Nothing is more inspiring that reading about the lives of real people who have made a difference in our world. These biographies become more powerful when kids see people who look like them reflected in the books. I searched my library shelves for diverse picture book biographies and came up with a huge stack. Too many for one post. So here’s a few and I’ll share more in another post.
Inspiring Multicultural Biographies For Kids
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier: In January the United States celebrates the life and accomplishments of the great Civil Rights leader. The author uses quotes from Dr. King’s speeches to tell the story of his life in this biography geared towards young children. Make sure to take advantage of the timeline and additional resources in the beautifully illustrated picture book. (Coretta Scott King Honor Book & Caldecott Honor Book)
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez: Written in English and Spanish, this book recounts Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s childhood in the Bronx. Her family didn’t have much, but she had what she needed to succeed: her mother’s love and her determination.
Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries by Emily Arnold McCully: In 1841, a young Japanese boy and his fellow fishermen became stranded on a small island, far from home. After several months, an American ship rescues them and so begins Manjiro’s adventure in the United States. His home country was closed to foreigners, but Manjiro returned home after many years to share his stories with his people. He even advised Japanese leaders when U.S. Navy ships arrived and demanded Japan open its ports to American ships.
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison: Anyone who loves munching on chips will love learning about their inventor George Crum. Though he encountered prejudice for his biracial Native American and African American heritage, his fiery streak gave helped him make culinary history.
Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Julie Maren: Starting with the salsa singer’s humble beginnings in her two bedroom house shared with her three sisters and numerous cousins in Havana, Cuba, this book illustrates how Celia Cruz’s passion for singing garnered her worldwide fame. She and her bandmates “rewrote the history of Cuban music with new arrangements and a fresh, innovative style.”
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib: Before micro-loans hit the internet, there was economics professor Muhammad Yunus. In the 1970s, he founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money (like twenty-two cents) in order to better their lives.
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier: Written in free verse, this biography of the United States 44th President is perfect for reading aloud. Children will learn about President Obama’s biracial heritage and his journey to become our nation’s first black president.
Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper: Alice Coachman’s journey to become the first African American woman to win an Olympic Gold medal was not an easy one. She grew up in a time where it was unladylike for girls to run and jump. In college when she won a race against a top-ranked white sprinter, someone from the crowd threw ice at her. A great story for any child who loves to run and jump (like both of my kids!).
Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown, illustrated Rafael Lopez: The colorful and lively illustrations in this book reflects the Mambo King’s passion for music. Your kids can’t help dancing along with the fun rhythms of Tito Puente. (Pura Belpré Honor Book)
Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch: Traditionally women are not allowed to become sushi chefs. Japanese American Hiromi Suzuki trained under her father in their family restuarant and became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York. Make sure you pick up some sushi before reading this book because you’ll definitely crave it afterwards!
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson: Written in free verse, the book tells the inspiring story of Nelson Mandela, who spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. His belief in equality for all people-no matter their skin color-pushed him to organize a resistance program that led to his arrest and imprisonment. His determination and triumph as the first black president of South African will encourage children to pursue their dreams–no matter how challenging. (Coretta Scott King Honor Book)
What books would you add to this list?