5 reasons why parents should read biographies of Africana heroes to children

Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-E.L. February 12, 2018

During the second week of Black History Month, the Reading Renaissance Campaign focuses on the Africana Heroes. The books reviewed are the stories of Africana heroes throughout the ages whose stories can serve as an inspiration for children. Here are five reasons why you should read biographies of Africana Heroes to your children.

First, biographies teach children that they can achieve their dreams through hard work. The book titled Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali is a great exemplar of a boy who suffered from a condition which prevented him from maximizing his full human potential. He did not allow that to determine who he would become. He struggled, worked, and studied and eventually became a great king. Without the element of hard work, Sundiata would have never developed the capacity to become great.

Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski is a story about an Africana hero. This book tells the story begins telling his childhood struggles as a boy who couldn’t talk or walk. A boy who was ignored because of his condition, but through parental love and study, he became a military genius who would become king. Every Africana child should know the story of Sundiata because it presents an amazing message: No matter what your condition or situation is in life, you have the power to overcome it through hard work.

Second, biographies show the importance of familial love in the development and advancement of dreams. Mae Among the Stars is an excellent example of the aforementioned. As a child, Mae was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she replied, “an astronaut.” Instead, her teacher encouraged her to be a nurse. When Mae’s mother heard the story, she said, “If you can dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible.” Without parental love, we may have never spoken the name Mae Jamison in the same sentence as astronaut or STEM hero.

Mae Among the Stars is about 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 how her parents encouraged her to pursue her dream regardless of the negative words expressed by her teacher. 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 moto through the book that should be written on hearts and minds of all children.

Third, biographies show children their need for positive self-efficacy to overcome internal and external barriers that prevent them from accomplishing their dreams. In the book titled The Book Itch, the main character goes to a bank for a loan to open up a bookstore, but he is denied the loan because the banker believed that Black people didn’t read. Instead of giving up his dream, he decided to find other ways to open the store, and eventually, he was successful. His bookstore would become an intellectual haven to other Africana heroes like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Kwame Nkrumah and community members who needed to quench their thirst for knowledge with a good book. Without positive self-efficacy, this haven would have never been developed.

The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is a story about an Africana Hero named Lewis Henri Michaux who owned the National Memorial African Bookstore. The book describes the Lewis’ entrepreneurial spirit, love of reading, and commitment to the intellectual advancement of Africana people. He saw READING as a pathway to liberating his people from racial oppression in America. This bookstore was an intellectual haven where great leaders, athletes, and community members of Africana descent gathered to learn and debate issues that affected the African World. This is an amazing story about the role of bookstores and books in empowering people of Africana descent.

Fourth, biographies teach children that life is an unfinished process. In many of the biographies reviewed, the main character endures an event or events that could prevent them from pursuing their dream, but he or she decided not to let failure define their life. The biography about Lonnie Johnson titled Whoosh details how he failed many times and learned from each failure. With the knowledge he gained from his experiences, he was able to create an invention that made him millions of dollars. Without viewing life as an unfinished process, we would never know about and be inspired by this Africana STEM hero.

Whoosh is a biography of Africana STEM Hero named Lonnie Johnson. The book details his humble beginnings as an entrepreneur who prototyped and piloted his ideas from childhood to adulthood. One of his most successful inventions was the Super Soaker. The book depicts the failures, rejections, risks, and successes of the entrepreneurial journey. For parents interested in exposing their children entrepreneurship, this book shows a real-life exemplar who persevered to accomplish his entrepreneurial dream.

Fifth, biographies teach children that education is a tool to build a better society and world. The book titled Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees displays a woman who used her education to transform the country of Kenya and the world. The book details how she was physically and emotionally brutalized by her own government for her stances against environmental injustice. Without her using her education as a tool to transform society, the world would have fewer examples of people who were willing to sacrifice all for the common good.

Wangari Maathai: 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 courageous story informs young readers that change is not easy or painless, but in order for it occur a person needs to be brave. This is a great book to teach young people how STEM can be used to have a lasting impact on society.

In conclusion, reading biographies of Africana heroes can serve as important developmental tools for parents.

