists, Innovators, and Scholars Who Changed History

Feb 1, 2018 · 31 min read
Art by Kadir Nelson

This is the meaning of Negro History Week. It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History week. We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has influenced the development of civilization. — Carter G. Woodson, The Celebration of Negro History Week, April 1927

Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves and “Father of Black History Month”, observed that in spite of African Americans being central to the story of America, their accomplishments were largely neglected in the books and discussions of American history. He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture. Woodson and the ASALH launched “Negro History Week” — the week of Frederick Douglass’ birthday in February — to support schools in promoting greater knowledge of Black history. Colleges and universities across the United States started extending Negro History Week to a full month; and in 1976, Black History Month was decreed as a national observance.

To honor the power, place, and importance of Black voices telling Black stories, this list features books written by Black authors. The majority (64%) of children’s books about Black people (and Black history) are written by white authors. White voices have historically been (and continue to be) given priority over Black people to define and document Black stories.

This book list was created by The Conscious Kid, in partnership with LINE4LINE. The Conscious Kid is a critical literacy organization that promotes access to 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 on this list are available to read at the LINE4LINE barbershop program during Black History Month.

Schomburg, The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked. Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house, he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world. Ages 9–12.

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and sparked a boycott that changed America. Harriet Tubman helped more than three hundred slaves escape the South on the Underground Railroad. Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The lives these women led are part of an incredible story about courage in the face of oppression; about the challenges and triumphs of the battle for civil rights; and about speaking out for what you believe in — even when it feels like no one is listening. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s moving text and Stephen Alcorn’s glorious portraits celebrate the lives of ten bold women who lit the path to freedom for generations. Includes biographies of Sojournor Truth, Biddy Mason, Harriet Tubman, Ida B.Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Josephine Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm. Ages 6–9.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon: Celebrate the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress and civil rights activist. Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more — the first ever studio contract for a Black actress. But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling. Ages 4–8.

Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes From Past and Present by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins: Join us on a journey across borders, through time and even through space to meet 52 Black icons from the past and present in a celebration of achievement. Meet figureheads, leaders, and pioneers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks, as well as cultural trailblazers and sporting heroes, including Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, and Serena Williams. Discover how their childhood dreams and experiences influenced their adult achievements. Ages 8–11.

Radiant Child, The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe: Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. This book introduces young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean — and definitely not inside the lines — to be beautiful. Ages 6–9.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being Black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world. In this beautifully illustrated picture book, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. Ages 4–8.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz, illustrated by AG Ford: 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. Ages 6–10.

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome: We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. As Araminta she was a young girl whose father showed her the stars and the first steps on the path to freedom. An evocative poem and stunning watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her a larger than life hero. Ages 4–8.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes: Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength. Ages 6–12.

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison: Explore the roots of rap in this stunning, rhyming, triple-timing picture book! The roots of rap and the history of hip-hop have origins that precede DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Kids will learn about how it evolved from folktales, spirituals, and poetry, to the showmanship of James Brown, to the culture of graffiti art and break dancing that formed around the art form and gave birth to the musical artists we know today. Written in lyrical rhythm by award-winning author and poet Carole Boston Weatherford and complete with flowing, vibrant illustrations by Frank Morrison, this book beautifully illustrates how hip-hop is a language spoken the whole world ‘round, it and features a foreward by Swizz Beatz, a Grammy Award winning American hip-hop rapper, DJ, and record producer. Ages 4–8.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: Featuring forty trailblazing Black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things — bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come. Ages 8–12.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson: 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 civil rights. Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s heart and dreams. Ages 3–7.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore. And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. In his father’s bookstore people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and a place for people to stand up for what they believed in. Ages 7–10.

Jake Makes A World: Jacob Lawrence, an Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt, illustrated by Christoper Myers: Jake Makes a World follows the creative adventures of the young Jacob Lawrence as he finds inspiration in the vibrant colors and characters of his community in Harlem. From his mother’s apartment, where he is surrounded by brightly colored walls with intricate patterns; to the streets full of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, sounds, rhythms, and smells; to the art studio where he goes each day after school to transform his everyday world on an epic scale, Jake takes readers on an enchanting journey through the bustling sights and sounds of his neighborhood. Ages 4–8.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: Chosen as a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2016, this poetic, nonfiction story about a little-known piece of African American history captures a human’s capacity to find hope and joy in difficult circumstances and demonstrates how New Orleans’ Congo Square was truly freedom’s heart. As the enslaved relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles their duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square. This book has a foreword from Freddi Williams Evans, a historian and Congo Square expert, as well as a glossary of terms with pronunciations and definitions. Ages 4–8.

