• Title: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
  • Author: Patricia Hruby
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Publication year: 2014
  • Brief Summary: From Chronicle-“In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I have to admit I did not know of Josephine Baker until this class, our presentation on Robinson, and reading this book. So, I think it is important that a famous African American dancer and show-woman like Baker be taught in schools as a historical art figure ( with other modern and post modern dancers). I found this teacher’s guide from The Classroom Bookshelf (from The School Library Journal) that has helpful suggestions for teaching this book in the classroom, including examining picture book poetry, African American dancers, and diversity within entertainment (this could be used in a music or humanities class as well). There is a also a section referring to different films and videos on African Americans and France.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – As always Robinson’s illustrations coexist with the text in a beautiful collaboration. I like the change in font between Josephine Baker’s quotes and the rest of the text. And I liked that in some moments of the text, to emphasize, the text is capitalized. Also, there is an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, a Bibliography, and sources for all the quotations used. I think this would make a great addition to any school library and I think for the reasons stated about this would be a great addition to the Best 50 list.

The Undefeated

  • Title: The Undefeated
  • Author: Kwame Alexander
  • Illustrator: Kadir Neslon
  • Publisher: Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
  • Publication year: 2019
  • Brief Summary: From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-“Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Not only is this a great poetry picture books (literally this is a poem that Alexander wrote in 2008) and so could be used to teach poetry terms and definitions but can also be used to teach children about significant African American historical figures. This teacher’s guide from Learning to Give has some great ideas, such as asking guided questions before, during and after the reading. I think this book is more suited to older children as the historical context of the book older children would be more familiar with. Of course, I think adults could also get a lot out of this book themselves. This resource also lists some multimedia activities to do along with the book, such as watching an interview with illustrator Kadir Nelson on NPR, and watching a video of Kwame Alexander reciting this poem before the book was published, and comparing this recital of the poem to the book.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it –  As with many of illustrator Kadir Nelson’s books that I have read for this assignment, I have to say the illustrations here reinforce and carry Alexander’s message. Especially in the very powerful “This is for the unspeakable” trio. Many sites noted the significance of the blank two pages for “And the ones who didn’t” which I think was a profound statement. The afterword by Alexander really relates the timeframe and relevance of his poem. And the chart of historical figures and events, matching them to each phrase of the poem is a brilliant way to get children (and adults) into researching these figures more.

Shirley Chisholm Dared

  • Title: Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress
  • Author: Alicia D. Williams
  • Illustrator: April Harrison
  • Publisher: Anne Schwartz Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House
  • Publication year: 2021
  • Brief Summary: From Penguin Random House-“Meet Shirley, a little girl who asks way too many questions! After spending her early years on her grandparents’ farm in Barbados, she returns home to Brooklyn and immediately makes herself known. Shirley kicks butt in school; she breaks her mother’s curfew; she plays jazz piano instead of classical. And as a young adult, she fights against the injustice she sees around her, against women and black people. Soon she is running for state assembly…and winning in a landslide. Three years later, she is on the campaign trail again, as the first black woman to run for Congress. Her slogan? “Fighting Shirley Chisholm–Unbought and Unbossed!” Does she win? You bet she does.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – This could definitely be used for a history class while children are learning about government officials. In fact, I would say it’s a book school librarians should have in their library for children to learn about diversity in our government.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – Harrison’s artwork (like in Nana Akua Goes to School) is vivid with color and pattern. I think my favorite illustration is of Chisholm making her collection box, talking to the other women to convince them they can and should be a part of politics. I think this may go on my Best 50 list.

We Are the Ship

  • Title: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
  • Author: Kadir Nelson
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Jump at the Sea/Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group
  • Publication year: 2008
  • Brief Summary: From Amazon-“The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Like many of Nelson’s other books, I feel like this book could definitely be used in a school library. I think if there are children who are interested in sports, this book could be given to them to read and enjoy. I think especially if that child is interested in baseball, this would give them a diverse viewpoint of their favorite sport. Additionally, for African American children, this would be giving them a “mirror” of themselves in sports.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – Like many of Nelson’s works I have already referenced and used (thanks to the group presentation on him in class), I think his illustrations are stunning and powerful. Nelson also includes an Author’s Note, Bibliography, and Endnotes. I think all of Nelson’s works have merit in a library, particularly in my eyes in a school library.

