Black Heroes Throughout History: 15 Books for Young Readers
Celebrate Black History Month with these 15 books for young readers that tell the stories of Black heroes throughout history!
From civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, to lesser-known Black heroes of the Wild West like Stagecoach Mary and Bass Reeves, these books introduce young readers to these Black icons in a fun, accessible way. The perfect way to celebrate Black history with your kids!
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, we’d highly recommend seeking out your local independent bookstore. Your business helps ensure the survival of these vital cultural institutions during this difficult time.
1. Great Lives in Graphics: Martin Luther King Jr.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12
Using colorful infographics, this book presents over 250 facts about Martin Luther King, the iconic minister who campaigned for the rights of African Americans during America’s Civil Rights Movement. This graphic retelling of his story gives children a visual snapshot of his life and the world he grew up in while educating them on everything from civil rights to the power of words. It includes an overview of his life, a timeline spread, a family outline, and a geographical summary of important places. It also features ‘Did You Know’ facts and inspiring quotes.
2. So Other People Would Be Also Free: The Real Story of Rosa Parks for Kids by Tonya Leslie, PhD
Recommended for Ages 8-12
Here’s the whole, true story of Rosa Parks’ life―and the spark of change she helped light for the civil rights movement. So Other People Would Be Also Free reveals how Rosa’s lifetime of experiences inspired her famous choice―when she stayed seated on a segregated bus to take a stand for racial equality.
Take a walk through her childhood and hear about her struggles as a black woman in midcentury America. Going beyond other Rosa Parks books for kids, this complete story shows how her strong values and bravery as a lifelong activist makes her a role model for fighting injustice.
3. Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long
Recommended for Ages 13-18
This biography of Bayard Rustin for young readers depicts his life of nonviolent activism and resistance.
Bayard Rustin was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. He worked with A. Philip Randolph on the March on Washington Movement in 1941 to press for an end to racial discrimination in employment.
4. Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Recommended for Ages 9-12
This graphic novel celebrates the extraordinary true tales of three black heroes who took control of their destinies and stood up for their communities in the Old West. Born into slavery in Tennessee, Mary Fields became famous as “Stagecoach Mary,” a cigar-chomping, card playing coach driver who never missed a delivery. Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi, was one of the wiliest lawmen in the territories, bringing thousands of outlaws to justice with his smarts. Bob Lemmons lived to be 99 years old and was so good with horses that the wild mustangs on the plains of Texas took him for one of their own.
5. The Slave Who Went to Congress by Frye Gaillard and Marti Rosner, Illustrated by Jordana Haggard
Recommended for Ages 8-12
In 1870 Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave, was elected to the U.S. Congress. He was the first African American from Alabama to earn that distinction. In a recreation of Turner’s own words, based on speeches and other writings that Turner left behind, co-authors Marti S. Rosner and Frye Gaillard have crafted the story of a remarkable man who taught himself to read when he was young and began a lifetime quest for education and freedom.
6. Biddy Mason Speaks Up by Arisa White and Laura Atkins, Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Recommended for Ages 10-12
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was an African American philanthropist, healer, and midwife who was born into slavery. When Biddy arrived in California, where slavery was technically illegal, she was kept captive by her owners and forced to work without pay. But when Biddy learned that she was going to be taken to a slave state, she launched a plan to win her freedom. She refused to be defined by her enslavement, and coauthors Arisa White and Laura Atkins devote much of their narrative to Biddy Mason’s later life as a business and civic leader in the fledgling city of Los Angeles. Biddy Mason Speaks Up is an age-appropriate yet unflinching examination of slavery, racism, and community healing in the United States. Each chapter begins with lyrical verse and full-color illustrations that draw readers into the narrative, and is followed by visually engaging sections filled with keyword definitions, historical context, timelines, and primary sources. Throughout the book, the authors pose questions to the reader, such as “How do you see power at work in your community?”, making Biddy Mason’s story all the more relatable to the present day.
7. Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum, PhD
Recommended for Ages 9-12
Throughout history, Black women have blazed trails across the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Black Women in Science brings something special to black history books for kids, celebrating incredible Black women in STEM who have used their brains, bravery, and ambition to beat the odds.
