African-American STEM Heroes!

I do a little internal happy dance every time I get a reference question that directly relates to what I'm reading at the moment. This happened recently when a patron asked for children's books on African-American inventors and inventions-- a question that came exactly one day after I read and loved Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-soaking Stream of Inventions, the story of the NASA engineer and inventor of— you guessed it!— the Super Soaker!

Since then I've had a blast researching and reading about the ingenuity, both past and present, of African-Americans in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Below you'll find a handful of books featuring scientists, engineers, surgeons, and astronauts whose brains and perseverance have changed the world in ways both big and small.

One quick note: anyone who might be inspired to do some fun STEM-related projects of their own should definitely check out our new series of programs at KCLS called ideaX! Robotics, electronics, coding, 3D design, and music-mixing are just a few of the things that our patrons have learned in the library so far this year. Check out the upcoming ideaX events at your local library!


As mentioned above, this biography of Lonnie Johnson tells the story of his life, from childhood experiments (including almost burning down his childhood home while trying to make rocket fuel!), to working in NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, to getting his now-iconic water gun into production. Don Tate illustrates this straightforward biography to great effect!

What Color Is My World?

This creative book is so much fun because it combines a fun story with factual information so that you are learning along side a pair of fictional twins, Herbie and Ella. For each person they (and you!) learn about there are little profiles, fast facts, illustrations, and little funny notes. What a great way to learn!

Urban Biologist Danielle Lee

This book takes a look at Danielle Lee, a biologist who initially struggled in school but whose love of biology and hip-hop music led her to become an urban scientist, teacher, and popular blogger. Make sure to check out her blog The Urban Scientist at Scientific American!

Tiny Stitches

This follows the arc of Viviene Thomas' life, from childhood hardships, through his years learning, researching, and developing new methods for operating on babies, and finally to his eventual recognition for his achievements in the medical field. I may or may not have had a tear in my eye by the end!

The Moon Over Star

Mae Jemison is so amazing! Her biographies will count the vast number of things she's mastered in her life, from professional dancing, to becoming a scientist/astronaut, to teaching and encouraging children from all different backgrounds to get involved in science. This picture book, however, focuses on her as an eight-year-old girl following the progress of the moon landing and dreaming that she might one day be an astronaut, too. Gorgeous illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (as usual)!

George Washington Carver

There is no shortage of books about this pioneering American innovator who's most known for his work with peanuts (but whose accomplishments are numerous!). This book, though, with its combination of illustrations, historical artifacts, and illuminating photographs, is a great place to start learning about the huge impact George Washington Carver had on agriculture in our country.

Check out the full list for more suggestions!