Below are some other books you can read to African children:

Nina is a story about Africana Hero Nina Simone. The poetic words allow the reader to engage with story 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.


Mama Africa is a book about an Africana Hero named Miriam Makeba. The book tells a story of a girl who grew up to be a woman transform her nation. This amazing story begins with her discovering her talent to sing and ends with her using it to contribute to the end apartheid. This book teaches children of the importance of using their talents to develop dreams individual fulfilment and social consequence.


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 Jim Crow America. Through her own experiences as a child and that of the elders in her community, she realizes that the Jim Crow system is unjust. This book does an awesome job at capturing the thought process of a child who answers a heroic call to struggle to end a system that prevented African-Americans from enacting their God giving the right to be free.

Let the Children March by Monica Clarke-Robinson is a book about the young Africana Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. The book tells the story of courageous children who placed their lives on the line to end racial segregation in America. The author does a great job at breaking down the process of protest and the emotional impact it had on them. I love this book because it shows that children have the ability to assist in the development of a better world!

Toussaint L’Ouverture by Walter Dean Myers is a biography of the Africana Hero who led the Haiti Revolution. Haiti’s revolution served as an inspiration for Africana people throughout the Africa world. The book presents a history of Haiti and the conditions that led to the revolution. In addition, discusses the experiences and books contributed to Toussaint’s development. The book allows readers to develop an understanding of Toussaint as a man of the people who sought to free his people from colonial rule.

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim is the biography of the Africana Hero John Lewis. This book tells the amazing story of Lewis as a child who used play to practice his future vocation. Pretending that the chickens were members of his church, he would care for and preach them. The amazing pictures reinforce an important message to parents and children: play serves as a tool to aid children in developing and advancing their future dreams. This is a must-read book about a Civil Rights Icon!

Barack Obama by Nikki Grimes is a book about an Africana hero and first Black president of America. This book tells discusses his life from childhood to presidency. I enjoyed how the author captured how President Obama felt during the many experiences throughout his life. The interconnection between the words and images allows the reader to dive into the book and forget that they are reading aloud. This is a must-read.


Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford 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 difficult mental, emotional, and physical journey of the underground railroad. The beautiful pictures capture Tubman as both liberator and humble servant leader.


Sit In How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney tells the story of four brave colleges students who sought disrupt the racist Jim Crow South. The book does a wonderful job connecting these men’s story to the larger civil rights movement. In addition, the author artfully presents a simple food order as a revolutionary act showing the power of direct democratic participation in shaping America. The illustrations allow readers to imagine what it might felt like to be protesters in the Jim Crow South. In sum, I love this book because it shows how students were and still are the spark of the movements for demanding for transformative change.

My Daddy by Martin Luther King III is a biography about Africana Hero who led the Civil Rights Struggle. The author provides a holistic perspective of the Dr. King primarily as a loving father who was civil rights leader. The author does an amazing job at showing the emotional impact of his father’s protests, jailing, and victories had on him as a child. This book allows the reader to develop a great appreciation of the sacrifices his family made to ensure justice for oppressed people.

Desmond & the Very Mean World is an autobiography of Africana hero Desmond Tutu. The book tells a story from author’s childhood when he is called a racist name by a group of boys. The book shows the internal challenges a person endures when they engage in the courage process of forgiving. When my family and I lived in South Africa, I spent significant time studying Desmond Tutu’s work. This book is an essential read for kids and adults! I love the book and its powerful message!

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 a great tool to get students to imagine how they can use their talents to become active citizens.

You Should Meet Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman is a great read. This book tells an amazing story of an Africana STEM Hero whose love of math and intellectual curiosity propelled her to solve one of the world’s most complex problems Her also story 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.

With Books and Bricks is a powerful biography about the entrepreneurial spirit of Booker T Washington. The book illustrates the evolution of his dream from wanting to read to building an educational institution to serve African-Americans. Reading this book will inspire your kids to see life barriers as opportunities to develop the resilience to live their dreams in the future.

Take a Picture of Me by James Vanderzee is a triumph portrayal of a world-class photographer. Reading this book illuminates the patience needed for creating and advancing a dream.



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