Heart and Soul

  • Title: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
  • Author: Kadir Nelson
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication year: 2011
  • Brief Summary: From HarperCollins-“Heart and Soul is about the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination, and triumphs. Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul—the winner of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor, and the recipient of five starred reviews—is told through the unique point of view and intimate voice of a one-hundred-year-old African-American female narrator. This inspiring book demonstrates that in striving for freedom and equal rights, African Americans help our country on the journey toward its promise of liberty and justice—the true heart and soul of our nation.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Naturally, I think this book could be used for a history class. I think the length of this book, and some of the content would make this book ideal for older children too. I did find this interesting lesson plan from Fishtank Learning for a 4th grade English Language Arts class that would be helpful for teachers and librarians alike
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – I was very interested in finding this book after one of our groups in class did their presentation on him. And I am so glad I read this one as I think this picture book would be invaluable for a school library. Much like Nelson’s other illustrative works, such as Henry’s Freedom Box, this book has very powerful, almost luminescent art. As the reader, we are shown various African American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and portraits of African Americans in various time periods. One of the most striking to me was the portrait of a family migrating north, all of their possessions on the top of their car, their faces determined. Nelson includes an Author’s Note, a Timeline, and a Bibliography showing his references for this book. I definitely will be putting this on Best 50 list.

Henry’s Freedom Box

  • Title: Henry’s Freedom Box
  • Author: Ellen Levine
  • Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Publication year: 2007
  • Brief Summary: From Scholastic-“Henry “Box” Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday, his first day of freedom.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I think this book could be used while children are learning about The Civil War and the Underground Railroad. Scholastic has a lesson plan to use with this book that includes having children write on Post-It notes what they think they know about slavery and The Underground Railroad and then discuss these questions and thoughts after reading the book.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you like or didn’t like it – I think the illustrations by Kadir Nelson are truly moving. I think these illustrations will have children thinking emotionally and ethically about this horrible time in America’s history. I think this would definitely go on my Best 50 list.

Bad News For Outlaws

  • Title: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves Deputy U.S. Marshal
  • Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
  • Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
  • Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication year: 2009
  • Brief Summary: From Amazon-“Read about the fascinating life of Bass Reeves, who escaped slavery to become the first African American Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I found this great curriculum guide from a Sarah E. Montgomery, a assistant professor in Elementary Education at the University of Northern Iowa. This guide suggests teaching students through this book, how to think critically about the stereotypes existent in the Old West. Students would draw what they think the Old West looked like and then invite students to think about what is missing from their drawings and to consider what stereotypes may be present in this representation. This could be used for older children as well.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – Much like the last book I just read, Locomotive, this book includes sources and references from Nelson. Nelson also includes a list of Western Words, a timeline of the events of Bass Reeves life, more on Judge Isaac C. Parker, and the Indian Territory. There is a wealth of information in this book on the little known figure of Bass Reeves (including a further reading section). I think this book will definitely go in my Best 50 list because I really believe it’s important for children to know about this true historical Old West figure.


  • Title: Locomotive
  • Author: Brian Floca
  • Illustrator: Brian Floca
  • Publisher: A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
  • Publication year: 2013
  • Brief Summary: From Simon & Schuster-“It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I found a really comprehensive curriculum guide from Myra Zarnowski, a professor in the department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Queens College, CUNY that details some activities students can do with/around this book, such as writing a “help wanted” ad for a crew member of the train, or having the student imagine they are crew member and writing a diary of their experience. This book could be used in a history class, or in a language arts class. I also believe this book could be used for older children as well.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it – This book has a wealth of information. Floca does a great job of giving all this information in an creative and attention-grabbing way. I liked the use of text around the illustrations. Additionally, I think the text changing, especially for the onomatopoeias in this book, is a great way to get children interested and keep their attention in the book. Floca also uses sources, and he includes these in the back of the book.