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4 African American Biography Books For Kids

Dr. Anna C. Iacovetta | The Children’s Book Review | July 9, 2018

Black History Children’s Books We Need On Our Shelves

Claudette Colvin- Twice Toward JusticeTo add to readers’ knowledge of the Civil Rights era, there are many stories of some not-so-famous characters that deserve consideration. These individuals were the “supporting actors” among the many courageous African Americans whose stories are more familiar. Perhaps their age, story, and circumstances did not create enough attention at the time, but they should not be forgotten. Their lives and heroic actions are finally being celebrated as their stories spread to children all over the country. Very few people may know the story of 16-year-old Claudette Colvin.  In Phillip Hoose’s 2009 book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justicewe learn of a young girl who refused to give up her seat on the bus long before Rosa Parks. Her experiences and challenges during the Montgomery Bus Boycott are detailed in this hidden gem of a book.

We’ve Got a Job- The 1963 Birmingham Children’s MarchSimilarly, Cynthia Levinson’s recent book, We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March tells the story of 4,000 black school children who wanted to honor Martin Luther King and “filled the jails” in Birmingham, Alabama in May, 1963. The story focuses on four of these children and the events surrounding the March. This book is a rich resource that documents the Children’s March out of the mouths of children.

The Cart that Carried MartinIn an effort to make these sometimes difficult stories easier for younger readers, authors are now trying something new. For instance, Eve Bunting’s, The Cart that Carried Martin, is a book that focuses solely on the funeral possession of Martin Luther King Jr. and the origin of the cart that held his casket and was pulled by two mules. The unique story integrates parts of King’s life while presenting it as more of a picture book rather than a biography. Aaron Reynolds’ Back of the Bus is also a different interpretation of the story of Rosa Parks from the perspective of a young boy who is riding in the back of the bus with his mother. Again, this is a familiar story, but from a different perspective.

Back of the BusBiographies of African Americans are important to the overall education of young readers, reminding them of the historical challenges that were faced by ordinary people.  Hopefully, more authors will continue to provide additional offerings in historical fiction that both appeal to youth and provide a factual account.


Bishop, Rudine Sims. Free within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2007. Print.

Bunting, E. and Tate, D. The Cart That Carried Martin. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2013. Print.

Fine, E.  Rosa Parks: Meeting a Civil Rights Hero.New York: Enslow Publishing, 2004. Print.

Fritz, J, and Tomes, M. And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. Print.

Hoose, P. Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice. New York: Melanie Kroupa /Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009. Print.

Kiefer, Barbara Z., and Cynthia A. Tyson. Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature: A Brief  Guide. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.

Lawson, R. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 1988. Print.

Levinson, C. We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Print.

Lewis, J. and Aydin, A. March. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013. Print.

Rappaport, D. and Collier, B.  Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.New

York: Hyperion for Children, 2001. Print.

Reynolds, A., and Cooper, F. Back of the Bus. New York: Philomel, 2010. Print.

The article Black History Chidlren’s Books We Need On Our Shelves was written by Anna Iacovetta. For similar articles, follow along with our content tagged with , and .

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Dr. Anna Iacovetta, classroom teacher who taught every grade, K-12 together with undergraduate students. Her passionate interest in children's literature led her to earn a doctorate in Literature for Children and Young Adults from The Ohio State University. Anna is currently a part-time professor and book reviewer who resides in Cleveland, Ohio where she lives with her husband and two young children. Twitter: LiteraryGal82

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