Seven Stories of Iconic African American Women

Hi everyone, this extra post this week is about seven iconic African American women. I hadn’t realised just how powerful and courageous the words and actions of these women were until I  read their stories. These seven that I chose are just some of the many amazing stories that are out there!! Read on to find out which seven I chose…

This first one caught my eye mainly because of the lovely cover but what was inside was even more promising…

book cover has light blue sky in background. large yellow letters across top reads Betty smaller letters beneath this reads Before X. image of young brown skinned girl with dark hair standing in middle with her back to viewer. she has white blouse and pinafore dress with white ribbon in hair. green leaves flying beside her her side.
An engaging read!

Title: Betty before X

Author: Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson

Genre: Fiction – biographical

Publication details: Farrar Straus Giroux; NY, 2018

What this book is about: It is 1945 in Detroit and eleven-year-old Betty has so many worries. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. Speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in Betty’s congregation to stand up for their rights despite widespread racial prejudice. Soon Betty and her friend Suesetta begin volunteering for the Housewives League, and Betty’s confidence blossoms as she sees the real change her hard work can create. But when a terrible crime occurs in their community, Betty realizes the right way forward isn’t’ always clear. Before Betty Shabazz met Malcolm X and became a mother, educator, and world-renowned activist, she was simply a girl. In this book – inspired by real life and fictionalized through collaborations with lauded novelist Renee Watson – Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four important years in her mother’s childhood. Here is an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today as they put down their own roots in the fight for equality. 

My review: Emotional, poignant and inspiring. These are the three words that come to mind to describe this powerful book. The story of Betty Dean Sanders before she became that stalwart of an activist as Malcolm X’s wife. I had heard of Malcolm X and his work but this book, telling the story of the younger years of his wife was a truly inspirational read. I learned so much about the lives of African American young people in the late 1940’s and the subsequent events that gave rise to the Civil Rights movement. The amazing storytelling by Ilyasah Shabazz along with Renee Watson had me captivated and crying at every turn of the page!!. An inspirational read!!

My rating: 4½⭐

“Freedom is a strong seed.”

Langston Hughes

This next amazing woman captivated me with her words when I was discovering reads for younger audiences. 

book cover has three colours in background. blue on top, yellow clouded sky in middle and brown shaded grass. girl in silhouette standing in middle holding book. swirly pattern in yellow rises to top of cover. brown girl dreaming in brown letters above girl. Jacqueline Woodson in large yellow letters at bottom. seals of three book awards on front.
A biography like no other!

Title: Brown Girl Dreaming

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Genre: Biography – in verse

Publication details: Nancy Paulsen Books; NY, 2014

What this book is about: In vivid free verse, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960’s and 70’s in both the North and South. Raised in South Carolina and later in Brooklyn, New York, Woodson often felt halfway home in each place, and describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement. But through all their journey, there was always one constant – a deep family love and pride that made each Woodson stand up a little taller and shine a little brighter. Poignant and powerful, each poem in Brown Girl Dreaming is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in this world.

My review: A truly beautiful story!! I loved every single poem in this read. They were all moving and lyrical, and painted an amazing image for me. Woodson’s writing is very clear and concise. Each poem tells a story of a part of her childhood, her dreams and ambitions, her fears and struggles and about the civil rights movement at that time seen through the eyes of a child. I actually read this book first, and only after this did I source out her novels!! I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed!! 

My rating: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: This title has won the Newbery Honor prize, the Sibert Award for Non-Fiction for Children and the Coretta Scott King Award for Author in 2015. It also won the National Book Award in 2014. It has been nominated for countless more awards so you’ll find it in every single list out there!! 

I don’t think this next iconic figure needs an introduction. She is a former First Lady and a true inspiration to young girls throughout the whole world whatever their ethnicity!!

pink background with small images of medals, loudspeaker and white building at bottom. large black letters across center reads 'Become a leader like Michelle Obama.' image of lady with dark skin and black hair smiling in middle.
A lovely read!

Title: Michelle Obama

Author: Caroline Moss

Illustrator: Sinem Erkas

Genre: Biography

Publication details: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; Minneapolis, 2020

What this book is about: Young Michelle Robinson was a brilliant girl who loved her family. She created amazing opportunities for herself in the world of education, law and business. When she met a guy named Barack Obama her life changed dramatically, giving her a global platform to bring change. This new series of empowering biographies feature women in the world of work. 

My review: An adorable version of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s life from childhood. Having read her memoir, Becoming, I already knew much of her story in detail, but this lovely illustrated book for younger readers was also an amazing find. Filled with inspirational quotes by Michelle Obama amidst some amazing artwork by Sinem Erkas, Caroline Moss has created a masterpiece in this book. This series seems to be quite an interesting one to look into for information and inspiration. A really good book. Loved the ten key lessons from Michelle’s life at the back along with questions to think about. 

My rating: 5 ⭐

Think of what you love to do, and figure out what kind of career would support it.

Michelle Obama

History would have been different if it hadn’t been for the actions of this next African American woman. She epitomises the word courage and brings only images of hope to all who know of her. However, this lyrical story tells of her past as well as the woman she’s known as…

blue background showing night sky with stars. large white moon in middle. image of dark skinned woman wearing blue headscarf in profile standing in front of moon. she wears white shift dress or shawl. white letters on top Before she was Harriet.
A lyrical picture book

Title: Before she was Harriet

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James F. Ransome

Genre: Biography – Graphic Novel (epistolary)

Publication details: Holiday House; NY, 2017

What this book is about: Moses, General Tubman, Minty, Araminta – the woman we know today as Harriet Tubman went by many names. Each represented one of her many roles as a spy, as a liberator, as a suffragist, and more. A powerful poem and exquisite watercolour paintings pay tribute to a true American hero. 

