Black History Month is celebrated each February, but these picks are always worth your attention

By Becky Samford, Publisher Duluth, Norcross, Suwanee, Johns Creek & Peachtree Corners Macaroni Kid & Kara Murphy, publisher of Macaroni Kid Erie, Pa. January 30, 2022

February is Black History Month, a time to recognize the important people and events in African-American history. But where to start? Here are some of our recommendations.


Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

About the book: When Mae Jemison was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars, floating, gliding, and discovering. She wanted to be an astronaut.

Her mom told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.”

Little Mae’s curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA as the first African American woman to travel in space.

Age recommendation: 4-8 years

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis & Brian Pinkney 

About the book: Ella Fitzgerald began her life as a singer on the stage of the Apollo Theater at 17. Her incredible voice has won her generations of fans around the world. Author Andrea Davis Pinkney tells Ella's inspiring story in the voice of Scat Cat Monroe -- a feline Fitzgerald fan. The book's fantastical images are done by two-time Caldecott Honor winner Brian Pinkney. 

Recommended by Zulema Gomez, MK Publisher: This is a family favorite for us and we end our reading by playing and dancing to a few of her songs. This book is not only a great narrative of Ella's contribution to the great American soundtrack, but it is a fun book to read out loud. The rhythm and rhyme of Ella's story make this a must read!

Age recommendation: 5-9 years

Firebird by Missy Copeland

About the book: In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, tells the story of a young girl--an every girl--whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl's faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird. Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers's best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.

Age recommendation: 5-8 years

Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Rebel Girls 

About the book: A story based on the life of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first black, female self-made millionaire. Sarah is the first person in her family who wasn’t born into slavery in Delta, Louisiana. But being free doesn’t mean that Sarah doesn’t have to work. She cooks, she cleans, she picks cotton, she does laundry, and she babysits. And when she works, she wraps up her hair.

One day, Sarah’s hair starts to fall out! It’s itchy, crunchy, patchy, and won’t grow. Instead of giving up, Sarah searches for the right products. And then she invents something better than any shampoo or hair oil she’s used before. Her hair grows and grows! That’s when she decides to rebrand herself as “Madam C. J. Walker,” and begins her business empire.

Madam C. J. Walker Builds a Business is the story of a leader in the hair care industry, but it’s also an inspiring tale about the importance of empowering women to become economically independent. This historical fiction chapter book includes additional text on Madam C. J. Walker’s lasting legacy, as well as educational activities designed to encourage entrepreneurship.

Age recommendation:  6-9 years

Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Lasky Ages 

About the book:   An inspiring biography of the woman who became Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first black, female self-made millionaire. She rose from a bleak world of poverty and discrimination to unprecedented success as an influential businesswoman and philanthropist. Born December 23, 1867, Sarah Breedlove Walker was the youngest and first freeborn child in her family. As sharecroppers, their lives were hard, but slavery had ended, and the Breedlove family was free. And if you were free, you could dream.

Age recommendation: 6-12years

Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid

About the book: Althea Gibson was the quickest, tallest, most fearless athlete in 1940s Harlem. She couldn’t sit still! When she put her mind to it, the fleet-of-foot girl reigned supreme at every sport—stickball with the boys, basketball with the girls, paddle tennis with anyone who would hit with her.

But being the quickest, tallest, most fearless player in Harlem wasn’t enough for Althea. She knew she could be a tennis champion. Because of segregation, black people weren’t allowed to compete against white people in sports. Althea didn’t care. She just wanted to play tennis against the best athletes in the world. And with skill and determination, she did just that, eventually becoming the first black person—man or woman—to win a trophy at Wimbledon.

Age recommendation: 4-8 years

The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon 

About the book: When Thurgood had to read the Constitution as punishment for a prank at school, his eyes were opened. His determination to make sure all Americans were treated equally led him to law school and then to become the first black Justice on the Supreme Court.