Black Women in Science stands out amongst other Black history books for kids―featuring 15 powerful stories of fearless female scientists that advanced their STEM fields and fought to build a legacy. Through the triumphs of these amazing women, you’ll find remarkable role models.
8. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner, Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Recommended for Ages 5-9
In Nova Scotia, in 1946, an usher in a movie theater told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused to budge. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was black. In no time at all, the police arrived and took Viola to jail. The next day she was charged and fined, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules.
Viola’s determination gave strength and inspiration to her community at the time. She is an unsung hero of one of Canada’s oldest and most established black communities. Like Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, who many years later, in 1955, refused to give up their bus seats in Alabama, Desmond’s act of refusal awakened people to the unacceptable nature of racism and began the process of bringing an end to racial segregation in Canada.
9. Masterminds: Katherine Johnson by Izzi Howell
Recommended for Ages 7-11
Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who played a key role in calculating how to land on the moon. Featured in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” Johnson was one of the greatest mathematical minds in U.S. history. Masterminds readers will learn how influential figures in STEAM, like Johnson, made massive contributions to their fields and how their stories and discoveries remain relevant today.
10. The Story of John Lewis by Tonya Leslie
Recommended for Ages 6-9
Discover the life of John Lewis―a story for kids ages 6 to 9 about fighting for a better world.
John Lewis was a civil rights leader and United States congressman who never stopped speaking up for justice, equality, and peace. Before he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, John was a thoughtful kid who loved learning but wasn’t able to go to a good school because of segregation.
He wanted to make a difference in his community, so he organized peaceful protests to end segregation and fight for equal rights for Black Americans. Explore how John went from being a young farm boy to a famous activist, politician, and leader.
11. The Story of Harriet Tubman by Christine Platt
Recommended for Ages 6-8
Harriet Tubman became a celebrated leader in the fight to free people from slavery. Before that, she was a determined young girl who believed that everyone deserved to be free. Harriet Tubman bravely used the Underground Railroad—a network of secret routes and safe houses—to free herself and many other enslaved people. Explore how Harriet Tubman went from being a slave on a plantation in Maryland to one of the most important figures in American history. How will her courageous spirit inspire you?
12. I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King Jr. by Arthur Flowers, Illustrated by Manu Chitrakar
Recommended for Ages 12 and up
This stunning graphic novel biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the apartheid South of his time, which in many ways was not very different from the early days of slavery. Included are descriptions of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the formation of civil rights groups, mass movements against segregation, such as the Albany Movement and the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, and the influence on King of Gandhi, with his nonviolent approach to resistance. Flowers’ text smoothly incorporates excerpts from many of King’s most moving speeches and concludes with a brief look at his legacy. Flowers tells a masterful story in musical prose, while Manu Chitrakar carries the tale into the vivid idiom of Patua art, turning King’s historic journey into a truly universal legacy.
13. Garrett’s Store by M. J. Mouton, Illustrated by Jezreel Cuevas
Recommended for Ages 4-7
Garrett Morgan invented the respiratory device that powered WWI gas masks, as well as chemical hair straighteners and and improved sewing machine. A trailblazer in many aspects of his life, Morgan’s story is one that kids and adults will love! Follow Garrett Morgan as he builds his store, and begins to invent some of the items we still rely on today.
14. Martin Luther King Jr.: A Graphic History of America’s Great Civil Rights Leader by Rachel Ruiz, Illustrated by Fiona W. Dunn and Sarah Skeate
Recommended for Ages 9-12
See how Martin Luther King Jr.’s early experiences and beliefs shaped him into the leader of the Civil Rights movement and a martyr in the fight for equal rights. Great Lives nonfiction graphic books follows the lives of scientists, artists, and activists that made enormous contributions to the world.
15. The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine Platt
Recommended for Ages 6-8
Martin Luther King Jr became one of the most important civil rights leaders in America by fighting for equality for black people. Before he made history with his powerful speeches and peaceful protests, Martin was a dedicated, smart kid who loved to learn. He challenged racism and overcame hardships to follow his passion and do the right thing.
Of all the Martin Luther King Jr books for kids, this one really helps you explore how Martin went from being a kid with a dream to an outstanding leader who made America a better place for everyone. How will his life inspire you to do what’s right?