This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday over at ThatArtsyReaderGirl is heroes/heroines from books; so my take on that is a little more than ten real life heroes and heroines. My way of honoring amazing people for Black History Month: picture book biographies featured here today about both known and unknown people, today and always.
I tried to stop at ten picture book biographies, I really did, but then I recalled other books I read and had seen before (and wanted to read, so did it now!) and the list grew. I have more books but not enough time for now, so that will be another day, another post.
This post contains Amazon and other affiliate links, that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Please see the full disclosure for more information. I only recommend products I would (or have already) use myself.
Honoring Amazing People For Black History Month: Picture Book Biographies
I love reading picture book biographies! They have been an immense source of discovery, information, and inspiration for me always, and I learn so much that I might have otherwise never learned. Today’s list brings to you so many famous and well-known as well as unsung and unknown personalities of Black History, and each one of these picture book biographies is a must-read!
Before She Was Harriet
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome (4 – 8 years, and up)
We have all heard of Harriet Tubman, and here in this beautifully illustrated and lyrical narrative, we discover all her many layers and facets.
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation (Incredible Lives for Young Readers) written by Pat Sherman and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (8 – 12 years, and up)
Benjamin Holmes’s story is inspiring indeed. Holmes was an enslaved boy who taught himself to read at a young age despite oppression and obstacles. Sherman’s powerful narrative accompanied by Floyd Cooper’s stunning artwork make this a must-read book about a little known everyday hero.
The Book Itch
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (7 – 10 years, and up)
A book about a bookstore, and so much more! I had no idea about this bookstore and it follows that I did not know about the person who started it all too. An amazing read about the power of words and books and bookstores and the people within.
Call Me Miss Hamilton
Call Me Miss Hamilton: One Woman’s Case for Equality and Respect by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
An inspiring story indeed. I hadn’t know of Miss Hamilton until I read this book. And it did make me realize even more strongly about how addressing someone the right way is so very important and can make all the difference.
Counting on Katherine
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk (3 – 6 years, and up)
This book takes us behind the successful and safe landing of Apollo 13 to the woman who made it all possible – Katherine Johnson! While I did know of Johnson’s story thanks to watching the Hidden Figures movie, this book refreshed my memory and is a great introduction to this amazing genius.
Dave the Potter
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier (5 – 9 years, and up)
What I loved most about this book were the superb illustrations by Bryan Collier, and of course, discovering the story of Dave (we only know this creative man by his first name). He was an enslaved man who was a highly skilled potter, a poet, and an artist whose work lives on to this day.
Henry’s Freedom Box
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and with art by Kadir Nelson (5 – 9 years, and up)
With exquisite photorealistic and emotive illustrations by Kadir Nelson, this historical nonfiction is an excellent way to introduce slavery’s harsh realities to young readers. Henry’s journey to freedom is an unique story of one brave person’s huge gamble that paid off.
Lillian’s Right to Vote
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans (5 – 9 years, and up)
While this one is not a biography as such, it is inspired by a real-life Lillian, who I remember reading about when she voted for Barack Obama. This book serves as a reminder for how important the right to vote is, and also shows the timeline of voting rights here in the US. Poignant text and illustrations make this book an appealing read for one and all.
Mae Among the Stars
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed with art by Stasia Burrington (2 – 6 years, and up)
Adding this book to my list here made sense for so many reasons, in addition to the fact that is an awesome read in the first place. It encourages young (and old) readers to literally reach for the stars, with Mae Jemison being one of those wondrous stars. I am awed by Jemison and also by this beautiful picture book biography that tells her story!
Martin’s Big Words
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier (5 – 8 years, and up)
Rappaport expertly weaves her text about Martin Luther King with quotes (aka Dr. King’s ‘big words’) to create a powerful narrative here. Bryan Collier’s striking portraits and stunning collage and watercolor artwork both enhances and compliments the strong narrative to create a BIG read.
No Small Potatoes
No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden and illustrated by Don Tate (4 – 8 years, and up)
Another ‘I-had-no-idea-of-this-person’ book! Junius Groves’ story from being born a slave to becoming crowned the ‘potato king’ is certainly no small potatoes, as the title says. Bolden’s narrative, while wordier than other picture books for this age-range, is still straight forward and has a quaint ‘ap-peel’ to it. Don Tate’s colorful fun illustrations add to that ‘ap-peel’ I mentioned!
Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free
Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan with art by Keturah A. Bobo (6 – 8 years, and up)
Another unsung hero’s (and unknown before this book for me) story that shares the history of Juneteenth and the messages of being brave, of freedom, and true equality. Alice Faye Duncan’s writing is straightforward and impactful, and Keturah Bobo’s artwork is so very stunning! Plus, the recipe for the Juneteenth lemonade at the end of the book is a sweet bonus 🙂
The book is remarkable – in both its illustrations and its storytelling – just like George Moses Horton himself. One repeated statement in this post, from moi, is that I hadn’t known of the person(s) until I read the books mentioned here today. Horton’s journey from being enslaved to becoming the first published southern Black writer is empowering and inspiring!
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (5 – 9 years, and up)
I hadn’t heard of or known about Jean-Michel Basquiat before this book (I know! I should have). Javaka Steptoe’s stunning artwork is a testament to Basquiat’s brilliant talent while Steptoe’s narrative tells the story of a young artist who made it despite all odds, and had his moment of well-deserved glory.
Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Tonya Engel (7 – 10 years, and up)
Oh my! This is such a phenomenal picture book biography of a phenomenal woman! From the beautiful, totally clever, and filled with delightful details illustrations by Tonya Engel to the honest, raw, powerful, and lyrical free-verse narrative by Bethany Hegedus, this book is well, phenomenal. The book does not shy away from the hardships of Angelou’s life and of racism, abuse, and more.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni with art by Bryan Collier (4 – 8 years, and up)
Frame-worthy vivid illustrations with a well-written narrative (it is Nikki Giovanni after all) tell the story of Rosa Parks and her empowering ‘No.’
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words by Stacey Abrams and illustrated by Kitt Thomas (4 – 8 years, and up)
A delightful, engaging, and inspiring read from Stacey Abrams based on her own childhood experience of her first spelling bee, and of her love of words! Powerful messages of standing up for ourselves and others, as well as of putting in the best efforts always shine through in a most endearing package of art and narrative here.
The Story of Ruby Bridges
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford (6 – 9 years, and up)
This is a gorgeously illustrated story of Ruby Bridges, of how she became part of history by going to school.
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and art by Bryan Collier (3 – 8 years, and up)
A stunning picture-book autobiography with creative and vibrant illustrations and empowering non-preachy lessons of working hard towards your dreams! I loved the use of the cool catchphrase ‘Where Y’at?” as well as the portrayal of Shorty’s family and friends (all such wonderful positive role models!)
The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan
The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan by Joan Dicicco and illustrated by Ebony Glenn (7 – 10 years, and up)
This is the last book in today’s list but yet another that makes me realize that there are so many unsung heroes out there, and so much I need to learn and know still. Garrett Morgan was an amazing inventor and entrepreneur, and overall extraordinary man who overcame racial barriers and dedicated his life to improving everyday lives of people. (One of his inventions – the three-position traffic light!) An action packed narrative with illustrations that amplify it make this a must-read of a should-know everyday hero.
Related Reads and More Picture Book Biographies
- Alphabet of Black Cultures: A Review
- Magic Monday: 5 Children’s Books to Celebrate Black History Month
- The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne
- Discover many untold stories from African-American history in this book
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, have you read any of these books or any other picture book biographies? Do let me know your thoughts and recommendations.