Extraordinary Black Women, and Pretty Cool Books Too

Kate Staff Image

I love reading children’s biographies for their combinations of awe-inspiring life stories and beautifully drawn images of the subject’s world. By reading an illustrated biography, you can quickly have a better understanding of who the subject is, or was, through the author’s, and especially, illustrator’s perspective.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History was written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. In it, she profiles forty black American women. Many names from the past are recognizable such as Harriet Tubman or Iba B. Wells. Others, such as Mary Bowser, who was a spy for the Union during the Civil War, are less known. Harrison profiles athletes, like Olympian Florence Joyner, activists, such as Black Panther and Communist party member Angela Davis and writers, like Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks. What I like most about Harrison’s book are the illustrations of each woman wearing clothing and with backgrounds that clearly signify their life’s work and contributions. Each profile will make you say, wow!

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio tells the story of how jazz singer turned activist Billie Holiday fought back against intense racial discrimination and hatred by singing a song about the practice of lynching blacks. Despite her initial uncertainty about its lyrics, Strange Fruit went onto to become Holiday’s most well-known and best-selling song. Though it was censored on the radio, it’s credited with galvanizing the Civil Rights movement and for binging a seldom discussed dark truth of American history to light. Illustrator Charlotte Riley-Webb’s paintings perfectly capture the color, movement and feel of live music and the deep emotion evoked by singing and hearing Strange Fruit.