Take A Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett: James Van Der Zee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken by a Black man, — James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance — politicians such as Marcus Garvey, performers including Florence Mills, Bill-Bojangles-Robinson, and Mamie Smith — and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too. Everyone wanted fancy portraits by James Van Der Zee. This is the story of a groundbreaking artist who chronicled an important era in Harlem and showed the beauty and pride of its people. Ages 7–11.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison: Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family s Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz. Ages 4–8.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph: 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 poor and 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. Ages 4–8.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier: Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed. Award-winning poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni's evocative text combines with Bryan Collier's striking cut-paper images to retell the story of this historic event from a wholly unique and original perspective. Ages 4–8.

Frederick Douglass, The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper: Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” The story of one of America’s most revered figures is brought to life by the text of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers and the sweeping, lush illustrations of artist Floyd Cooper. Ages 4–8.

Sugar Hill, Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: Take a walk through Harlem’s Sugar Hill and meet all the amazing people who made this neighborhood legendary. Sugar Hill celebrates the Harlem neighborhood that successful African Americans first called home during the 1920s. Children raised in Sugar Hill not only looked up to these achievers but also experienced art and culture at home, at church, and in the community. Books, music lessons, and art classes expanded their horizons beyond the narrow limits of segregation. Includes brief biographies of jazz greats Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis; artists Aaron Douglas and Faith Ringgold; entertainers Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers; writer Zora Neale Hurston; civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois and lawyer Thurgood Marshall. Ages 5–8.

Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson: “In this gorgeous, poetic picture book, Weatherford depicts Harriet Tubman’s initial escape from slavery and her mission to lead others to freedom as divinely inspired, and achieved by steadfast faith and prayer. The author frames the text as an ongoing dialogue between Tubman and God, inserting narration to move the action along. On the eve of her being sold and torn from her family, Tubman prays in her despair. In response, “God speaks in a whip-poor-will’s song. ‘I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free.’ “ The twinkling star encourages Tubman: “My mind is made up. Tomorrow, I flee.” The book’s elegant design clearly delineates these elements — Harriet’s words in italic, God’s calming words in all caps drifting across the pages, the narrator’s words in roman typeface — and makes this read like a wholly engrossing dramatic play. Nelson’s finely rendered oil and watercolor paintings, many set in the rural inky darkness of night, give his protagonist a vibrant, larger-than-life presence, befitting a woman who became known as the Moses of her people. His rugged backdrops and intense portraits convey all the emotion of Tubman’s monumental mission. A foreword introduces the concept of slavery for children and an author’s note includes a brief biography of Tubman.” (Publisher’s Weekly) Ages 5–8.

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by 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 gave birth to a vision of change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey — with dreams of freedom for all. Ages 4–8.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis: 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. John Lewis is now a Georgia congressman, who is still an activist today, recently holding a sit-in on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol to try to force a vote on gun violence. Ages 4–8.

Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson, illustrated by Bryan Collier: From award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier, a stunning new picture book version of the well-known song that has become known as the African-American National Hymn. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
Written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has become an anthem for African Americans in the struggle for equity. Bryan Collier’s vibrant, stunning artwork offers an inspirational and rousing interpretation of this powerful song that continues to influence and shape new generations of children today. Ages 4–8.

This is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome: During the time of the Great Migration, millions of African American families relocated from the South, seeking better opportunities. The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother. Ages 4–8.

