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African American Children's Biographies

February is National African American History Month, and we've put together a series of suggestions for children's reading materials. The library has an assortment of biographies featuring African Americans throughout history. Several of these titles have been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciate of African American culture and universal human values.

NOTE: Children read at different levels at different times in their lives. It is up to the child and their parent to determine which of these suggestions are appropriate for them.


Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Recognized with the National Book and Coretta Scott King Author Awards among other honors, this poetic autobiography of an award winning author takes us back in time to the 1960s and 1970s.

Josephine: the dazzling life of Josephine Baker by words by Patricia Hruby Powell ; pictures by Christian Robinson
In this Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree,  this introduction to the life of a performer and civil rights activist traces her journey from the slums of St. Louis to the world's most famous stages.

Taking flight: from war orphan to star ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince
This memoir of Michaela DePrince, who is now 17 and a premier ballerina but previously lived in war-torn Sierra Leone.

Turning 15 on the road to freedom: my story of the 1965 Selma voting rights march by Lynda Blackmon Lowery ; as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley ; illustrated by PJ Loughran
Sharing her story of being the youngest person to complete the Selma to Montgomery March, the author describes her frequent imprisonments for her participation.

A volcano beneath the snow: John Brown's war against slavery by Albert Marrin
While assessing his role in the Harper's Ferry raid that helped trigger the Civil War, Marrin considers John Brown's character, influence, and religious beliefs.

The forbidden schoolhouse: the true and dramatic story of Prudence Crandall and her students. by Suzanne Jurmain
Prudence Crandall attempted to open and maintain one of the first African American schools in America, but faced riots, arson, jail, and general resistance from many of the townsfolk.

Etched in clay: the life of Dave, enslaved potter and poet by Andrea Cheng ; woodcuts by the author
Dave was an enslaved potter who inscribed his works with sayings and poems in spite of South Carolina's slave anti-literacy laws in the years leading up to the Civil War. Also see Dave the Potter  a Caldecott Honored title by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle ; illustrations by Alix Delinois
Mumbet was a Massachusetts slave from the Revolutionary era who in 1781 successfully used the Massachusetts Constitution to be freed.

Onward: a photobiography of African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson
Containing archival photographs from the early 20th century, this biography provides information on the only person to be award National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal posthumously, as racism prevented his recognition as part of the Robert E. Peary's expedition to reach the North Pole.

March. Book one by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March: book two by written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin ; art by Nate Powell
The first two titles in an anticipated trilogy, these graphic novel autobiographies portray the life of civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis

Little Melba and her big trombone by Katheryn Russell- Brown ; illustrations by Frank Morrison
In this Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree, readers learn how musician Melba Doretta Liston became a trombone player and composed and arranged music for many of the great jazz musicians during her time.

All aboard!: Elijah McCoy's steam engine by Monica Kulling ; illustrated by Bill Slavin
The son of a slave, African Canadian inventor Elijah McCoy studied mechanical engineering in Scotland, but when the only job he could get upon returning to the United States was shoveling coal, he went on to invent a means of oiling the engine while the train was running, changing train travel forever.

How I discovered poetry by Marilyn Nelson ; illustrations by Hadley Hooper
In this poetic autobiography, the author reflects on her childhood in the 1950s and her development as an artist.

Twice as good: the story of William Powell and Clearview, the only golf course designed, built and owned by an African-American by Richard Michelson ; illustrated by Eric Velasquez
William J. Powell was an African American golfer who face discrimination when trying to compete so he built his own golf course where anyone was welcome.

Searching for Sarah Rector: the richest black girl in America by Tonya Bolden
As a black citizen of the Creek Indian nation, Sarah Rector and her family received a land allotment. When it was discovered that there were oil deposits, she amassed a million dollar fortune by age 18, but her disappearance sparked allegations of kidnapping and speculation aimed at her legal guardians.

Also check out the Who Was Series, a popular series of biographies (including Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Frederick Douglass) that has recently expanded into the What Was Series that explains historic events such as the Underground Railroad and the March on Washington.