My review: So beautifully crafted was this read, it reduced me to tears halfway through!! The life of infamous Harriet Tubman in the narrative of a gorgeous poem accompanied by the most exquisite watercolour paintings of this American trailblazer is depicted in this graphic novel. Simple and elegant it not only gives you the rough outline of her life but shows you in the lyrical verse as well. I really loved this over any other literary and factual read!! Just lovely!! Great for younger readers too!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

Our screens have a lot to answer for. Like most around the world, my knowledge of these extraordinary women came to light after their story was made into a movie. I hope you enjoy this junior version of their tale as much as I did.

image of four African American women in front posing for photo. large image of moon behind them. darkness of space around moon. large black letters over moon reads Hidden Figures.
A fascinating read!

Title: Hidden figures

Author: Margot Lee Shetterly with Winnifred Conkling

Illustrator: Laura Freeman

Genre: Biography (Graphic Novel)

Publication details: HarperCollins Children’s Books; NY, 2018

What this book is about:  Katherine, Dorothy, Mary, and Christine were all good at math. Really good. And it was their understanding of numbers that helped them do what seemed impossible. They were women, and they were African-American, and they lived during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But these four women were hardworking and persistent and, most importantly, smart. And that’s why NASA hired them to do the math that would one day send the United States into space for the very first time. New York Times bestselling author Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrator Laura Freeman bring to life the inspiring story of the struggles of these four “hidden figures” and what they overcame to succeed. The math work they did would change not only their lives, but the face of air and space travel forever. 

My review: Inspirational and moving, this delightful graphic novel for children tells a very important story. One of determination and courage in standing up in the face of adversity and striving for success in careers of four very unique African American women. I like how this adorable book describes each woman’s story in bite-sized pieces making it easier for young readers to understand this monumental time in American history. The illustrations are vibrant and gorgeous. The timeline at the end is good in showing how the Space Race and integration intertwined into the lives of these remarkable women. A really good read!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

This story I found while doing some extensive research on the theme for this post. It wasn’t just the gorgeous images that captivated me, but this astounding story of the world’s first African American ballerina and her amazing accomplishments!!

large image of ballerina mid pose in white flowing dress. girl is slightly darker skinned. rose petals around her. background looks like blue/purple stage backdrops. large letters in blue across top reads Trailblazer.
A beautiful story of courage!

Title: Trailblazer: the story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson

Author: Leda Schubert

Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III

Genre: Biography – Picture book

Publication details: Little Bee Books; NY, 2018

What this book is about: On Raven Wilkinson’s ninth birthday, her uncle gifted her with ballet lessons, and she completely fell in love with the craft. While she was a student at Columbia University, Raven auditioned for the Ballet Ruse de Monte Carlo and was finally accepted on her third try, even after being told she couldn’t dance with the troupe because of her skin colour. She encountered racism in her travels while on tour, but the applause, alongside the opportunity to dance, made all the hardship worth it. She would later dance for royalty with the Dutch National Ballet, and she regularly performed with the New York City Opera until she was fifty. This beautiful picture book tells the uplifting story of the first African American ballerina to ever dance with a major American touring troupe and how she became a huge inspiration for the pioneering ballet dancer Misty Copeland.

My review: What a gorgeous read this was!! I hadn’t heard of Raven Wilkinson before and I was surprised when I started reading this. Yes, it’s an extremely simplified version of a remarkable personality but the lesson of perseverance and courage resonated loudly in every page. The illustrations are so beautiful that they make reading the words seem like a symphony. What an inspirational and insightful story!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

And lastly, the last frontier! Space and science…these were both conquered by this exceptional role model. 

dark blue background looks like outer space with planets and galaxies. Blast off into space like Mae Jemison in white letters around image of face of short-haired African American women.
A lovely read!

Title: Blast off into space like Mae Jemison

Author: Caroline Moss

Illustrator: Sinem Erkas

Genre: Biography

Publication details: Quarto Publishing plc; London, 2020

What this book is about:  When Mae Jemison was a little girl, she loved science and dancing. She watched the Apollo moon landings, and wondered why none of the astronauts were women – but she wasn’t satisfied with the answers she was given. Discover how Mae became a high-flying astronaut and scientist in this true story of her life.

My review: An amazing book featuring the first female African American astronaut Mae Jemison. I had heard of her a while back but didn’t know too much. So when I found this on our library catalogue I knew I had to read it!! What a remarkable woman she is!! To think she became a medical doctor and scientist and then pursued her dreams to become an astronaut too!! What an achievement!! The gloriously detailed illustrations give another element to this story!! I loved everything about this book. The ratio of text to images is perfect and the quotes by Mae are truly inspirational and uplifting!! I only learned of the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for excellence through this!! Some amazing work by this trailblazer!! The key lessons at the back along with activities and references are also an excellent addition to this read!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

Don’t let the opinions of others determine your future.

Mae Jemison

Well, I don’t know about you but after finding all of these and typing up these words, I felt exhilarated and inspired by these amazing figures through history. To say all these women were courageous and brave would be a gross understatement. They were and still are icons, role models and amazing individuals who continue to inspire young girls to achieve. I know there are other amazing Afiran American women’s stories out there. I’d love to know if anyone has read any other stories like these!! 

Hope you all enjoy this selection! Stay safe everyone and keep reading!!

Miss Mahee

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