Best Children's Books about African American Freedom Fighters

Not Just for Black History Month

The following children's books not only provide an introduction to the lives of African-American freedom fighters your children should know about, but among them they also provide a historical overview of the fight for civil rights in the last several centuries up to the present, including the eras of slavery and the civil rights movement. All would be enhanced by family or classroom discussion about them. These books should be shared year round, not just during Black History Month. Please keep scrolling down to find information about all 11 books.

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Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Let It Shine - cover of nonfiction children's book
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters. Harcourt

Andrea Davis Pinkney's award-winning book is written for 9-12 year olds. It presents the dramatic stories of 10 women, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Josephine Baker, Rosa Parks, and Shirley Chisholm. The first page of each biography faces a stunning portrait, with striking allegorical images, by artist Stephen Alcorn.  (Harcourt, 2000. ISBN: 015201005X) Read my review of Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters.

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Martin's Big Words

Martin's Big Words - cover of picture book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin's Big Words: THe Life of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Hyperion Books for Children

This large picture book biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. was written by Doreen Rappaport, with dramatic and moving cut paper collage and watercolor artwork by Bryan Collier. Quotations by the civil rights leader are highlighted throughout the book, which also includes helpful author's and illustrator's notes, a timeline, and other resources. (Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books, 2001. ISBN: 9780786807147) Read my review of .

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Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles

Courage Has No Color - book cover
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers. Candlewick Press

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers is a fascinating nonfiction book about an elite group of African American soldiers during World War II.  Author Tanya Lee Stone details the experiences and achievements of the group of soldiers known as the Triple Nickels as they overcame prejudice and broke down barriers.  (Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780763665487) Read librarian Jennifer Kendall's book review of .

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Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Cover art of Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
Penguin Group

The narrator of Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins is a young African American girl named Connie. At the beginning of 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, as in other parts of the country, there are still many places that serve "whites only." The book, by Carole Boston Weatherford, told from the perspective of a young African American girl, tells the story of life in Greensboro prior to the February 1, 1960 sit-in and the protests and changes that came as a result of the months-long sit-ins. (Puffin Books, Penguin Group, 2005. ISBN: 9780142408940) Read my review of Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins.

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I Have a Dream

I Have a Dream - Cover of children's picture book
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House

Artwork by Kadir Nelson accompanies some of the text of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s eloquent 1963 "I have a dream" speech. The end of the picture book includes the entire text of the speech and a CD of Dr. King's speech. The publisher is Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House. 2012. The ISBN for the book, which was published in 2012, is 9780375858871. Read my review of I Have a Dream.

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Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Cover art - Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Macmillan

Thanks to his research and interviews with Claudette Colvin, Phillip Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice provides a comprehensive and fascinating look at the woman who, while still a teenager, refused to give up her seat on a city bus a full year before Rosa Parks drew national attention for the same act. (Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan, 2010. ISBN: 9780312661052) Read librarian Jennifer Kendall's book review of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.

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Portraits of African-American Heroes

Portaits of African-American Heroes

This fascinating book combines dramatic portraits by Ansel Pitcairn with profiles of 20 African-American men and women, written by Tonya Bolden. There are a number of similar books that concentrate on the nineteenth century. Portraits of African-American Heroes is unusual because, while it includes profiles of remarkable African-American men and women of the nineteenth century, it also includes notables from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I recommend the book for mature seven years old through high school age. The publisher is Puffin and the ISBN is 9780142404737. Read my review of Portraits of African-American Heroes.

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Through My Eyes

Escorted by federal marshals, a six year old girl became the first African American student to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960. Ruby Bridges' "Through My Eyes" was edited by Margo Lundell and provides a very personal view of a moment in history. The well-designed, 60-page book includes compelling photographs and related documents. (Scholastic, 1999. ISBN: 9780590189231)

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Ida B. Wells, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis B. Fradin, this book is for children 11 and up. Ida B. Wells, who was born in 1862, fought a national campaign against lynching. Her story is a fascinating one. Her work as a journalist and civil rights activist is examined in the 200 page book. The text is enhanced with historical photographs. (Houghton Mifflin, 2000. ISBN: 0395898986)

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The Bus Ride That Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks

This informational picture book by Pamela Duncan Edwards provides an introduction to Rosa Parks' life in Alabama when it was a "Jim Crow" state with strict rules segregating people by race. The artwork by Danny Shanahan - large pen and watercolor illustrations and small sketches of several children who help to narrate and clarify the text - add to the readers' understanding. The repetition of "...because one woman was brave" underscores Parks' impact. (Houghton Mifflin, 2005. ISBN: 0618449116)

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Delivering Justice: W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights

Heeding his grandmother’s advice to “be someone,” W.W. Law not only delivered the mail as a U.S. postman, he also delivered justice, leading the successful effort to end segregation in Savannah, Georgia. Full page illustrations by artist Benny Andrews face each page of text by Jim Haskins and add to the dramatic impact. At book’s end, there’s a photograph of W.W. Law and more information about his fight for civil rights. (Candlewick Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780763625924)