Black History Month assignments are in full swing! While biographies on Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the like are important, I always enjoy discovering biographies of people who are not as well known as the giants of the civil rights movement. If you need biographies or histories beyond the very popular biographical figures, here are some of my favorites:
I've been hoping for an awesome children's biography of the first African-American female astronaut for several years. Until that happens, Scholastic's Mae Jemison is the most up-to-date resource on this phenomenal doctor and businesswoman.
I briefly reviewed Mahalia Jackson: Walking With Kings and Queens last summer. It's a gorgeously written and illustrated picture book biography of the famed gospel singer and civil rights activist.
I'm hoping that Will Smith is more determined than ever to produce the film version of Max Brooks's unforgettable The Harlem Hellfighters graphic novel. Although created for adults, mature teens interested in World War I history or African-American history should definitely read it. I reviewed this in May 2014, and it remains one of the most memorable reads I've read in recent years.
I'm late to the graphic novel world, but I'm so hooked it's not even funny. While I try to diversify my reading, I'm immediately drawn to graphic memoirs and graphic nonfiction most of all. March: Book One and Book Two are immensely moving and powerful graphic novels about the civil rights awakening and leadership of Congressman John Lewis (depicted as flashbacks of sorts as he prepares for Barack Obama's first inauguration). The final pages of the second book intersperse the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing with the swearing in of Obama as the first African-American president in a stunning presentation. March: Book Three is scheduled to be out in August, and I cannot wait.
If the name Madame C.J. Walker doesn't ring a bell, then you need to drop everything and read something about her (book, website, anything!). The first self-made female millionaire in the United States was born into extreme poverty in rural Louisiana, orphaned when she was only seven years old, a wife and mother at seventeen, and widowed by the age of twenty. When she created a treatment for her own hair loss, she embarked upon a life journey that would lead to creating her own personal care products for African-American women, creating new business opportunities for African-American women that were nearly nonexistent at the time, and contributing her wealth, power, and prestige to the civil rights movement at the turn of the last century. Vision of Beauty is a beautiful introduction to this extraordinary woman. (Someone make a movie based on her life!)
Want even more suggestions? Check out my posts from 2015 and 2014 for more great titles.
Today is Presidents' Day! I've been a fan of biographies about the presidents since I was a child and recently completed a three year stint of reading biographies of each president; if you are looking for presidential reading, check out the highlights of my experiment.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library