5 Children’s Books That Celebrate Black Women in STEM


Celebrate Black History Month with books

Books open up discussions about life skills like perseverance, and unearth hidden stories, particularly those about pioneering Black women in STEM. To celebrate Black History Month and honor and emphasize Black stories, here’s a list of favorite books about Black women in STEM from Rosie Riveters which is an organization that encourages and empowers girls in STEM. 

All of the illustrated biographies featured below are perfectly suited to kids in preschool and up. The focus of Black History Month is celebrating Black achievement and community, which these books do with words and pictures. But none of them shy away from discussing the racism these women experienced either, opening up important conversations about race, gender, and diversity with your kids. As so many educators and anti-racism advocates have pointed out, it is never too early to start talking about race.

1. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

Black women in STEM books

Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk chronicles Katherine Johnson’s story from her days as a childhood phenom (she skipped 3 grades!) to her remarkable mathematical calculations that saved Apollo 13. If you have older kids – the book is recommended for ages ten and up. Johnson’s autobiography Reaching for the Moon is also phenomenal. I read it myself this past summer and could not put it down.  

Fun fact: NASA and Northrop Grumman finally named a spacecraft after Johnson! The SS Katherine Johnson departed on a cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station in February 2021. After docking for several months, it released five satellites. Then it intentionally incinerated upon reentering the Earth’s orbit (it was filled with waste from the space station)!

2. Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight

Black women in STEM books

Written by Karyn Parsons and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Flying Free explores the life of Bessie Colman. She dreamed of flying, but aviation schools in the U.S. refused to admit her due to her race and gender. So Coleman moved to France in 1920, where she became the first Black woman and first Native American to hold a pilot’s license. When she returned to the States – pilot’s license in hand – she became a sensation. Coleman executed daring feats at air shows across the country, earning the moniker Queen Bess. Notably, she refused to perform for segregated audiences.

Fun fact: the book was the first to come from the Sweet Blackberry Foundation, which works to bring “little known stories of African American achievement to children everywhere.” The project began as an animated film series (you can purchase the films here) and Karyn Parsons, the founder and president, may look familiar to nineties TV fans. She starred as Hilary Banks in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!

3. The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague

Black women in STEM books

Like Katherine Johnson, Raye Montague was a ground-breaking “hidden figure” (be sure to watch the movie and read the book too – there’s a version for young readers and one for adults).  The book, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, chronicles how Montague used a computer to complete the world’s first digital ship design in 1971. A self-taught engineer working for the U.S. Navy, her supervisor gave her one month to the complete the task. Montague did it in 19 hours!

Fun Fact: Montague was known for her wry sense of humor, which she used to navigate isolating situations related to her race and gender. Men frequently mistook her for a maid or secretary in professional settings and asked her to bring drinks. Her reply? “Bring me one too!”

4. Mae Among the Stars

Black women in STEM books

Mae Among the Stars, written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, tells the story of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to go to space. The book focuses on Jemison as a child and her first dreams of intergalactic adventures, which resonates with young readers. If you have a budding astronaut at home, be sure to check out Nathan Bryon’s Rocket series too. As her name suggests, this fictional heroine is inspired by all things space, and there is an homage to Jemison in the first book of the series, Rocket Says Look Up!

Fun fact: Jemison’s achievements go well beyond her time at NASA. She’s an engineer and doctor who also served in the Peace Corps. Fluent in Russian, Japanese, and Swahili, she started a consulting company focused on STEM and social change as well. She’s also a professor, and is currently leading the 100 Year Starship project through DARPA. Oh, and she’s an actress – she was the first real astronaut to appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation (she played Lieutenant Palmer)!

5. The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath

Black women in STEM books

The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, explores the life of Dr. Patricia Bath. Achievement and innovation characterized her long career. She developed a medical discipline (community ophthalmology) and founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AIPB). She also invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract removal, making her the first Black female doctor to earn a medical patent in the U.S.!

Fun fact: Like so many of the women featured above, Bath’s love for science began as a child. One toy had particular significance for her – a chemistry set that her mother gave her as a gift.

What Black Women in STEM books have you read to your children?

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