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper: Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family’s new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that Black travelers weren’t treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to Black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws. Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth’s family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome Black travelers. With this guidebook — and the kindness of strangers — Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma’s house in Alabama. Ruth’s story is fiction, but The Green Book and its role in helping a generation of African American travelers avoid some of the indignities of Jim Crow are historical fact. Ages 7–11.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney: On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and his strong voice and powerful message were joined and lifted in song by world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was a moment that changed the course of history and is imprinted in minds forever. Told through Andrea Davis Pinkney’s poetic prose and Brian Pinkney’s evocative illustration, the stories of these two powerful voices and lives are told side-by-side — as they would one day walk — following the journey from their youth to a culmination at this historical event when they united as one and inspiring kids to find their own voices and speak up for what is right. Ages 8–12.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson: The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of Black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball. Using an “Everyman” player as his narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. The voice is so authentic, you will feel as if you are sitting on dusty bleachers listening intently to the memories of a man who has known the great ballplayers of that time and shared their experiences. But what makes this book so outstanding are the dozens of full-page and double-page oil paintings-breathtaking in their perspectives, rich in emotion, and created with understanding and affection for these lost heroes of our national game. Ages 8–12.

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney: The story of one of America’s greatest composers, Duke Ellington, is lavishly told here in jazz-inspired prose. The young Duke, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington D.C., in 1899, is introduced as a smooth talkin,’ slick-steppin,’ piano playin’ kid with his “fine as pie looks and flashy threads” — thus earning him the name “Duke,” by which he would be known his entire life. First hearing ragtime, the music that would inspire him to return to the piano — after briefly abandoning it for baseball — Duke produced his own made-up melodies: “one-and-two-umpy-dump.” As a young man, Duke founded a small band called the Washingtonians. Eager to experiment with livelier forms of music, the band soon split for New York City when they were invited to play at the famed Cotton Club in 1927. Ages 5–9.

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.

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.

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colón: 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. From award-winners Carole Boston Weatherford and Raul Colón, comes the story of a little girl from Mississippi who became a beloved star — one whose song soared on the breath of her ancestors and paved the way for those who followed. Ages 5–9.

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.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney: This picture book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement. Andrea Davis Pinkney uses poetic, powerful prose to tell the story of these four young men, who followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of peaceful protest and dared to sit at the “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter. Brian Pinkney embraces a new artistic style, creating expressive paintings filled with emotion that mirror the hope, strength, and determination that fueled the dreams of not only these four young men, but also countless others. Ages 7–10.

We March by Shane Evans: On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place — more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, advocating racial harmony. Many words have been written about that day, but few so delicate and powerful as those presented here by award-winning author and illustrator Shane W. Evans. When combined with his simple yet compelling illustrations, the thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience. Ages 3–8.

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier: Booker dreamed
of making friends with words,
setting free the secrets
that lived in books. Born into slavery, young Booker T. Washington could only dream of learning to read and write. After emancipation, Booker began a five-hundred-mile journey, mostly on foot, to Hampton Institute, taking his first of many steps towards a college degree. When he arrived, he had just fifty cents in his pocket and a dream about to come true. The young slave who once waited outside of the schoolhouse would one day become a legendary educator of freedmen. Award-winning artist Bryan Collier captures the hardship and the spirit of one of the most inspiring figures in American history, bringing to life Booker T. Washington’s journey to learn, to read, and to realize a dream. Ages 5–8.

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.

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls: Young John Coltrane was all ears. And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South in the 1930s: preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household. These vivid noises shaped John’s own sound as a musician. Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls have composed an amazingly rich hymn to the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane. Ages 4–8.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington: When Little Mae was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars, floating, gliding, and discovering. She wanted to be an astronaut. Her mom 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 as the first African American woman to travel in space. Ages 4–8.

Young Pelé: Soccer’s First Star 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.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson: In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports Black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born. Inspired by Betty’s real life, Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood with this book, painting an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging. Ages 10–14.

X, A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon: Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies — after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion — and that he can’t run forever. X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today. Ages 14 and up.

March (Trilogy) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first Black president. March is the first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story (including his childhood), it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own graphic novel bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations. Ages 11–15.

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.

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.


The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to challenging systemic racism and promoting positive identity development in youth. They work to counter anti-Black racism by promoting narratives and images that affirm and celebrate Blackness. The Conscious Kid also conducts research on racism in children’s literature and work with organizations and families nationally and internationally to promote access to anti-racist children’s books that center underrepresented and oppressed 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/

The Conscious Kid

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Children's books by and about underrepresented groups. Critical literacy.

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