Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Inspirational Biographies of African American Women

Three of my favorite inspirational biographies about African-American women.  All of these biographies feature strong women who overcame huge obstacles and did amazing things.  Biographies are one of my favorite genres to read, they allow the reader to become immersed in another persons life, very different than their own, and share in their journey.

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rodolph Became the World's Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull, Illustrated by David Diaz

A truly inspiring story about the will to overcome lifes challenges. Wilma was often sick as a child and at five contracted polio.  Wilma's legs were affected by the illness and doctors thought she would never walk properly again. Wilma's determination live the life she wanted pushed her to strengthen her legs and she soon no longer needed her leg braces. Wilma became a star athlete excelling at running and in high school played many different sports. She was offered a track-and-field scholarship to Tennessee State University then went on to compete in the summer Olympics of 1960.  She amazed everyone by winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and 400-meter relay. This once sickly child had become the first American women to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games!  This book has unique illustrations using a combination of lovely watercolors with photographs as backgrounds.

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Brian Selznick

Marian Anderson's inspirational story tells of a young girl with an amazing talent and how she overcame racial prejudice to share her gift with the world. Ryan and Selznick beautifully show Marians's confusion when, as a young girl, she is not allowed entrance into a music school due to her race. By 1927 Marian was a successful singer worldwide and was welcomed everywhere....except the United States.  In 1939 Howard University booked a concert with Marian and looked for a place to hold the large crowd she was expected to attract.  They tried to book the 4000 seat Constitution Hall--but were told they had a white performers only policy.  Fans wrote angry letters to the newspapers and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the board of Constitution Hall in protest.  At Eleanor's urging President Roosevelt agreed to let Marian perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. On the day of the performance 75, 000 people, of all races, showed up to hear Marian sing.  I love this book for its wonderful muted illustrations and beautiful story.

Minty: A Story of Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

This book tells the story of young Harriet Tubman before she escapes to freedom. While some of the exact details of the book are fictionalized, they are based on fact.  Harriet was a 'difficult' slave who was often mistreated and abused by her masters. This book does not shy away from the difficult demeaning life that slaves endured.  The author and illustrator depict the realities of the day to day life of a slave, but also show Harriet's determination to escape to the freedom she deserves. It is easy to imagine the girl that Harriet once was, knowing the determined, brave, spirited woman she became.  Renowned illustrator Jerry Pinkney, has created detailed period accurate illustrations that add wonderfully to the story.

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