December 9, 2021

Fun Girls

Shopping & Women Not Included

Kids’ books about Black heroes

11 min read

For 155 years, June 19 has been recognized as the celebration day for the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Known more formally as Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” this holiday is recognized by 47 states and people all over the country.

Historically, June 19, 1865, was rarely taught in history classes and books; but the day that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and enslaved people were free is important for all of us to recognize. If it weren’t for this major historical event, so many amazing contributions to American history made by Black Americans wouldn’t have happened.

In preparation for Juneteenth, here are 19 books to teach kids about the contributions that some notable Black heroes have made.

1. Juneteenth for Mazie

Credit: Picture Window Books

Learn about the history of Juneteenth.

Ages: 6 to 9
Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, is the day that Black Americans celebrate the emancipation of slaves from slavery. Over the past few years, through conversations regarding race, the history of racial dynamics, and injustices, more people have learned about this very important holiday. This book’s titular character, Mazie, not only learns her family history going back five generations, but how her family honors and celebrates that legacy today.

Get Juneteenth for Mazie at Amazon for $4.83

2. She Was The First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm

shirleychisholm

Credit: Lee & Low Books

Explore trailblazer Shirley Chisholm’s moxie.

Ages: 6 to 11

Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to run for president as a major party candidate in 1972. But her moxie in U.S. politics actually goes back to 1964, when she was the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly, and again in 1968 when she was the first Black woman elected to Congress. She was a trailblazer, and this book is perfect for any little kid who has aspirations of running for president of the United States—or just their class at school.

Get She Was The First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm at Amazon for $17.45

3. Have You Thanked an Inventor Today?

inventor

Credit: Digital Arts, Inc.

The question remains: Have you thanked an inventor today?

Ages: 5 to 12

Personally, I have not thanked an inventor today. But thanks to this book, I now know that I should have thanked Osbourn Dorsey when I opened my front door, since he invented the doorknob in 1878. Or I could thank Benjamin Banneker when I’m looking at my clock to see how late I am—he invented the first clock in America—or George Crum, who invented the potato chip. The list goes on. Even if you don’t have a little engineer-in-the-making on your hands, this book is a great way to teach kids (and adults!) about all of the everyday items that Black inventors have made.

Get Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? at Amazon for $14.69

4. Stevie Wonder: Little People Big Dreams

steviewonder

Credit: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Explore the musical origin of a living legend.

Ages: 4 to 7

When thinking of heroes, pop stars may not be the first people to come to mind. But Stevie Wonder is so much more than his music. He’s often deemed a hero because despite being visually impaired, he’s achieved so much in a world that was not designed with him in mind. This book is part of a series, Little People Big Dreams, so if your child likes this one, be sure to see what other figures have books in the series, too.

Get Stevie Wonder: Little People Big Dreams at Amazon for 12.99

5. Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells

idabwells

Credit: Atria One Signal Publishers

Let Ida B. Wells’ story show children how they can change the world.

Ages: 8 to 12
Long before “Girlboss” was used to describe women and feminism, Ida B. Wells was a suffragette trying to establish space for Black women within the budding feminist movement. She was a journalist who fought for anti-lynching, Black women’s rights, and desegregation. This book was written by her great-granddaughter and is a great way to show little girls how they can change the world.

Get Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells from Amazon for $18.99

6. Becoming Muhammad Ali

muhammadali

Credit: Jimmy Patterson

This biography teaches kids about how Muhammad Ali stood up for the causes he believed in.

Ages: 8 to 12
Some athletes are heroes because they’re champions in the world of their sport, and others are heroes because of the causes that they champion. Muhammad Ali is a hero for both of those reasons. This book teaches kids about one of the first athletes to stand up for causes he believed in while at the top of his game, and how he brought the athlete and activist parts of his identity together to fight for what he believed in.

Get Becoming Muhammad Ali at Amazon for $6.74

7. Who Were The Tuskegee Airmen?

tuskegee

Credit: Penguin Workshop

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is often left untold in history class.

Ages: 8 to 12
The Tuskegee Airmen were a predominantly Black group of pilots and airmen who fought in World World II. Their story was often untold in history classes until recently, so there’s a possibility that your kids don’t know much, if anything, about this group of men fighting for a country that fought equally as hard to oppress them.

This particular book, Who Were The Tuskegee Airmen?, tells the story of those airmen and pilots, while contextualizing race in America at that time. If you have a budding historian on your hands, this book is part of a series called “Who HQ,” which consists of over 250 books to teach children about historical events and figures with titles like, Who Is Oprah Winfrey?, Who Was Sojourner Truth?, What Were The Negro Leauges?, and What Was the Underground Railroad?

Get Who Were The Tuskegee Airmen? at Amazon for $3.49

8. The Story of Ruby Bridges

rubybridges

Credit: Scholastic Paperbacks

This picture book tells the story of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges’ bravery.

Ages: 4 to 8

Maybe it’s because most of the photos we see from the Civil Rights Movement are in black and white, but people often forget how recent the 1950s and 1960s were. In fact, most of us probably know multiple people who were alive when Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to desegregate a school in New Orleans. This picture book tells the story of how a 6-year-old Bridges (who is currently 66), displayed exemplary bravery in the simple act of trying to go to school.

Get The Story of Ruby Bridges at Amazon for $6.99

9. A Picture Book of Jesse Owens

jesseowens

Credit: Holiday House

Jesse Owens’ legendary story is told in this picture book.

Ages: 4 to 8

In 1936, Jesse Owens became a national hero when he became the first person to win four gold medals in track at the Olympics. As a Black man, representing the United States at this global event was an incredible feat on its own. But considering that the 1936 Olympics were in Berlin, and Adolf Hitler was in attendance as the Nazi party had just risen to power, Owens has been considered a symbol against fascism as well.

