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20 Books That Inspire Black Girls to Strive Toward Greatness

Young girl viewing a portrait of Michelle Obama in a museum.

When I saw this picture, I thought it is a dramatic illustration of the importance of little Black girls seeing themselves in children’s books! This picture of Michelle Obama is telling this girl that she can be anything she wants to be!

Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to review some interesting books featuring Black females as the protagonist characters. Reading these books is extremely important because they show Black women and girls from multiple vantage points. These stories offer children of different races and genders the chance to develop an in-depth appreciation of Black women and girls. For Black girls, these books offer them an opportunity to identify with characters who look just like them.

These books are organized in themes that allow Black girls to look in the mirror after reading them and speak words that affirm their humanity and individual genius. Lastly, the books in this article will make the young women in your life say, “I am a loved princess, I am a smart girl, I am a hero, and I am a creator and innovator!”

In sum, I hope these reviews inspire the young girls in your life to strive toward greatness!!!!

I am a loved princess:

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell is a book about familial sacrifice and dreams. Uncle Jed was a traveling barber who had a beloved niece. His dream was to one day open up his own barbershop. Through his travels he earns enough money to open his dream barbershop, but his beloved niece falls ill. He decides to pay for his niece’s medical bill and delay his dream. This book shows children that the road toward their dreams will have barriers, but with the powerful tool of resilience dreams can be accomplished.

Cover of the book, Big Hair, Don't Care.

Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates is a fun and empowering read for girls of Africana descent. The book is a celebration of Black girls’ hair and the many ways they wear it. The author does an amazing job at integrating playful rhyming and great metaphors to show the beauty of Black textured hair. The author’s message is clear: love the things that make you who you are. This book serves as a tool to assist girls in developing a positive self-identity. This is a must read!

Cover of the book, Homemade Love.

Homemade Love by bell hooks is a great read. This book focuses on a loving relationship between a girl and her parents. Using words of affirmation, hooks teaches parents that through the ups and downs of daily life, children need to feel loved. The book has beautiful images that show a Black family in a positive light.

I am a smart student:

Cover of the book, You Should Meet Katherine Johnson.

You Should Meet Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman is a great book. This book tells an amazing story of a STEM Hero whose love of math & intellectual curiosity propelled her to solve one of the world’s most complex problems. Her story also shows the resilience needed to pursue a dream regardless of the societal barriers. Mrs. Johnson is an exemplar for kids who dare to dream of becoming STEM heroes.

Cover of the book, The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County.

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County is a magnificent story of empathy. This book tells the story of a young girl who chases chicken against the wishes of grandmother. The author walks us through the young girl’s thinking and planning on how she is going to capture Ms. Hen, who is the fastest and most beautiful chicken on the farm. When the Queen enacts her plan, she comes close to capturing Ms. Hen, but decides not to after discovering an important piece of information. With this information, she develops empathy for Ms. Hen, which makes her rethink chasing chickens. The descriptive words and matching illustrations allow the reader to actively follow the storyline. This is a great way to teach children about empathy.

Cover of the book, Michelle.

Michelle is a biography about the amazing former first lady of the United States of America, Michele Obama. This inspirational book shows the role that parental love and educational excellence played in Michelle Obama’s life. The book tells the story of how Mrs. Obama’s stay-at-home mother taught her and her brother to read when they were very young. Her parents both promoted the importance of educational excellence over material things of the world. Her story teaches parents that love and excellence are essential elements to all that dreams are built upon!

Cover of the book, Who Will I Be, Lord?

Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is about a little girl dreaming out loud about of her future. The author takes the reader on a journey through this young girl’s family as she explores her potential career. The book provides beautiful illustrations of a Black family, and provides readers with the opportunity to understand the complexity of Black life. The book serves as a tool for parents and teachers to invite a playful conversation with children about their future career aspirations. This is a must read!

Cover of the book, The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can.

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can by Dr. Tererai Trent is an amazing autobiography that details the importance and power of education. As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, Dr. Trent is prevented from attending school because of her gender. The book tells how she successfully tore down the aforementioned barrier and used her education to serve her community. This book is a powerful tool for parents and teachers to teach children about the importance of education and the responsibility of educated individuals to assist in the development of a better world.

Cover of the book, Mae Among the Stars.

Mae Among the Stars is about an Africana Hero Mae Jamison. The book tells the story of Mae as a girl who had a dream that was nearly abandoned. The book shows the importance of parental encouragement in children pursuing their dreams. The book also teaches readers that a library is a place that serves as a foundation for dream development and advancement. The author does an amazing job at running a great motto through the book that should be written on the hearts and minds of all children.

I am a hero:

Cover of the book, Ida B. Wells Let the Truth Be Told.

