Growing up, I learned about a few African-American women in school: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks. These three women have made important contributions to our society, but there are many more black women in our country who have helped shape our history. Sadly, due to bias and bigotry, their stories haven’t always been told, and their contributions haven’t always been recognized.
One of my favorite things about books is that they can open our eyes to a wide variety of history and experiences we might never otherwise encounter. The books on this list will teach you more about women whose names you know, and may also introduce you to some women you’ve never heard of before. They will all inspire you with their stories of bravery and perseverance.
My boys and I enjoyed diving into these rich histories; I think your family will, too.
4 Books About Amazing Black Women
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This book profile 40 amazing women who have made a difference in the world. You’ll see well-known women like Sojourner Truth and Maya Angelou, but also lesser know heroes like Alice Ball and Bessie Coleman. If you only check out one book on this list, this is the one to get!
I recommend sharing this collection with children ages 5 and up. Share a profile with your kids every night for a great bedtime read!
Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney
This collection assembles the stories of ten amazing women into one powerful volume. Learn more about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Shirley Chisholm, and more. This book shines with Pinkney’s powerful verse and stunning illustrations from Stephen Alcorn.
This is a great book for sharing with readers ages 7 and up.
This book, published in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, profiles over 50 black women who have changed the world. It contains gorgeous illustrations and extensive profiles of both well-known and little known world-changers.
This book is a powerful read for kids ages 8 and up.
Activists and Political Leaders
Parker Curry’s life was changed when she looked up at a portrait of Michelle Obama. When Parker looked up, she saw a queen, and strong and powerful woman; she saw someone who looked like her. And looking at that portrait built her confidence in a way nothing else could.
This sweet, inspirational account of a real moment is perfect for sharing with kids ages 3 and up.
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell
Sojourner Truth was born a slave, and for many people that meant that she had no worth outside of the work she could do. However, she didn’t let this stop her from becoming one of the most prominent voices in the abolitionist movement. This books weaves the facts of Sojourner’s life into a compelling story that young children will understand and embrace.
I recommend this book for kids ages 6 and up.
If you only know her as Harriet Tubman, you don’t know the whole story. She was more than a former slave. She was a spy, a suffragette, a general, a nurse, and so much more. This beautiful picture books delves into the many roles she played and names she took over the years of her epic life.
I recommend sharing this unique biography with readers ages 6 and up.
The devoted wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an important activist in her own right, both during her husband’s life and after his death. This book explores the harshness of Coretta’s childhood in the segregated southern United States, and how that led her to work for freedom for all people.
This picture book is an excellent choice for reading with kids ages 4 and up.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carol Boston Weatherford
Hatred, prejudice, and even physical violence could not keep Fannie Lou Hamer from speaking out about equal voting rights. During the Democratic National Convention, she gave a stirring speech that rallied the nation around the cause of Civil Rights — a speech that President Lyndon Johnson tried to keep from happening. Fannie Lou Hammer was truly an unstoppable force.
This picture book uses poetry and gorgeous illustrations to tell the story of a true American hero. I recommend sharing it with children ages 8 and up.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
The story of an amazing woman, told by another amazing woman! Nikki Gionvanni’s writing is full of detail, and it makes readers feel as though they are right in the middle of the story.
This book follows Rosa Parks through her day on December 1, 1955. It examines what Mrs. Parks might have been thinking and feeling, and what was going on in her personal life at the time. Giovanni takes an event that most of us know about and makes it feel brand new.
I recommend this gorgeous picture book for kids ages 5 and up.
Inspired by the Norman Rockwell painting, The Problem We All Live With, this book tells the powerful story of Ruby Bridges’ first day at a formerly segregated school in Louisiana. The book clearly explains the concept of segregation, and the challenges Ruby faced when integrating her local public school.
This book is an excellent introduction to segregation and the bravery it took to challenge the status quo. I recommend sharing it with kids ages 4 and up.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks heard the adults in her life talking about fighting segregation in her home of Birmingham, Alabama, and she felt something inside of her swell. She knew she had to get involved. So when the adults marched and picketed to end segregation, she marched along with them.
Audrey was arrested for being part of the protest, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to stand up for what was right. Her inspiring story shows kids that you’re never too young to make a difference
I recommend sharing this biography with readers ages 5 and up.
