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Historical Figures

Historical figures transcend gender, race and religion. They stand out because they influence how we function in society, even years after they are no longer with us. From something as simple as writing in a diary, to larger acts such as leading marches for social justice or beginning a religion, every person has left behind a legacy that has touched the world in some way.

Anne Frank: by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett; Jewish faith/Holocaust; illustrated story depicting the life and hiding of Anne Frank, her family and other Jewish people who went into hiding with them during World War II. There is a timeline of events at the end of the book. Recommended for middle elementary and older.

*Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography: by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón; Jewish faith/Holocaust; graphic novel biography of Anne Frank, beginning with her parents’ backgrounds, through Anne’s death and beyond. This book also covers the social and political aspects of what was happening in Germany, the Netherlands and the world as the war began and progressed. Direct quotes, maps and diagrams help further enhance the storytelling. This title would be an excellent addition to an Anne Frank unit. Recommended for middle school and older due to illustrations of blood, death and murder.

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky: written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold; American – Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman takes young Cassie on a flight through the trials of the Underground Railroad, where she experiences some of what her great-grandparents went through on their own journey to freedom. A brief biography of Tubman and history of the U.S. at the time follows the story. Elementary and older.

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation: by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Written in the form of a blues song, a guitar-playing dog tells the story of Rosa Parks, Jim Crow and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 – 56 that Parks inspired. Late elementary and older.

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story: by S.D. Nelson; Native-American – Hidatsa. The true story of Buffalo Bird Girl, a Hidatsa native girl growing up on the Great Plains of North Dakota at the turn of the 20th century. This story chronicles daily life, farming, housing, trading with pioneers and battling with other local tribes. Non-fiction with primary source photographs. Author’s Note. Late elementary and older.

Freedom River: by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier; American – Underground Railroad. Based on the true story of John Parker, a free Black man who risked capture to cross the Ohio River and help an enslaved family escape from Kentucky, grabbing the family’s infant from their enslaver’s bedroom. Elementary and older.

Harriet and the Promised Land: written and illustrated by Jacob Lawrence; American – Underground Railroad; Artwork of Jacob Lawrence accompany a verse storytelling of Harriet Tubman and her leading others to freedom. Author’s note before the story. Middle elementary and older.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad: by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Underground Railroad. Historical fiction account of Henry “Box” Brown, an enslaved man in Virginia. In 1849, after his wife and children are sold, Henry decides to ship himself to freedom in Pennsylvania. Elementary and older.

*If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks: written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold; The story of Rosa Parks’ life leading up to, including and following her monumental bus ride as told by the bus she rode on. Lynching is mentioned. Late elementary and older.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to be Malcolm X: by Ilyasah Shabezz, illustrated by Ag Ford; a biography of Malcolm X for children, written by his daughter. The main focus of this picture book is Malcolm’s childhood, from his parents’ meeting through Malcolm’s middle school years. It gives the foundation of who Malcolm was based on the events in his childhood. Recommended for middle elementary and older, with prior knowledge of the Civil Rights movement and prior historical events (Jim Crowe, KKK, etc).

*Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman: by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; American – Underground Railroad. This is a fictionalized recounting, with historical facts, of Harriet Tubman’s childhood. Harriet is whipped in this story, but it is not shown. Older elementary and older.

Muhammad: written and illustrated by Demi; Islamic faith; an illustrated telling of the life of Muhammad, the Koran and the beginning of the Islamic faith. There is a forward that explains the art and some terminology. Recommended for late elementary and older.

March – Book One: by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; autobiographic graphic novel of Congressman John Lewis’ early life and how it influenced his involvement in the civil rights movement. Book one covers his early involvement and the lunch counter protests. Due to language and violence, this title recommended for late middle school and older.

March – Book Two: by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; continuation of Congressman John Lewis’ autobiographic graphic novel. Book two follows Lewis’ growth and rise through the ranks of the civil rights movement leadership ranks and covers the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. Due to language and violence, this title is recommended for late middle school and older.

March – Book Three: by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; the final installment of the March trilogy, this volume focuses on the planning and implementation of the events surrounding and including the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. Due to language and violence, this title is recommended for late middle school and older.

Mary McLeod Bethune: by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; American; This is a biography of Mary McLeod Bethune, a woman born free in South Carolina to formerly enslaved parents. Mary was the first in her family to receive a formal education and went on to start and run schools for Black children and was a voice for Black people, the youth and women in particular, in the early 20th century. Middle elementary and older due to length.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom: by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; American – Underground Railroad. The story of how Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman was deeply spiritual, so this story is framed within her conversations with God. Author’s Note at the end. Elementary and older.

Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth: by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; American Abolitionist. This is the life story of Isabella, who became Sojourner Truth, a former enslaved woman who spoke out against slavery, successfully used the law to get her son back and championed women’s rights. Elementary and older.

*Rosa: by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier; The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Emmett Till murder and lynching are mentioned. Late elementary and older.

Sadako: by Eleanor Coeri, illustrated by Ed Young; Japan – Hiroshima. Based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl affected by the Hiroshima atom bomb. Sadako developed leukemia from the effects of the bomb, and while in the hospital, attempted to fold 1,000 paper cranes. This story is not the full, accurate account of her life and death, but could be a starting point to researching it. Middle elementary and older.

Separate is Never Equal: written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh; Mexican American; the real-life fight of Sylvia Mendez and her family to end school segregation in California schools in 1947. Elementary and older.

The Story of Ruby Bridges: by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford; American Civil Rights. The story of Ruby Bridges, her first day of school as the only Black student at an all White school, and the months that followed. Afterward included. Elementary and older.

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Greg Shed; Native American – Wampanoag. A telling of the first Thanksgiving and the historical evens leading up to that feast from the perspective of Squanto (Tisquantum). Middle elementary and older.

Available on MelCat:

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon: by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. This is the true story of Katherine Johnson, the woman whose mathematical prowess and determination to overcome racial and gender obstacles helped put the first man on the moon. Elementary and older.

Did Christopher Columbus Really Discover America? by Emma Carlson Berne. The eye-opening truth of Christopher Columbus, his explorations and his interactions and exploitation of Native people who already inhabited the Caribbean islands where he first landed. Elementary and older.

Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom: by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Simone Agoussoye. The true story of Ona Judge, a talented and highly skilled enslaved woman of George and Martha Washington, who escaped Mt. Vernon and was able to maintain her freedom and avoid being recaptured, though there were several close calls. Late elementary and older, due to length.