5 Picture Book Biographies: Black History Women

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Paw Prints, 2008

Description: Lyrical text describes Harriet Tubman’s spiritual journey as she hears the voice of God guiding her North to freedom on that very first trip to escape the brutal practice of slavery. This is a moving portrait of one of the most inspiring figures of the Underground Railroad — a woman who would take 19 subsequent trips back South without being caught.

Talking’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

  • Author: Nikki Grimes
  • Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
  • Publisher: Orchard Books, 2002

Description (from publisher): Soar along with Bessie Coleman in this inspirational tale of a woman whose determination reached new heights.Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was always being told what she could & couldn’t do. In an era when Jim Crow laws and segregation were a way of life, it was not easy to survive. Bessie didn’t let that stop her. Although she was only 11 when the Wright brothers took their historic flight, she vowed to become the first African -American female pilot. Her sturdy faith and determination helped her overcome obstacles of poverty, racism, and gender discrimination. Innovatively told through a series of monologues.

Firebird

  • Author: Misty Copeland
  • Illustrator: Christopher Myers
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2014

Description (from publisher): 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.

Coretta Scott

  • Author: Ntozake Shange
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Amistad, 2009

Description (from publisher: Celebrated poet and playwright Ntozake Shange captures the spirit of Civil Rights pioneer Coretta Scott King in this picture book biography gorgeously illustrated by Caldecott Medal artist 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 helped lead change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey—with dreams of freedom for all.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

  • Author: Patricia Hruby Powell
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2014

Description (from publisher): n exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

5 Picture Books About Names and Identity

Alma and How She Got Her Name

  • Author and illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2018

Description (from publisher): What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be. If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer. 

The Name Jar

  • Author and illustrator: Yangsook Choi
  • Publisher: Dragonfly Books

Description (from publisher): The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she? Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. 

My Name is María Isabel

  • Author: Alma Flor Ada
  • Illustrator: K. Dyble Thompson
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1995

Description (from publisher): For María Isabel Salazar López, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn’t call her by her real name. “We already have two Marías in this class,” says her teacher. “Why don’t we call you Mary instead?” But María Isabel has been named for her Papá’s mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother. Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she’s lost the most important part of herself?

Always Anjali

  • Author: Sheetal Sheth
  • Illustrator: Jessica Blank
  • Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press, 2018

Description (from publisher): Anjali and her friends are excited to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes. But Anjali can’t find her name. To make matters worse, she gets bullied for her “different” name, and is so upset she demands to change it. When her parents refuse and she is forced to take matters into her own hands, she winds up learning to celebrate who she is and carry her name with pride and power.

Thunder Boy, Jr.*

  • Author: Sherman Alexie
  • Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016

Description (from publisher): Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name…one that’s all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn’t want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

*Please read this discussion about the book before you decide to use it. I still recommend it, but keeping in mind those comments and putting it in context when necessary.

5 Picture Books About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Author: Doreen Rappaport.
  • Illustrator: Bryan Collier.
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2002

Description (from publisher): This picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings his life and the profound nature of his message to young children through his own words. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential and gifted speakers of all time. Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. Bryan Collier’s stunning collage art combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures. A timeline and a list of additional books and web sites help make this a standout biography of Dr. King.

I Have a Dream

  • Author: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Schwartz and Wade, 2012

Description (from publisher): An illustrated edition of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Presents illustrations and the text of the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, in which he described his visionary dream of equality and brotherhood for humankind.

We March

  • Author & illustrator: Shane W. Evans
  • Publisher: Square Fish (Macmillan), 2016

Description (from publisher): 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.

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

  • Authors/illustrators: Andrea Davis Pinkney and J. Brian Pinkney
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Co., Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Description (from publisher): 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.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.

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America: Martin Luther King, Jr’s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference

  • Author: Angela Farris Watkins
  • Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
  • Publisher: Abrams, 2011

Description (from publisher): In this inspirational story about Martin Luther King Jr.—told from the perspective of his niece, Angela—readers learn how King used words of love and peace to effectively fight for African Americans’ civil rights. The book focuses on words and phrases from King’s speeches, such as justice, freedom and equality. Angela Farris Watkins, PhD demonstrates the importance of her uncle’s language in bringing about changes during the Civil Rights Movement, from his “I Have a Dream” speech to the peace march in Alabama. Including a timeline and a glossary, this stirring and poignant book is a wonderful introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. and his powerful message of nonviolence.

New! Diversity in Kids Lit Series (Book Lists)

What’s a thematic list? What is included on these lists?

These are lists of recommended (by me) diverse books that address a certain topic or theme. Books included are mostly in English (or bilingual, but they must include an English version) and they have to fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Represent, portray, or include main characters who are indigenous people, people of color, or from an underrepresented group or subgroup (underrepresentation could be due to gender, sexual orientation, physical diversity, neurodiversity, mental illnesses, religion or spirituality, and other)
  • Written or illustrated by an “insider” to the group portrayed (#OwnVoices).
  • When possible, characters representing intersectionality will be preferred.
  • Currently, all titles recommended are picturebooks. I am not listing, recommending, or reviewing books for young readers (9-13) or for teens.

First thematic list: Picture Books About MLK!

*Disclaimers:

I am a past member and chair of the Pura Belpré Award (2014 and 2018). I won’t write public comments about books that were eligible for the PBA in those years, although they might be listed on thematic lists, without any personal review.

I am the 2021 Chair of the Walter Award, from WNDB. Our committee evaluates books for young readers (9-13) and for teens. For that reason, this year (2021) I am not recommending books for those ages, and I won’t share personal reviews or comments about any committee deliberations. I am only including picture books on my lists.

I receive books from publishers for the age categories mentioned above (not picture books). Occasionally publishers send me free copies of picture books for review, just because I am on their lists as a book reviewer. I never accept books with the condition of writing a public review or in exchange for recommendations, and I do not benefit monetarily from any of my recommendations. Titles are linked to Worldcat, for the public to find these books in a library.

If publishers wish to submit books, knowing that I don’t promise inclusion on these lists, links to purchase them, or a positive review, feel free to contact me.