Racism and discrimination against African-Americans didn’t just happen in the South. In 1854, Lizzie Jennings was denied a seat in a New York streetcar. Lizzie decided to fight back, and she took her case to court, where she was represented by future president Chester A. Arthur. Lizzie won her case and became an example for others fighting for civil rights.
This powerful and informative picture book is an awesome read, and it’s great for sharing with children ages 6 and up.
One of the uncomfortable truths of our nation’s founders is that while they fought for independence and freedom, many were also slave owners who denied those rights to others. This book tells the story of Ona Judge, a slave owned by George and Martha Washington. Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, Ona escaped to freedom in New Hampshire. The Washingtons did not let her go quietly, and led a search for her that lasted for years after her escape.
This is a brutally honest and incredibly important book that tells a little known story of our first president. It’s a must-read for kids ages 8 and up.
This inspiring picture book tells the story of the heroes that Kamala Harris has encountered in her life. As readers learn more about these heroes, they also learn more about Harris, the first woman, African American, and South Asian Attorney General of California and the first black woman elected to the United States Senate. This lovely story shows how the things we do can inspire others, and how all of us can be superheroes.
I recommend this picture book for children ages 3 and up.
When the Montgomery Bus Boycott broke out in Alabama, Georgia Gilmore wanted to support it. Georgia was a cook at the National Lunch Company, and she knew food was how she could contribute to the cause. Georgia and her friends made and sold food to raise funds and help support the boycott. When people asked where the food and money came from, Georgia told them “nowhere;” she didn’t want credit or recognition. She just wanted to use her talents to support something she believed in.
We really loved this story of a little-known hero. The book even includes one of Georgia’s recipes! I recommend it for kids ages 5 and up.
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton
From childhood, Barbara Jordan was known for her strong voice and her willingness to speak out on behalf of others. Her voice takes her to law school, the Texas state senate, and eventually to the United States House of Representatives.
This picture book tells the story of a woman who didn’t let anything hold her back. It’s perfect for reading with little ones ages 3 and up.
In states where slavery was legal, it was often illegal to teach enslaved people to read. Nevertheless, Lilly Ann Granderson persisted. She started a midnight school to teach other enslaved people how to read and write, hidden by the cover of darkness. Lilly Ann knew she could get 39 lashes with a whip if she were caught. However, she knew how important education was, and she was willing to take the risk.
I learned so much from this story about a woman who changed so many lives. I recommend sharing it with readers ages 6 and up.
Art, Entertainment, Music, and Literature
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
I always knew that Josephine Baker was well-known as a performer, but until I read this book, I didn’t know that she was also a civil rights activist. This picture book explores her rise from working in St. Louis to performing around the world.
This compelling story of Baker’s life drew us all in, and my kids enjoyed it as much as I did. I recommend it for kids ages 5 and up.
Firebird by Misty Copeland
In this gorgeous book, the American Ballet Theatre’s first black female principal dancer Misty Copeland speaks words of encouragement to a ballet dancer struggling with self-doubt. Her message is a wonderful lesson for all children, especially those who may feel like they don’t fit in.
This exquisite book is an excellent choice for school-aged children.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Melba Dixon loved jazz music, and as a child taught herself to play the trombone. This eventually led to a prolific career in music, but she faced many obstacles along the way due to both her race and gender. We loved learning more about this great musician, and finding some of her music after we read the book!
I recommend sharing this book with kids ages 6 and up.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson
Florence Mills had a gift for song from a young age, and that gift took her far — all the way to Broadway. However, she still dealt with injustice and prejudice, and that led to a devotion to civil rights and helping other black artists. I didn’t know Florence’s story before I read this book, and I’m so glad I found it!
This book is great for kids ages 3 and up.
Maya Angelou was a world-renowned writer, but she was also a dancer, mother, humanitarian, activist, and even trolley car conductor. This deep biography dives into all the aspects of Angelou’s life, from her childhood in Alabama to her world-changing poetry and everything in between. It’s accompanied by absolutely breathtaking illustrations from Tonya Engel.
This powerful story is perfect for readers ages 7 and up.
