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

Henry Aaron’s Dream

Matt Tavares (Author and Illustrator)

Growing up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1940’s, Henry Aaron wanted to be a big-league baseball player. He didn’t even have a bat or a baseball; just his dreams. But his father told him “Ain’t no colored ballplayers.” The baseball diamonds in town all had signs that said WHITES ONLY. But when Henry was twelve, a single park opened up that said COLORED ONLY, and Henry found a new home away from home. In 1947, when Henry was thirteen, Jackie Robinson crossed the major league baseball color line, and Henry’s whole world changed. Now he knew anything was possible. Henry first played in minors, and it wasn’t easy because of the prejudice he encountered. But he just kept thinking of Jackie Robinson and persevered. In 1954 his dream finally came true with the Milwaukee Braves, ironically, in a game against Jackie Robinson! This is an inspiring and exciting story with vibrant, realistic illustrations. At the back of the book, the author has included the yearly statistics for Aaron’s major league baseball career.

Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Candlewick, 2010
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763658200
ISBN-13: 978-0763658205


2934707Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Author), R. Gregory Christie (Illustrator)

Bass Reeves was a former slave who escaped to freedom in the Indian Territories and became a U.S. Marshal. For three decades, Bass was the most feared and respected lawman in the territories, making more than 3,000 arrests. This story of a remarkable African American hero of the Old West includes a glossary of old west terms.

Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Library Binding: 40 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (November 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0822567644
ISBN-13: 978-0822567646


Alvin Ailey

Andrea Pinkney (Author), Brian Pinkney (Illustrator)

Alvin Ailey, credited with revolutionizing and popularizing modern dance, is profiled in this picture-book biography. The story begins with Ailey’s childhood in Texas and moves with him to Los Angeles and then New York, where he forms his own dance troupe (still in operation today although Ailey died in 1989). Ailey’s choreography combined techniques from ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance. The illustrator focuses on the dynamic and vibrant motions of the dancers, showing them leaping and twirling and bending and turning. This inspirational book may help readers envision less stereotypical paths open to them in life.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (September 5, 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786810777
ISBN-13: 978-0786810772


6472069Paul Robeson

Eloise Greenfield (Author), George Ford (Illustrator)

This book for children on Paul Robeson does a fine job in summarizing the main accomplishments of Robeson’s life. He excelled in sports (he won 15 varsity letters in four different sports), academics (he was the class valedictorian at Rutgers in 1919), languages (he could can perform in more than 25 different languages), acting, and singing. He had wanted to practice as a lawyer (he earned his law degree at Rutgers) but was prevented from doing so because of racism. He became an activist for civil and human rights. The book doesn’t shrink from addressing some of the hard facts of Robeson’s life.

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (March 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600602568
ISBN-13: 978-1600602566


George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

Gaylia Taylor (Author), Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Most people aren’t aware that it was a mixed-race inventor who came up with the potato chip, the most popular snack food item in America. The son of an African-American father and a Native American mother, George Crum was working as the chef of an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, New York in the summer of 1853 when he incidentally invented the chip.

One of the dinner guests complained that Crum’s French fries were too thick and sent back the order. Crum, irritated, sent back a dish of fries so thin, they couldn’t even be speared with a fork. To everyone’s surprise, the guest loved them. Other diners began requesting what would soon be called Saratoga Chips.

George went on to build his own restaurant and featured potato chips in a basket placed on every table. In those days, people of color were not allowed to take out patents on their inventions, and Crum never profited from his invention. [Today, potato chips are eaten at the rate of 1.2 billion pounds annually.]

Bright acrylics show the patrons of Crum’s restaurants, and Crum in the kitchen cooking and inventing new recipes.

