10 Nonfiction Kids’ Books That Celebrate Black Excellence
by the Brightly Editors
Ranging from picture books to young adult books, these nonfiction reads center on African American people who embodied excellence in their respective fields and inspired those around them. Dive into their stories to celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments, lives, and legacies with your young readers during Black History Month and throughout the year.
Barack Obama: A Little Golden Book Biography
There’s no question that Barack Obama is the perfect example of Black excellence. Introduce your little one to this influential man who became the 44th President of the United States. Readers will learn about his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, his education, and his political career. This inspiring biography will encourage all young readers to reach for the stars!
(Ages 2 - 5)
Child of the Civil Rights Movement
In this autobiographical picture book, Paula Young Shelton shares her childhood memories of being surrounded by Civil Rights leaders of the 1960s. She recalls time spent with her parents and their friends — famous figures like Dorothy Cotton, Ralph Abernathy, and “Uncle Martin” Luther King, Jr. — as they built a strong activist community and planned nonviolent protests. Eventually, Shelton remembers getting to play her own small part in the movement by joining the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with her whole family. Child of the Civil Rights Movement beautifully tackles complex themes with stunning illustrations and poetic, simple language that young readers can understand.
(Ages 4 - 8)
I am Martin Luther King, Jr.
This installment of the Ordinary People Change the World series focuses on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The story begins with his childhood, depicting him as a boy who showed strength, perseverance, love for others, and the will to make a difference that would eventually inspire the world. Using dynamic, comic book-style illustrations and speech bubbles, plus tons of compelling historical details, this picture book biography is sure to teach readers — both young and old — something they didn’t know about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his extraordinary life.
(Ages 5 - 8)
RELATED: Picture Books That Help Keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Alive
I am Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali dominated in and out of the boxing ring. A world-renowned heavyweight boxing champ, Ali was also an outspoken advocate for civil rights. Young readers can learn about his accomplishments, inspiration, and childhood in this fascinating and colorful biography.
(Ages 5 - 9)
Ron’s Big Mission
Well before Ron McNair was a real-life astronaut, he was a 9-year-old boy with a mission to change the rules at his public library in South Carolina, where only white people could check out books. In this story, young Ron dreams of someday becoming a pilot and loves to read books about airplanes at the library — but he wants to be able to take them home with him too! So he unexpectedly stages a peaceful protest, demanding the right to check out books. After much deliberation, the librarian gives him his own library card. Ron’s Big Mission depicts one event in 1959 that exemplified just how courageous and determined Ron McNair was.
(Ages 6 - 8)
Mae Makes Way
Little fashionistas will love this biography about Mae Reeves, the first Black female business owner in Philadelphia. Mae had a unique sense of style and wanted to share it with the world, but it wasn’t easy. Even though she met many challenges along the road to success, she never gave up.
(Ages 7 - 10)
A Negro League Scrapbook
Black baseball players had a separate league before Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers. Even though most people don’t know their names, they were fantastic ball players who excelled at the game. Carole Boston Weatherford’s verse delivers facts, stories, and photos of exceptional athletes in the Negro Leagues.
(Ages 7 - 10)
Brave. Black. First.
Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Simone Biles, and Oprah Winfrey are just a few names that grace the pages of this informative book. You’ll find biographies of 50 Black women who accomplished extraordinary things, from celebrities like Beyonce to civil rights activists like Rosa Parks.
(Ages 8 - 12)
Who Was Maya Angelou?
This little biography chronicles the remarkable life of Maya Angelou. Many know of Angelou for her work as a renowned poet and author, but her accomplishments extend well beyond the world of literature. During her life she was also a famous actress, singer, dancer, and the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She also spent a large portion of her life advocating for civil rights in America and around the world. This installment in the Who Was? series is a wonderfully accessible introduction to the writer for young readers and a tribute to her creative, courageous, and hopeful spirit.
(Ages 8 – 12)
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
Lynda Blackmon Lowery began bravely protesting alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when she was just 14 years old. In that year, she was arrested and jailed nine times (once for six days) for advocating for the rights of African Americans. This powerful illustrated memoir offers Lowery’s detailed account of her (often terrifying) experiences leading up to and during the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. She turned 15 while marching, making her the youngest person to complete the three-day journey.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2023.