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
A jazzy cat narrates the story about this legendary singer and her rise to fame. I love this book because of the great writing, gorgeous illustrations, and the overall “jazz” feel that it has. It’s a great introduction both to Fitzgerald and jazz music, and books from Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney are always winners.
This is a fantastic story to share with readers ages 6 and up.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Another excellent book from Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney! Mahalia Jackson was an acclaimed gospel singer who became one of the musical voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Follow her story and see how her life intertwined with that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and created one of the most powerful moments in history.
I recommend this book for kids ages 6 and up.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal
I had no idea that the creator of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress was a black woman who was forced to learn separated from the rest of her class in design school, due to her race. Ann Cole Lowe learned dressmaking alongside her mother, and continued making dresses even after her mother passed when she was 16. This book is a fascinating look at a little known designer.
This biography has stunning illustrations and beautiful prose, and is great for readers ages 5 and up.
Aretha Franklin is best known for her big, beautiful voice and her strong presence. But she was once a shy little girl who just loved to sing. This picture book biography follows Aretha from her earliest time on stage in her church choir, to her performances all around the world. It illustrates how hard work and talent can come together to make a truly beautiful career.
This powerful book is excellent for readers ages 5 and up.
Growing up, Beyonce was known as a quiet girl. But once she got on stage, she came to life! This story shows how the famous singer embraced what she loved, and overcame her fears to go after her dreams. It also encourages other young people to follow their passions and achieve their goals.
This bright and bold picture book is great for kids ages 4 and up.
Run the Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey by Caroline Moss
When Oprah Winfrey was told by her grandmother that one day her job would be cleaning and cooking; she bristled. She loved and respected her grandmother, but she wanted something different from what was considered acceptable for women at the time. She worked hard and blazed her own trail, and that led her to become one of the most successful people in history.
This upbeat book with gorgeous cut paper illustrations is great for kids in 3rd grade or higher to read on their own, but I think younger readers will love looking through it and reading the blurbs and facts that pop up.
Elizabeth Cotten heard music everywhere she went, and when she was a little girl, she turned her brother’s right-handed guitar upside down (she was a leftie) and taught herself to play. In a few years she was writing songs, and her song “Freight Train” became one of the best-known folk songs in history.
This story of patience and perseverance is great for children ages 5 and up.
Most of us have heard of the famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong, but did you know that his wife was also an accomplished musician? This bright and bold picture book explores the life of Lil Harden Armstrong, from her start playing music at church and at home to her career as a pianist, composer, and bandleader. Lil broke down barriers in jazz music at a time when a women’s place was considered to be only as a vocalist.
I recommend sharing this book with readers ages 6 and up.
Science and Medicine
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca
Dr. Patricia Bath grew up in the age of the Civil Rights Movement,and fought racism, sexism, and economic hardship to become a renowned doctor. This book explores her life and how she went from a girl with a dream to a celebrated medical trailblazer. There’s even a note from Dr. Bath at the end of the book!
I recommend this rhyming biography for readers ages 5 and up.
We absolutely LOVED this book and still read it together regularly! It’s a picture book adaptation of the Hidden Figures story, and invites readers into the lives and struggles of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Christine Darden as they worked to help NASA accomplish some amazing firsts. This book inspired my kids to do a lot of additional research on these women, and we gifted copies to their teachers this year.
This book should be in every child’s library and is perfect for kids ages 4 and up.
Katherine Johnson always loved numbers and math. When she was a girl, she would count everything, and she was such a good student that she skipped three whole grades! Despite many challenges, she never stopped pursuing her love of math and science, and she was able to use that passion to help save the Apollo 13 after its historic moon landing.
This book will inspire children to follow their dreams, and it’s great for kids ages 3 and up.
From a young age, Mae Jemison was a dreamer. She dreamed of seeing the earth from space one day, so her family encouraged her to follow her passion and become an astronaut. That encouragement and her love of learning led Mae to become the first black woman to travel in space.
This gorgeous picture book is perfect for sharing with little dreamers ages 4 and up.
