February 9, 2018

February is National Black History Month!

The holiday (originally called Negro History Week) was created in 1926 by historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the son of former slaves who is known as the “Father of Black History.”

In 1976, the weeklong celebration became a month-long holiday called Black History Month, as part of the national bicentennial celebration.

February allows us all to highlight and pay tribute to the accomplishments of African-Americans throughout the diaspora. But like every cultural celebration, it is not intended to be seen as the only time we explore and investigate the rich diversity of our nation. Rather, each encourages us to broaden and deepen our understanding of the narratives and lives that have been, and continue to be, integral to our communities. Names such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth … these icons are familiar to us all. 

For February’s blog, I have pulled together a list of biographies of perhaps lesser known pioneers — individuals who have made a mark on their professions and our world. They are historical as well as contemporary.

I hope this will be a starting point as we all look to diversify our reading world.


Simon & Schuster’s “You Should Meet” series is a nonfiction, ready-to-read biography series for children ages 6-8 about inspiring people who have achieved success in their career fields.

Several books to check out include:

  • “You Should Meet Katherine Johnson,” by Thea Feldman.
  • “You Should Meet Mae Jemison,” by Laurie Calkhoven.
  • “You Should Meet Jesse Owens,” by Laurie Calkhoven.
  • “You Should Meet Misty Copeland,” by Laurie Calkhoven.


Lerner Publishing Group’s STEM Trailblazer Bio Series (for Grades 2-5) tells the life stories and significant contributions of some of the top people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Here are a few to enjoy:

  • “Aerospace Engineer Aprille Ericsson.”
  • “Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
  • “Astronaut Mae Jemison”
  • “NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson.”
  • “Super Soaker Inventor Lonnie Johnson.”
  • “Urban Biologist Danielle Lee.”


Picture books are a great way for children to learn more about African-Americans who’ve made a contribution to society. These books feature not only great stories by stunning illustrations:

  • “Before She Was Harriet,” by Lesa Cline-Ransome.
  • “Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe,” by Deborah Blumenthal.
  • “Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee!,” by Andrea J. Loney.
  • “Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library,” by Carole Boston Weatherford.
  • “The Legendary Miss Lena Horne,” by Carole Boston Weatherford.
  • “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Carole Boston Weatherford.
  • “Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America,” by Carole Boston Weatherford.
  • “Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness,” by Donna Janell Bowman.
  • “Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop, Slave-Explorer,” by Heather Hensen.
  • “Float Like a Butterfly,” by Ntozake Shange.
  • “Trombone Shorty,” by Troy Andrews.
  • “Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters,” by Michael Mahin
  • “The Boy Who Never Gave Up: Stephen Curry: The Children’s Book,” by Anthony Curcio.
  • “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” by Javaka Steptoe.
  • “Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions,” by Chris Barton.
  • “Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten,” by Laura Veirs.
  • “Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills,” by Renee Watson.
  • “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” by Patricia Hruby Powell.
  • “Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist,” by Cynthia Levinson.
  • “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” by Katheryn Russell-Brown.
  • “Firebird,” by Misty Copeland.
  • “Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table,” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.
  • “Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art,” by J.H. Shapiro.
  • “Mae Among the Stars,” by Roda Ahmed.
  • “A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin,” by Jen Bryant.
  • “All About Madam C.J. Walker,” by A’Leila Bundles.
  • “Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas,” by Gwendolyn Hooks.
  • “Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis,” by Jabari Asim.
  • “Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore,” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
  • “Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew up to Become Malcolm X,” by Ilyasah Shabazz.
  • “Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch,” by Chris Barton.
  • “Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton,” by Don Tate.
  • “Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis,” by Robbin Gourley.
  • “Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath,” by Julia Finley Mosca.
  • “My Name is James Madison Hemings,” by Jonah Winter.
  • “My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood,” by Jeanne Walker Harvey.


Looking for books for older, more advanced readers? Here are a few to check out:

  • “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History,” by Vashti Harrison.
  • “What Color Is My World: The Lost History of African American Inventors,” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • “Mo’ne Davis: Remember my Name,” by Mo’ne Davis with Hilary Beard.
  • “Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court,” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld.
  • “March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine,” by Melba Pattillo Beals.
  • “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March,” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.
  • “Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice,” by Phillip Hoose.
  • “Brown Girl Dreaming,” by Jacqueline Woodson.
  • “Chasing Space,” by Leland Melvin (Young Readers’ Edition).
  • “Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line,” by Andrew Maraniss (Young Readers’ Edition).                                                                                          
  • “Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York,” by Amy Hill Hearth.
  • “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Women and the Space Race,” by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” by Misty Copeland (Young Readers’ Edition).
  • “Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglas, A Monumental American Man,” by Tonya Bolden.
  • “Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl,” by Tonya Bolden.
  • “Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America,” by Tonya Bolden.
  • “Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital,” by Tonya Bolden.
  • “Pathfinders: The Journeys of Sixteen Extraordinary Black Souls,” by Tonya Bolden.
  • “This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability),” by Aaron Philip.
  • “Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring,” by Enigma Alberti.
  • “Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance,” by Simone Biles.

Should you wish to know more about Black History Month, check out these sites from PBS and multiple national museums:

Locally, there are many great resources and events to attend during Black History Month. Of particular importance is the recent opening of the Center for Black Literature & Culture at the Central Library.