Ida B Wells: Let the Truth Be Told is a biography of a teacher turned social justice advocate. As a child, Ida was one of my heroes because she used journalism to confront racist oppression in the Jim Crow South. Her courage to use her pen as a weapon to fight was inspirational to me as a young journalist in high school. Reading this story to my sons reminded me why I loved Ida so much as a child. This book serves as a great tool to get students to imagine how they can use their talents to become active citizens.

Cover of the book, Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees.

Wangari Maathi: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees is a biography of an Africana STEM Hero. This book tells her humble beginnings and love of nature. The book describes the importance of her education in bringing about environmental change in Kenya. This story informs young readers that change does not occur until people develop courage to act. This is a great book to teach young people how STEM can be used to have a lasting impact on society.

Cover of the book, Mama Africa!

Mama Africa! is a book about an Africana Hero from South Africa named Miriam Makeba. The book tells a story of a girl who grew up to be a woman who transformed her nation. This amazing story begins with her discovering her talent to sing and ends with her using it to defeat the racist apartheid government. This book teaches children the importance of using their talents to develop dreams of individual fulfillment and social impact.

Cover of the book, The Youngest Marcher.

The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson is a biography of Africana Hero named Audrey Faye Hendricks. The book tells the story of an African-American girl’s experience living in an unjust Jim Crow America. This book does an awesome job at capturing the thought process of a child who answered a heroic call to struggle to end a system that prevented African-Americans from enacting their God-given right to be free. This book is a reminder that courage is not just an adult act.

Cover of the book, Moses.

Moses is about the Africana Hero Harriet Tubman. This book tells the amazing story the conductor of the underground railroad. The book describes the role her faith had in liberating herself and others from enslavement. The book also details the mental, emotional, and physical difficulty of the underground railroad journey. The beautiful pictures capture Tubman as both liberator and humble servant leader.

The Water Princess is a compelling story based on the childhood experiences of Georgie Badiel. The story begins with the young girl imagining she is the princess of the African sky. The author takes the reader on the daily journey she takes to gather water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. The story does an amazing job showing the beauty and innocence of childhood, while using Badiel’s life to discuss an important issue — access to clean water. Accessing clean water is an issue that affects children throughout the world. This book serves as a tool to pose questions to children on the importance of access to clean water and how they could imagine ways to solve the problem.

Cover of the book, Nina.

Nina is a story about Africana Hero Nina Simone. The poetic words allow the reader to engage with the story’s amazing content. The beautiful illustrations guide the reader through Nina’s childhood experiences. This amazing story shows her dreaming in spite of the racism in society. This is a must-read for children during Black History Month and beyond.

Cover of the book, Shaking Things Up.

Shaking Things Up is a collection of biographies of women of all colors who sought to assist in the development of a better world. These women answered the call of duty, dreamed in spite of the societal barriers placed in front of them, and acted courageously to become trailblazers. Readers will enjoy engaging with this book because it shows women as active agents of change. This book is a must read for both girls and boys who want to study SHEROES who made the world better.

I am a creator and innovator:

Violet’s Music by Angela Johnson is a beautiful story about pursing dreams. From the time she was a few hours old, Violet developed a love for music, but not everyone in her life shared that same love. She goes through life searching for people who share her love of music, but at first, she is unable to find them. Her inability to find fellow music lovers does not stop her from making music. She works on her dream and eventually meets up with fellow music lovers. When she meets them, she is able to fulfill her dream and maximize her talent. This is a great book for teaching children about pursing their dream.

Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal is the biography of Africana Entrepreneurial Hero Ann Cole Lowe. This inspirational story begins with Lowe recognizing her talent as a child, to a woman who made dresses for prominent women of her time. Parents looking to teach their kids how to become entrepreneurs will see this book as a valuable tool. The author does a masterful job at showing how Lowe used an entrepreneurial mindset to move beyond barriers that sought to rob her of the chance at accomplishing her dream. In an age where traditional employment is rapidly evaporating, we must teach our children to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and spirit needed to thrive. This book enables children to begin the process of developing the aforementioned abilities.

Cover of the book, Lily Brown's Paintings.

Lily Brown’s Paintings is a book that focuses on creativity and imagination. This book presents the story of a girl who uses art to re-imagine her world. The amazing artwork provides children with a fun opportunity to learn how to use their imaginations. For parents, this book serves as a tool to pose questions about why it’s important for their children to use their imaginations.

©Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL, Ph.D.

Photo of the author, Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL, Ph. D.

Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL is a graduate from University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education with a Ph.D. in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Griffin-EL worked as a youth leadership trainer for Pittsburgh Public Schools and lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business in Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently the founder of The Young Dreamers Book Club, which organizes story time events, creates educational content, and supports parents, community organizations, and educational institutions in selecting books that meet children’s holistic needs.

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