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)
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)
Pam Munoz Ryan (Author), Brian Selznick (Illustrator)
In the early 20th Century, Marion 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 Marion 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)
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)
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)
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)