A few weeks ago, my mother stopped by for a visit and surprised us with a board book. My mom obviously knows about my passion for building an inclusive library for my son, and likes to contribute her own picks occasionally, which I am forever grateful for. This particular book was called Little Heroes of Color: 50 Who Made a BIG Difference by David Heredia. It’s a great nonfiction selection for children highlighting lots of different POC (People of Color) who changed the world. My only real complaint about this book is that every person highlighted only has one sentence dedicated to their accomplishments. I was left wanting so much more!
So in honor of Nonfiction November, I decided to take matters into my own hands and locate children’s biographies for heroes featured in the book. These biographies are all still a bit over Sully’s head, but I definitely plan on picking them up so we can learn more about each hero’s accomplishments as he gets older.
If you’re looking to add a bit of Nonfiction to your little readers library you can pick these titles up at my Bookshop Affiliate Shop. Please know that Mutually Inclusive does receive a small commission on purchases made through this link (and the links for each title on this post). This commission allows me to purchase more books to review and share with you.
Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Born in the Jim Crow era in Durham, North Carolina, Ernest Smalls grew up to be both a professional football player and an artist. This picture book shares with us both his struggles and his successes throughout his life. I love that this story tells children they don’t have to choose between arts and sports. They can absolutely enjoy and be successful at both!
Henry “Box” Brown
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry’s Freedom Box tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who escaped slavery in a very creative way. Henry was torn from his mother at a young age. He grew up to be married and started a family of his own, only to have them sold away from him. In the end, Henry comes up with a plan to mail himself to freedom, earning him the nickname Henry “Box” Brown.
Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People by S. D. Nelson
S.D Nelson, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, brings us the story of Sitting Bull. Told through Sitting Bull’s voice, this book focuses on the injustices faced by the Lakota tribes throughout our nation’s history. Just a note: this one is recommended for a slightly older audience (middle grade) as the illustrations do depict death and violence.
Joseph Boulogne Chevalier De Saint George
Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George by Lesa Cline Ransome Illustrated by James Ransome
This book chronicles Joseph Boulogne’s life from a plantation in West Indies to studying music in Paris, and his rise to fame in Europe. Joseph overcomes great adversity and finds success as the first black composer. A great story for any music lover, and a great reminder that the classical music world isn’t as white as we’re led to believe.
Shirley Chisholm https://bookshop.org/a/15989/9780803730892is a Verb by Veronica Chambers, Illustrated by Rachelle Baker
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. This picture book touches on Shirley’s early life, but it truly highlights her many accomplishments, including creating the Head Start and WIC programs, and her work to help create the Congressional Black Caucus. This is a fantastic pick to discuss determination, and speaking up for yourself. I also LOVE the illustrations in this one. They really gave Shirley a personality throughout the book.
Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger Illustrated by Teresa Flavin
This is the picture book biography of Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman and Native American woman to receive a pilot’s license, This book chronicles the famous aviatrix’s life from her childhood in Texas all the way to her death in Jacksonville, Florida. My only complaint was that I felt the book glossed over Bessie’s Native American heritage. Her father’s “Indian” heritage is mentioned, but only in passing.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
This stunning biography is told through a collection of poems. Written from Fannie Lou Hamer’s perspective, these poems detail her journey from a sharecropper’s daughter in Sunflower County, Mississippi to a renowned civil rights activist. This book does not shy away from the events of the Civil Rights Movement, but details the injustices that freedom fighters faced during these times. Note: There is a racial slur used in this book.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
This is a lovely little biography of Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. This one isn’t too heavy on history or Maya’s childhood, but reads as an inspiring story for any budding little artists or architects.
Dr. Ronald McNair
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, Illustrated by Don Tate
Dr. Ronald McNair was a Black NASA astronaut and physicist who lost his life in the Challenger mission. This picture book relates a fictionalized version of a real-life event from Dr. McNair’s childhood in South Carolina. In this book, Ron wants to check books out from the library, which is only allowed for white children. This is a great book to engage children in conversations about civil disobedience, and help them understand that unjust “rules” can and should be challenged.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a Black Puerto Rican historian, collector, and writer who was determined to discover and share Black history and achievements. This book contains a collection of 20 poems detailing his quest for knowledge that eventually led to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and his lifelong fight against the whitewashing of history, but it also relates much of the Black history he discovered along the way.
Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Supreme Court of The United States. This autobiography details her childhood, specifically highlighting her love of reading. Justice Sotomayor shares how her love of reading impacted her life, and lead her to her career as a lawyer, judge, and Supreme Court Justice.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, Illustrated by S. D. Nelson
Jim Thorpe was an accomplished athlete and the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal. This biographic picture book discusses his childhood on the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation , specifically focusing on how his education influenced his path to his athletic achievements. A great reminder for young readers of the importance of education.
I wish I could share biographies for all 50 heroes mentioned in Little Heroes of Color: 50 Who Made a BIG Difference but unfortunately, I couldn’t find one for everyone. There are a few others I hope to share another day, along with some other great biographies I found featuring heroes not mentioned in David Heredia’s collection. I hope you found one or two books to add to your readers’ shelves.
Have you read any of these biographies? Have you read other biographies about any of the heroes in Little Heroes of Color: 50 Who Made a BIG Difference? Be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!