The state of Black picture book biographies is strong, with new titles regularly adding to the diversity and vibrancy of portrayals of African American life.
- Of the 607 picture books (as of this date) in the Diverse BookFinder catalog which feature African or African American characters, nearly 1/3 (177 titles) are biographies.
- Among the 288 biographies in our collection, 61% feature African or African American characters.
- The vast majority of these biographies are set in the U.S.; only 13 of the 177 titles take place in African countries. (5 of those 13 are biographies of Kenya environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Matthai. She and Miriam Makeba appear to be the only internationally-known African subjects of a recent picture book biography, though two about Nelson Mandela were published in 2000 and 2002.) For this post, we’re focused on stories of Americans.
Stories of canonical figures in African American history — especially in the fields of civil rights, music, and sports — are well represented: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11 titles), Frederick Douglas (5), Jackie Robinson (5), Rosa Parks (4), Harriet Tubman (4), Ella Fitzgerald (4), the Obamas (4), Josephine Baker (3), and Muhammad Ali (3). It’s exciting to also see recent portrayals of lesser-known people in a broader range of fields, such as these:
Explores the previously uncelebrated but pivotal contributions of NASA's African American women mathematicians to America's space program, describing how Jim Crow laws segregated them despite their groundbreaking successes. Includes biographies on Dorothy Jackson Vaughan (1910-2008), Mary Winston Jackson (1921-2005), Katherine Colman Goble Johnson (1918- ), Dr. Christine Mann Darden (1942- )
"Biography of Vivien Thomas, an African-American surgical technician who pioneered the procedure used to treat babies with a heart defect known as 'blue baby syndrome.' Includes author's note and author's sources"--Provided by publisher
You know the Super Soaker. It's one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners, inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy. A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson's life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults
The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just (2018 -- Coming Soon!)
Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists of his time. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. He persisted in his research despite the discrimination and limitations imposed on him as an African American. His keen observations of sea creatures revealed new insights about egg cells and the origins of life.
LITERATURE & ARTS
"A biography chronicling the life of Ira Aldridge, an African American actor who is considered to be one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the nineteenth century. Includes afterword and author's sources"--|cProvided by publisher
"A biography of African American sculptor Augusta Savage, who overcame many obstacles as a young woman to become a premier female sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance. Includes an afterword about Savage's adult life and works, plus photographs"--Provided by publisher
"As soon as Ann Cole Lowe could walk, her momma and grandma taught her to sew. When her mom died, Ann continued sewing dresses. It wasn't easy, especially when she went to design school and had to learn alone, segregated from the rest of the class. But the work she did set her spirit soaring, as evidenced in the clothes she made. Rarely credited, Ann Cole Lowe became "society's best kept secret." This beautiful picture book shines the spotlight on a figure who proved that with hard work and passion, any obstacles can be overcome"--|cProvided by publisher
Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked. Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro-Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk's life's passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg's collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world
The story of former basketball star and current urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, whose vision of gardening from abandoned urban sites led to a grassroots feeding craze
No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas (2018 -- Coming Soon!)
Junius G. Groves came from humble beginnings in the Bluegrass State. Born in Kentucky into slavery, freedom came when he was still a young man and he intended to make a name for himself. Along with thousands of other African Americans who migrated from the South, Junius walked west and stopped in Kansas...Junius dreamed of owning his own farm, so he did the next best thing. He rented the land and worked hard! As he built his empire, he also built a family, and he built them both on tons and tons and tons of potatoes. He never quit working hard, even as the naysayers doubted him, and soon he was declared Potato King of the World and had five hundred acres and a castle to call his own.
To find more, search our collection of 177 biographies featuring Black/African/African American characters here.