Age Recommendation: 4-8 years

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman 

About the book: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA's greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America's first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.

In this beautifully illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as "colored computers," and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career.

Age recommendation: 4-8 years

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington  by Jabari Asim

About the book: This story is about Booker T. Washington's amazing achievement as a child, when he walked hundreds of miles from his West Virginia home to go to school. Author Jabari Asim tells the story in free verse, beginning with Washington as a slave boy whose dream was to learn to read. 

Recommended by Zulema Gomez, MK Publisher: This is an amazing story of resilience and a lifelong journey powered by a boy's dream. The art in this book is powerful and the story is simply and beautifully told.  

Age recommendation: 5-8 years

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
About the book:  This beautifully illustrated New York Times bestseller introduces readers of all ages to 40 women who changed the world.

An important book for all ages, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of forty trailblazing black women in American history. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things - bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come.

Age recommendation: 8-12 years

Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks

About the book: Vivien Thomas's greatest dream was to study medicine. When he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school, Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

As Dr. Blalock s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien s name did not appear in the report.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine children s heart surgery. Tiny Stitches is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine."

Age recommendation: 7-12 years

Black Heroes: A Black History Book for Kids: 51 Inspiring People from Ancient Africa to Modern-Day U.S.A. by Arlisha Norwood
About the book: You’re invited to meet ancient Egyptian rulers, brilliant scientists, legendary musicians, and civil rights activists―all in the same book! Black Heroes introduces you to 51 black leaders and role models from both history and modern times. This black history book for kids features inspirational biographies of trailblazers from the United States, Egypt, Britain, and more.

Discover where in the world they lived, and what their lives were like growing up. Learn about the obstacles they faced on the way to making groundbreaking accomplishments. You’ll find out how these inspirational figures created lasting change―and paved the way for future generations.

Age recommendations: 8-12 years


Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

About the book: Dr. Ben Carson tells of his inspiring odyssey from his childhood in inner-city Detroit to his position as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three.

In 1987, Dr. Carson gained worldwide recognition for his part in the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head--an extremely complex and delicate operation that was five months of planning and twenty-two hours of actual surgery, involving a surgical plan that Carson helped initiate. Filled with fascinating case histories, Gifted Hands will transplant you into the operating room to witness surgeries that made headlines around the world. 

Recommended by Becky Samford, MK Publisher: A truly inspiring story of a boy who saw himself as a failure, but his mother would never let him quit. Through determination and lot of hard work, Ben overcame his many obstacles to become one of the world’s greatest pediatric neurosurgeons. He is a great role model for anyone who dreams the seemingly impossible.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 

About the book: The #1 New York Times bestseller The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. 

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Recommended by Becky Samford, MK Publisher: This is one of my favorite books. It is amazing to me that America's space program began before the first IBM computer was invented. NASA used human computers for all of their calculations. In fact, if it had not been for Dorothy Vaughan's calculations, the first manned space flight might have been delayed for years! This is an inspiring story of four brilliant, black women gained respect by excelling at their jobs. I also highly recommend the movie, it's fantastic!

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team by Elise Hooper

About the book: The real life history of Louise Stokes, the first integrated women’s Olympic team and their journeys to the 1936 summer games in Berlin, Nazi Germany. 

Chicago’s Betty Robinson, feted as America’s Golden Girl sprinter, is in a nearly-fatal airplane crash that threatens to end everything. Outside of Boston, Louise Stokes, one of the few black girls in her town, sees competing as an opportunity to overcome the limitations placed on her. From Missouri, Helen Stephens, awkward, tomboyish, and poor, is considered an outcast by her schoolmates, but she dreams of escaping the hardships of her farm life through athletic success. 

These three athletes will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, Betty, Louise, and Helen must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

Recommended by Becky Samford, MK Publisher: This is a must read for all aspiring Olympians! It's an amazing story of overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles to achieve your dreams. This book shows that although talent goes a long way, it also takes  determination, dedication, perseverance, and just plain grit to make it to the finish line.

