Black History Month – A Selection of Picture Books for Kids on Notable Women in African American History

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Andrea Davis Pinkney (Author), Stephen Alcorn (Illustrator)

Stories of ten important women are given here: Sojourner 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. Each biography is preceded by an oil painting highlighting that woman’s accomplishments.

Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Hardcover: 120 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books; 1st edition (September 1, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 015201005X


Only Passing Through

Anne Rockwell (Author), R. Gregory Gregory Christie (Illustrator)

Sojourner Truth was born a slave, sold three times before she was thirteen. Telling the story in a way that is appropriate for young readers, the author explains how the little slave girl Isabella transformed herself into the free woman “Sojourner Truth,” an itinerant preacher against the evils of slavery and one of the most powerful voices of the antebellum abolitionist movement. Hers is an amazing story, and cannot help but inspire all who read it.

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Dragonfly Books (December 10, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 044041766X
ISBN-13: 978-0440417668


When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson

Pam Munoz Ryan (Author), Brian Selznick (Illustrator)

In the early 20th Century, Marian Anderson was one of America’s greatest singers, but faced numerous difficulties because of her race. Music schools ignored her applications (“We don’t take colored!”) and later when she was a professional singer, many venues refused to let her perform in spite of her tremendous success and popularity in Europe. The narrative smoothly integrates these biographical details with lyrics from the gospel songs that Anderson made famous, and the emotion behind the lyrics is expertly captured by Selznick. [As you may know, Selznick is the author and illustrator of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. Selznick uses similar techniques in this book to “stage” the scenes he draws, including variations on the angle of sight, elaborate detail, and the look of film stills.] One of the highlights of the book is the two-page depiction of Anderson’s concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Arranged by Eleanor Roosevelt in reaction to the refusal by the Daughters of the American Revolution to let Anderson sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall, the Lincoln Memorial concert drew 75,000 of all colors. [Interestingly, most of the illustrations in the book use only tints of bronze, brown, sepia, and black. Occasionally, a figure is shown in color, such as Marian Anderson when, in 1955, she became the first African-American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.] The book includes notes by both the author and the illustrator, a timeline and a discography.

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1st edition (October 1, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439269679
ISBN-13: 978-0439269674


Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman

Kathleen Krull (Author), David Diaz (Illustrator)

Wilma Rudolph, born in 1940, got polio just before she turned five, and doctors did not expect her to walk ever again. She was determined to overcome her handicap, and worked incessantly at leg exercises. By age 20, she was representing the U.S. in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where, despite a twisted ankle, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals during a single Olympic competition. Her story, illustrated with bright colors in a cubist style, is one that will give you a whole new perspective on what can be done to overcome barriers, and yet another demonstration of true courage by a heroic young girl.

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Paperback: 44 pages
Publisher: Sandpiper (February 1, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0152020985
ISBN-13: 978-0152020989


The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend

Ann Ingalls & Maryann Macdonald (Authors), Giselle Potter (Illustrator)

Famous jazz pianist, composer, and arranger Mary Lou Williams worked with both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and helped mentor such greats as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. A child prodigy, she taught herself to play the piano and by age six was already helping to support her ten half-brothers and sisters by playing for parties. Later on in life, she formed her own record label and publishing companies, founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival, composed sacred hymns and masses, and made television appearances. She also set up a charitable organization and opened thrift stores in Harlem, directing the proceeds, along with ten percent of her own earnings, to musicians in need. This book, however, focuses on her life as a little girl, and how the sounds from nature and from the streets around her inspired her musical sense. The warm and colorful illustrations, drawing from the naïve or primitive art tradition, are perfect for the focus on the artist’s childhood. Musical notes and sounds swirl throughout the text, certain to intrigue and entertain the children who read this.

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (January 18, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0618959742


Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis

Robbin Gourley (Author and Illustrator)

Edna Lewis was an African American chef and author best known for her books on traditional Southern cuisine and for her pioneering efforts in the natural foods movement. She won numerous awards for her cooking and her books, and was the first recipient of the James Beard Living Legend Award. This book tells about her childhood on a farm in Virginia, and harvesting and tasting the bounty of her family’s farm. The text is mouth-watering and interspersed with folk sayings, songs, and rhymes. Delicate and enchanting watercolors capture the appeal of farm life, and there are even kid-friendly recipes included (Strawberry Shortcake, Corn Pudding, Apple Crisp, Pecan Drops, and Nut-butter Squares). If you don’t finish this book craving a fresh peach pie with peach ice cream on top, you are a stronger person than I!

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books (June 18, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0618158367
ISBN-13: 978-0618158362


Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century

Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Raúl Colón (Illustrator)

Mary Violet Leontyne Price, born in 1927, is an American soprano, winner of 18 Grammy awards (including a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989), and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perhaps most importantly, she is a trail-blazer who helped pave the way for other black women in the arts. This book for children features the highlights of Price’s career.

Age Range: 5 – 9 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (December 23, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375856064
ISBN-13: 978-0375856068


Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

Deborah Blumenthal (Author), Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

This book tells the little-known story of Ann Cole Lowe, born in 1898, an African-American fashion designer who overcame a great deal of hardship and prejudice to become a leading star in the fashion world, even designing the wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier when she married John F. Kennedy.

Both fans of inspiring civil rights stories and of beautiful gowns will love this book.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Little Bee Books (January 17, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1499802390
ISBN-13: 978-1499802399



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7 Responses to Black History Month – A Selection of Picture Books for Kids on Notable Women in African American History

  1. I met Pam Munoz Ryan a few years back and loved listening to her talk about her childhood and such. I have this book autographed by her, it’s simply gorgeous. I also added that title to my elementary library when I was there. Now I work in a Middle School library and miss the picture books!!

  2. I love that you’re spotlighting these books this month! What a wonderful selection – they all look good to me.

  3. fiona says:

    Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is another amazing book that I found while listening to The book report (

  4. Margot says:

    I’m enjoying these highlighting posts this month. The one that’s new to me here is The Little Piano Girl. I’m going to see if our library has it. If not, perhaps they’d like a copy. I love picture books. So great for the imagination – at any age.

  5. stacybuckeye says:

    What a great resource the Birthday Party site will be. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Julie P. says:

    Just an amazing collection of books. The covers alone drew me in and then I read the descriptions. Just wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Rachel says:

    Thanks so much for featuring these books! My husband and I are in the process of adopting an AA little girl and these will be great to have for her library so we can all learn about these AA women role models.

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