5 Children’s Books Celebrating Extraordinary & Inspiring Women During Black History Month

Black History Month this year has certainly taken on a different meaning for us. With the continual attacks on voting rights, the fear of Critical Race Theory being taught in schools, and a number of school districts around the country voting to ban numerous books that examine race, history and systemic inequality, there has never been a more important time to amplify books that can ignite a child’s imagination through inspiring stories, featuring Black and brown folks who have changed the course of history.

And it is imperative we start while children are young. So today we are sharing 5 books that celebrate extraordinary Black women who came up against barriers in their lives due to their race, but who pushed through the struggles to inspire generations in their wake. Holiday House and Peachtree Publishing Company have an excellent selection of books that feature a diverse array of lesser-known and iconic figures, from tennis stars to musicians and activists. Read on for our recommendations!

1. ‘Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way To Freedom’, by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (ages 7–10).

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in 1818, enslaved to a Virginian plantation owner. As a teenager, Lizzy was sent to work as the only slave on a small plantation, where the work was endless, and the masters treated her with unspeakable cruelty. A new master, learning Lizzy could sew, sent her to work for a tailor, who paid the master, not Lizzy, for Lizzy’s work.

The beautiful gowns that Lizzy created were displayed in the tailor’s window and soon attracted the attention of the wealthiest women in Virginia. Among them was Mrs. Jefferson Davis who also introduced Lizzy to Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Lizzy first had to borrow money from her wealthy patrons to buy her freedom, once she was free, she was able to earn money of her own and pay them all back.

Connie Morrison writes with straightforward honesty and clarity. This inspiring story about an unsung hero is beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon with mixed media including oil paint, paper, fabric, ribbon, embroidery, lace, and appliqué.

You can purchase the book HERE, and also download an educator’s guide and discussion questions.

Courtesy of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

2. ‘Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life Of a Crusading Journalist’, by Philip Dray, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (ages 10–14).

This book is all about the award-winning, inspirational story of journalist Ida B. Wells and her crusade for justice and civil rights. Philip Dray tells the story of Ida B. Wells and her lifelong commitment to end injustice. Award-winning illustrator Stephen Alcorn’s remarkable illustrations recreate the tensions that threatened to upend a nation while paying tribute to a courageous American hero.

In 1863, when Ida B. Wells was not yet two years old, the Emancipation Proclamation freed her from the bond of slavery. Blessed with a strong will, an eager mind, and a deep belief in America’s promise of “freedom and justice for all,” young Ida held her family together, defied society’s conventions, and used her position as a journalist to speak against injustice. But Ida’s greatest challenge arose after one of her friends was lynched. How could one headstrong young woman help free America from the looming “shadow of lawlessness”?

This book is a must-have for American, Black, and women’s history collections. Purchase it HERE.

Courtesy of Peachtree Publishing Company, Inc.

3. ‘Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm’, by Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (ages 4–8)

In the early 1900s, an all-girl swing band called the Sweethearts had people dancing! Karen Deans’s rhythmic text and Joe Cepeda’s exuberant illustrations celebrate these courageous musicians who navigated racist and sexist barriers, and whose music reminded audiences how great it feels to be alive.

In an interview about the book, author Karen Deans expresses her wishes for the reader, saying:

“I hope kids will understand that art lives in a place of deep connection and inclusivity.
The Sweethearts exemplified that. Their music connected them to one another, despite
their differences. It helped them reach, and embrace, the larger world around them.”

You can purchase the book HERE, and also download an educator’s guide, as well as read a Q&A with both the author and illustrator.

Courtesy of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

4. ‘Playing To Win: How Althea Gibson Broke Barriers and Changed Tennis Forever’, by Karen Deans, illustrated by Elbrite Brown (ages 7–10).

Although stars like Serena Williams cite Althea Gibson as an inspiration, Gibson’s story is not well-known to many young people today. Growing up tough and rebellious in Harlem, Althea took that fighting attitude and used it to go after her goals of being a tennis champion, and a time when tennis was a game played mostly by wealthy white people in country clubs that excluded African Americans.

In 1956, she became the first Black American to win a major championship when she won at The French Open. When she won the celebrated Wimbledon tournament the following year, Gibson shook hands with the Queen of England. Not bad for a kid from the streets of Harlem.

With determination and undeniable skill, Althea Gibson become a barrier-breaking, record-setting, and world-famous sportswoman. This new and updated edition of this inspirational biography contains recent information on the impact of Gibson’s legacy.

Click HERE to buy the book and download an educator’s guide.

Courtesy of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

5. ‘Before She Was Harriet’, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (ages 4–8).

An evocative poem and stunning watercolors come together to honor an American heroine in this Award-winning picture book.

We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. As Araminta she was a young girl whose father showed her the stars and the first steps on the path to freedom.

This lush, lyrical biography in verse begins with a glimpse of Harriet Tubman as an old woman, and travels back in time through the many roles she played through her life: spy, liberator, suggragist and more. Illustrated by James Ransome, whose paintings for The Creation won a Coretta Scott King medal, this is a riveting introduction to an American hero.

You can purchase the book HERE and also download the educator’s guide.

This is a great starter list of children’s books for the young one in your life during Black History Month. Be sure to check back here as we continue to share our fave book recommendations.

Courtesy of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.