Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
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Inspirational bios of trailblazing African American women.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Names and impressive accomplishments of 40 historically important African American females. Information related to their fields. References to slavery, the Underground Railroad, abolition, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement and milestones in legislation, Howard University, Spelman College, the Harlem Renaissance, the March on Washington, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the "I Have a Dream" speech, the French Resistance, Mardi Gras, NAACP, Black Power Movement, Black Panther Party, the Apollo Theater, the Great Depression, Brown v. the Board of Education, NASA, Medgar Evers, the Birmingham church bombing, Studio Museum in Harlem.

Positive Messages

Though all of these women faced serious discrimination, they were able to break new ground in their fields. Pursue your passions. Use your talents. Stand up for your rights. There are many African American female trailblazers to celebrate, and more to explore.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are 40-plus positive role models here, all inspirational, and across various fields -- science, arts, politics, sports. All the women profiled broke new ground, and all overcame significant racial and gender discrimination to do so.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Vashti Harrison's Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History offers 40 short bios of African American women who broke ground and distinguished themselves in fields that include science, the arts, sports, and civil rights. The book grew out of an Instagram project Harrison conceived for Black History Month, in which she spotlighted a different accomplished female each day. In the book, each woman's one-page profile is paired with a full-page illustration in which she's pictured as a child. Some figures are toweringly iconic, such as Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, while others feel fresher, which underscores the richness of the field. An afterword suggests websites, books, films, and recordings for further exploration.

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What's the story?

LITTLE LEADERS: BOLD WOMEN IN BLACK HISTORY is a collection of short bios of accomplished African American women. The bios include women in a wide range of fields -- science, arts, journalism, politics, sports -- who range from popular cultural figures like Oprah Winfrey to activist/scholar Angela Davis. The women are presented chronologically by birth date; the first woman profiled is poet Phillis Wheatley, born in 1753, and the last is gymnast Dominique Dawes, born in 1976. Each profile is paired with a full-page illustration that has a muted background depicting the woman's field.

Is it any good?

Forty short but inspiring profiles are paired with cute kid art in this solid collection celebrating trailblazing African American women. The bios in Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History are clearly and engagingly written. Author-illustrator Vashti Harrison covers ground quickly so readers get the overview, but she also spices the profiles with choice details that humanize the figures. For instance, when sculptor Augusta Savage grew up in Florida, she made little animals out of the red clay in her backyard. Harrison curates a good mix, with some figures well known and others new to readers, though readers may miss some of their own favorites. For instance, writers are well represented, but there's no Toni Morrison, who won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Harrison acknowledges that she missed many, and shares a list of her own additions at the end.

Harrison's illustrations are kid-friendly, and she says she made the faces interchangeable "because I want you, the reader, to see yourself in any one of them." Each figure is pictured as a child, with the same round face, eyes closed or modestly downcast, which makes them look demurely "good girl," an odd choice for firebrands like Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis. Still, the collection is eye-opening and offers mighty inspiration for young girls of color -- and all girls -- to distinguish themselves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the women featured in Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Which ones inspire you the most? Do you want to blaze a trail yourself? What would you like to do?

  • Which of these women had you already heard of? Which ones are new to you?

  • How many women scientists are profiled? Women in the arts? Women who influenced politics? Sports figures? What different fields are represented in the book?

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