This is another inspiring picture book about how a love of math and numbers led to an amazing career in science! Dorothy Vaughn loved the way numbers made sense. She could solve number problems quickly and easily, and she wanted to make working with numbers her career. Dorothy went from math teacher to human computer to becoming the first black supervisor in her company’s history. Her intelligence and persistence helped her to keep going and overcome when challenges came her way.
This bright and bold picture book is recommended for kids ages 5 and up.
As a child, Mary Jackson thought she could never been an engineer. She was excellent at math and science, but when she was a child, girls didn’t become engineers…and black girls definitely didn’t become engineers. However, Mary worked hard, overcame the limitations others tried to place on her, and became the first black woman to be an engineer at NASA! This picture book tells her story.
This is a great book for sharing with children ages 5 and up.
Sarah Goode saw a need, and when she couldn’t find what she needed to fill that need, she invented it. Sarah’s invention of the Cupboard Bed led her to become one of the first African-American women to receive a U.S. Patent. Her invention also allowed her to build a life for herself in the years after slavery was abolished, and become independent at a time where her race and gender made it difficult to do so.
This inspiring story is perfect for kids ages 7 and up.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Randolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull
When Wilma Rudolph was a young child, she had polio. She was told she would never walk on her own, but she was determined to regain her mobility. She not only walked again, she ran…all the way to three Olympic gold medals. Her story is a powerful tale of recovery and strength.
This amazing and inspiring biography is excellent for reading with kids ages 4 and up.
Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter
What does it take to become a champion? For Venus and Serena Williams, it took hard work and the willingness to keep going in the face of adversity. It took early morning practices and pressing on through hard times and health issues. And it took leaning on each other, even when they were competing against each other.
This beautiful picture book teaches an important lesson about perseverance and grit. I highly recommend reading it with kids ages 3 and up, particularly if you have siblings who love to compete.
Mamie Johnson had always dreamed of playing baseball, but the women’s league that was active in her time was a segregated one. Still Mamie’s talent could not be denied. In 1953, she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a men’s team in the Negro Leagues. Mamie was the first female pitcher to play on a men’s professional baseball team, and she paved the way for many women after her.
This picture book is fantastic for sharing with kids ages 6 and up.
Bessie Stringfield always wanted to ride her bike with the boys, but they always told her she wasn’t fast enough to ride with them. Their teasing and rejection only motivated her to pursue her love of speed and riding fast. Bessie went on to become the first woman to ride across the United States alone on a motorcycle. She traveled through places that were unsafe for black people at the time, not letting anyone’s opinions stop her.
I loved learning about Bessie Stringfield, and I think your kids will, too! Share it with little ones ages 3 and up.
Molly By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree
I hadn’t heard of Molly Williams before I read this book, but now I want to know more about this amazing woman! In 1818, Molly was a cook in a firehouse. When the firefighters came down with influenza, it was up to her to save the day and put out a fire in a small house. She is considered by many to be America’s first female firefighter. Her heroic actions earned her the nickname Volunteer Number 11 and a special place in history.
I recommend sharing this exciting story with readers ages 3 and up.
Fly High: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden
As a young girl, Bessie Coleman couldn’t go to school, instead she had to help her family in the cotton fields of Texas. But Bessie sought out learning wherever she could. Her pursuit of knowledge never stopped, even in the toughest situations. She faced obstacle after obstacle, but never gave up, and eventually she became the first African-American to obtain a pilot’s license.
This fascinating account of Bessie’s life and achievements is great for sharing with readers ages 7 and up.
Mary Walker lived a long, full life. Born into slavery, Mary found freedom at 15, at age 20 she married. By the time she was in her 60s, she had raised a family, held many jobs, and served her church in many ways. But there was one thing that Mary didn’t do until well after she was 100 years old.
At the age of 116, Mary Walker learned to read. She put all she had into reading, practicing writing and memorizing site words. And even though she was very old, and the only living member of her family, she was able to achieve her goal and read her Bible.
This powerful story of perseverance is excellent for children ages 4 and up.
The American West was a wild and often dangerous place, but Mary Fields was fearless. She was born into slavery, but she later became the first African-American woman to drive a stagecoach for a living. In her 60s at the time, Mary beat out every man who applied for the job, and she performed her duty without ever losing a horse or a package.
I absolutely loved this book, and I recommend sharing it with kids ages 4 and up.