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'Lelia Bundles 

About the book: Not only was she America's first self-made woman millionaire, but also America's First African-American millionaire. The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Sarah Breedlove—who would become known as Madam C. J. Walker—was orphaned at seven, married at fourteen, and widowed at twenty. She spent the better part of the next two decades laboring as a washerwoman for $1.50 a week. Then—with the discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women—everything changed. By her death in 1919, Walker managed to overcome astonishing odds: building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women, and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism. Along the way, she formed friendships with great early-twentieth-century political figures such as Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers and Guy A. Sims

About the book: Monster, which has won numerous prestigious awards, is a coming-of-age story by Walter Dean Myers about a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. He envisions how his life would play out on the big screen as he gets used to juvenile detention and goes to trial. Monster was adapted into a graphic novel by Guy Sims and Dawud Anyabwile.

Recommended by Jennifer Chasse, MK Publisher: Guy Sims and Dawud Anyabwile are the talent behind the award-winning comic strip Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline Comic series, and a number of books. This adaptation of Monster will interest teens and, as a beautiful graphic novel, is a great choice for even reluctant readers.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

About the book: This compelling memoir tells the story of the Daily Show's host life. He was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother in South Africa at a time when such a union was illegal.

Recommended by Jenny Steadman: It’s not about U.S. history, but Trevor Noah’s "Born a Crime" is a great read about growing up in South Africa under apartheid.

Poems by Maya Angelou

About the book: The celebrated Maya Angelou is known for writing from the heart. Her poetry is vibrant, moving, and eye-opening. 

Recommended by Jennifer Chasse: This is a book from college that I still refer to today, but really any of Angelou's books are great choices.  


Our Friend, Martin 

About the film: This Emmy-nominated animated film, released in 1999, is about two middle school friends who travel through time, meeting Martin Luther King Jr. at different points during the Civil Rights leader's remarkable life.

Recommended by Harlisha Homer: This is an animated tale about the life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but told from the perspective of middle school time travelers. Even though it's decades old now, for whatever reason, if I turn it on, my whole family tend to watch -- maybe because it's told like a story, but with historical facts.


About the film: The story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the modern era. Robinson wore the number 42 on his jersey. 

Recommended by Harlisha Homer: My boys learned about Jackie Robinson when they were small, but the movie made his life relatable and made Jackie Robinson human.

Hidden Figures

About the film: This award-winning film, released in 2016, tells the story of the important role black female mathematicians who worked at NASA played during the space race. It is based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Recommended by Barbara Evangelista: Loved this movie! All the women in my family went to see it together -- my 86-year-old mom, me, my sisters, and my daughter. Such a powerful movie... My kids were stunned by the segregation and how women and African-Americans were treated. It was eye-opening for them.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, a Netflix Original Series
Starring Octavia Spencer, this is the story of an African American washerwoman who rises from poverty to build a beauty empire and become America's first female self-made millionaire. Based on a true story.

Recommended by Becky Samford, MK Publisher: I really enjoyed this short Netflix series. I think there were only 4 or 5 episodes. Because of some language and adult situations, I would recommend it for older teens and adults. But, it is an inspiring story of one woman's journey from poverty to independence and enormous wealth. Octavia Spencer is fabulous, as always! 

Black Panther

About the film: Black Panther became the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time during its theatrical run and was the first superhero movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. The movie was called "a defining moment" for black America in The New York Times.

Recommended by Zulema Gomez: What we are watching? Black Panther, of course! For the millionth time!

Please support local businesses! Johns Creek Books & Gifts on Medlock Bridge Rd has a great selection of books for all ages. They have most of these books. Just call them at 770-696-9999 and they can have your selection ready for you to pick up via their curbside pickup service. Or you can visit their online bookshop HERE and have it delivered to your home.

Learn about other fun, family holidays and events this month HERE.

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