Get A Picture Book of Jesse Owens at Amazon for $7.99

10. Salt in His Shoes: Micheal Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream

michaeljordan

Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This book was written by Michael Jordan’s mother and sister.

Ages: 4 to 8

Let’s settle the debate once and for all: Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Some might try to argue Lebron James has taken that top spot, but Lebron James didn’t reinvent the game of basketball while inventing a new level of athlete super stardom like Jordan did. Before he did all of that, Michael Jordan was just a boy with a dream who didn’t make the varsity basketball team his sophomore year of high school. His mother and sister wrote this book to teach kids the value of perseverance by telling the story of how one of the biggest heroes of a generation almost gave up on his dream, but didn’t.

Get Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream at Amazon for $7.89

11. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

hiddenfigures

Credit: HarperCollins

Travel back in time to the space race with Katherine Johnson.

Ages: 4 to 8
The folks at NASA are busy, not only trying to figure out what’s happening on Mars, but also how to shrink the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Looking back at history, it’s easy to understand why. Along with a colleague, Katherine Johnson, a Black woman, calculated the projections that sent the first American into space in 1961 and put a man on the moon in 1969.

This book tells the story of Katherine’s contributions and maybe if this book had been out when I was a kid, I’d be floating around space right now instead of googling “what’s a space projection.” Katherine died last year at the age of 101, and was also the subject of the film Hidden Figures. She also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015.

Get Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race at Amazon for $10.93

12. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

josephinebaker

Credit: Chronicle Books

This poetic Josephine Baker biography is as engaging as it is beautiful.

Ages: 7 to 10
If you’re looking for an engaging read for your kids, add this biography of Josephine Baker to your cart ASAP. Josephine Baker was a multi-hyphenate, long before anyone was using the term. Kids can learn about this performer, activist, and World War II spy in this beautifully illustrated book. Written in poetic stanzas, this book is as engaging as it is beautiful.

Get Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker at Amazon for $9.49

13. Molly, By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

molly

Credit: Calkins Creek

Molly Williams paved the way for female firefighters.

Ages: 7 to 10
As we all now know, pandemics can change the fabric of society, and the 1818 Influenza pandemic was no different. A little over 200 years ago in the midst of an influenza pandemic, a slave by the name of Molly Williams helped put out a fire in New York City. If everyone wasn’t at home sick, then we might not have ever learned Molly Williams’ name or known her as the first Black firefighter. She was not only a hero in New York City for putting out that fire, but a hero in history as she paved the way for all female firefighters—regardless of race.

Get Molly, By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter at Amazon for $16.84

14. Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers

becomingmichelle

Credit: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

This historic former first lady’s first book is available for young readers.

Ages: 10 and up

Have you ever wanted to start a book club with your 10-year-old but been unable to agree on the book? She wants to read The Hunger Games and you do not, thus leaving you at an impasse.

Well here’s a solution for your first book: Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers. That’s right, Michelle Obama’s first book is now available for the 10-and-up crowd. You can both read the former first lady’s memoir together. So dust off your unopened copy or if you need to buy Becoming, go ahead and snag this one too!

Get Becoming; Adapted for Young Readers at Amazon for $12.64

15. Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

gordonparks

Credit: Albert Whitman Company

Did you know that Gordon Parks was the first Black photographer to shoot for Life and Vogue magazines?

Ages: 4 to 8

Gordon Parks was the first Black photographer to shoot for Life and Vogue magazines. When presenting this book to a child, you might have to explain that long before selfies, photographs were taken on cameras that only took pictures. Many of us might know that Gordon was a self-taught photographer, but he also was the director of Shaft, a poet, and a composer. This is a great book for the mini creatives in your life.

Get Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America at Amazon for $14.55

16. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

womenhistory

Credit: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Discover a variety of heroines from Black history.

Ages: 8 to 12

Mary Browser. Bessie Coleman. Sojourner Truth. Maya Angelou. Angela Davis. Raven Wilkinson. Alice Ball. Octavia E. Butler. Nina Simone. If even one of these names is unfamiliar to you, investing in this book is a must. Each pair of pages features an adorable image and a mini biography of a Black woman who has made an invaluable contribution sometime over the past three centuries.

Get Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History at Amazon for $6.68

17. All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom

alldifferent

Credit: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Teach your children about the origin of Juneteenth.

Ages: 5 to 9

Juneteenth for Mazie made this list because it teaches kids about Juneteenth from the perspective of the modern day. All Different Now: Juneenth, the First Day of Freedom teaches kids about the origins of Freedom Day from the perspective of what it was like to be there. This historical fiction picture book will educate as well as entertain.

Get All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom at Amazon for $13.55

18. Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History

meninblackhistory

Credit: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Celebrate a variety of heroes from Black history.

Ages: 8 to 12
Bass Reeves. Aaron Douglas. Prince. James Baldwin. Similarly to her book Little Leaders: Bold Men in Black History, author Vashti Harrison explores the stories of a variety of heroes of many different backgrounds. With almost 5,000 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.9 stars, the kids in your life are sure to enjoy this too.

Get Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History at Amazon for $11.98**

19. Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter

BLMbook

Credit: Tilbury House Publishers

This book is unlike any other on this list.

Ages: 8 to 12
This book is unlike every other book on the list: There’s no narrative or plot to this one, it’s just a book full of names of Black people who have made important contributions to history or were vocal on issues impacting Black Americans. So if your children have read all of the books on this list, or know who all of these figures are, this book will give limitless figures for kids to explore.

Get Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter at Amazon for $12.72

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