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Lee & Low Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600606563
ISBN-13: 978-1600606564


Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra

Andrea Pinkney (Author), Brian Pinkney (Illustrator)

Jazz legend Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, “King of the Keys,” born in 1899, is renown for creating a whole new kind of music. A musician and composer, he authored more than 1000 works, including ballet and film scores, orchestral suites, and musicals. This biography employs a lyrical text and swirls of color to convey the sounds of the music, with curling notes and loop-de-loops and flights of “sassy-cool” notes. Background information and source notes are included at the end of the text. This award-winning book is both a visual and auditory treat.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; First Edition edition (December 12, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786814209
ISBN-13: 978-0786814206


The Hallelujah Flight

Phil Bildner (Author), John Holyfield (Illustrator)

In 1932, James Banning was the first African American to complete a transcontinental flight. The story of the journey is told from the viewpoint of his copilot and mechanic, Thomas Allen. Together, they flew a small plane from Los Angeles to New York in 21 days. The illustrations not only reveal the sweeping landscapes underneath them as they flew, but also the situations they encountered on the ground when they stopped for food and fuel; some folks were welcoming and some were decidedly not. There is a happy ending, however, as they received a huge welcome in Harlem. The author includes extra informational material for adults. I’m not exceptionally enamored of John Holyfield’s style, and find his pictures a little too cartoonish and not bright enough, but that’s a personal preference. It’s a good story,and there is a map of the U.S. showing their route.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (January 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0399247890
ISBN-13: 978-0399247897


I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

Matthew Henson joined Naval Officer Robert Peary, and together they made seven trips to the Arctic region. On April 6, 1909, Peary and Henson stood together at the Pole, making history. In all, Matthew Henson accompanied Robert Peary on voyages and expeditions for a period of nearly 23 years. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, traded with Inuit and learned their language, and was known as Peary’s right-hand man during this time. In 1937 Henson was admitted as a member to the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City, the first African American to be accepted. In 1948 he was made an “honorary member,” a distinction for only 20 people annually.

Age Range: 6 – 11 years
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Walker Childrens; 1st edition (January 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802796885
ISBN-13: 978-0802796882



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13 Responses to Black History Month – A Selection of Books for Kids on Notable Men in African American History

  1. Sandy says:

    I sure hope the Birthday Party Pledge people are appreciating this wonderful series you’ve been doing! These are incredible looking books. Hey BTW, did you see where Heart and Soul won the Coretta Scott King award this year???

  2. Julie P. says:

    Wow Jill! Another amazing post. All of these books look amazing and I can’t wait to share them with Booking Son.

  3. What a great selection of books! I’d love to read Alvin Ailey book – I’ve seen the Alvin Ailey dance troupe and they are superb!

  4. Patti Smith says:

    I love this kind of children’s literature…real people, beautiful illustrations and historical stories 🙂 Great list!!!

  5. SF says:

    Excellent website with such useful information! Thanks!

  6. Beth Shaum says:

    I loved the Duke Ellington book. I’m definitely going to have to check out the Alvin Ailey one. Great post!

  7. I have a copy of Duke Ellington and Bad News for Outlaws…they’re awesome books!!

  8. zibilee says:

    All of these sound and look like such great books! I love Bad News for Outlaws and George Crum and the Saratoga Chip in particular, because I love offbeat stories. This was a great post today, Jill! I enjoyed getting a look at these amazing books!

  9. Jenners says:

    Great collection of books … some of these guys I knew about and some I didn’t.

  10. Great list of books! Thanks!

  11. stacybuckeye says:

    Seeing as how Gage has turned into a potato chip fiend I was interested to read about the creator of the potato chip! I’ll definitely look for that one.

  12. Margot says:

    Another great collection. The only one I’ve read on the list is Bad News for Outlaw. Great book for boys too. I’ve made a list of all these books. I’ve enjoyed this feature on your blog this month.

  13. Great collection! If anyone after reading this website, wants know more about black history, I have information that will astonish you about our roots. Thus, for anyone reading this site and wishing to know more about their roots and black history going back 3000 years I suggest you visit my black history website and learn some astonishing truth about your ancestors and your real identity as a black man or woman. Thank You.

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