#BlackinSTEM: 17 Nonfiction Books That Spotlight Black Scientists, Thinkers, and Inventors

These nonfiction books for elementary and middle grade readers celebrate and amplify Black scientists, thinkers, and inventors.

STEM is a rapidly growing field of study. According to recent figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "during the period 2010–2020, employment in S&E (science and education) occupations will grow by 18.7%, compared to 14.3% for all occupations." Yet how does this notable increase in employment factor into the context of representation and meaningful diversity? 

Marginalized people are often underrepresented in these fields. Last year, Inside Higher Ed shared a study first published in February of 2019 in Educational Researcher. According to the study, minority students (Black and Latino/a) are leaving STEM majors at a higher rate than their white peers. The study reported, "about 37 percent of the Latinx students and 40 percent of the black students switched majors versus 29 percent of the white students." Additionally, the study reported, "20 percent of Latinx and 26 percent of black STEM majors left their institutions without earning a degree." On the other hand, only 13 percent of white STEM students dropped out. 

The authors of the study consisted of associate professor Catherine Riegle-Crumb, her colleague Yasmiyn Irizarry, and Barbara King. Riegle-Crumb and Irizarry teach at the University of Texas at Austin; the former is in the department of curriculum and instruction and the latter is an assistant professor of African and African diaspora studies. King is an assistant professor of teaching and learning at Florida International University.

They used federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Riegle-Crumb, who served as the report's lead author, said, "Though the study identified a troubling trend, the researchers did not pinpoint exactly why the students of color were dropping STEM studies."

However, the researchers did provide some theories: white privilege. The #BlackinSTEM hashtag on Twitter seems to back up this theory, which not only aims to promote the visibility of Black academics in STEM but to call out the racism and microaggressions Black STEM students and professionals experience.

The booklist below showcases just some of the Black scientists, thinkers, and inventors that may have been excluded or downplayed in the history of STEM and scientific discovery. Racism is rooted in the dehumanizing idea that a community or group of people are a monolith; these books show that Black people have always been integral to the intellectual landscape of this country and the scientific community at large.


Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. illus. by Stasia Burrington. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062651730.
The emphasis on Mae Jemison's lifelong passion for space science will inspire readers to have confidence in the trajectory of their own interests.

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta. illus. by Frank Morrison. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. ISBN 9780062430151.
This well-thought-out biography highlights a different side of George Washington Carver. Barretta’s prose, combined with Morrison’s art, fully illuminates the depth of Carter’s considerable contributions to the science of agriculture, the farming community, and racial equality.

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton. illus. by Don Tate. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781580892971.
Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Lonnie Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention: the Super Soaker.

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker. illus. by Dow Phumiruk. Holt. ISBN 9781250137524.
Featuring engaging text and captivating illustrations, this picture book introduces the amazing life of mathematician Katherine Johnson to young readers.

Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician by Lesa Cline-Ransome. illus. by Raúl Colón.  S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. ISBN 9781534404755.
This picture book biography spotlights Katherine Johnson’s unquenchable curiosity, as well as her persistence in the face of discrimination against women and African Americans.

Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner by Janice N. Harrington. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781629795584.
Born in 1867, Charles Henry Turner was a groundbreaking African American scientist and teacher. Harrington’s text is inviting, and Turner’s enthusiasm comes through clearly.

Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord. illus. by Alleanna Haris. Sterling. ISBN 9781454931379.
An inspirational profile of Dr. Patricia Bath, a woman who worked hard and never gave up on her dream to help the blind community. A book all children should hear or read.

Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons. illus. by Laura Freeman. Lee & Low. ISBN 9781620149553.
Philip Freelon was an artist, an architect, and a dreamer. Lyons highlights his masterwork as the architect of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just by Mélina Mangal. illus. by Luisa Uribe. Lerner. ISBN 9781512483758.
Winner of the first NAACP Spingarn Medal, Just's accomplishments are not limited to the title of a scientist. He was first a professor at Howard in the English department before becoming head of the Biology department, he wrote poetry, and he cared deeply about the experiences of his students.

The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca. illus. by Daniel Rieley. Innovation Pr. ISBN 9781943147311.
This charming picture book details the life and accomplishments of Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist who broke down color and gender barriers.

The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca. illus. by Daniel Rieley. Innovation Pr. ISBN 9781943147427.
A picture book biography on the life and work of engineer and computer analyst Raye Montague. In 1971, she used a computer program she had written to design a submarine, completing a task that had previously taken months in under one day.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling. illus. by Laura Freeman. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062742469.
This essential purchase introduces young readers to the inspirational and groundbreaking stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and their once-hidden contributions to science, aeronautics, and space exploration.

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon by Suzanne Slade. illus. by Veronica Miller Jamison. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316435178.
This appealing retelling of Katherine Johnson's achievements focuses on her path as a Black female mathematician.

Older Elementary and Middle Grade

Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden. Abrams. ISBN 9781419707346.
Bolden, a master of the collective biography, presents an impeccably researched call to action, imploring Black girls to fight the racial and gender imbalance that plagues the STEM field.

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781534440838.
Johnson chronicles her personal life, from growing up in a tight-knit family of six to having three children of her own, as well as her professional accomplishments and her career at NASA.

The Story of Environmentalist Wangari Maathai by Jen Cullerton Johnson. illus. by Sonia Lynn Sadler. Lee & Low. ISBN 9781643790121.
Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, Maathai became a leader in the Green Belt Movement, an organization of women working to plant trees across the country to fight the harmful effects of deforestation. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Work It, Girl: Mae Jemison by Caroline Moss. illus. by Sinem Erkas. Quarto/Frances Lincoln. (Work It, Girl). ISBN 9780711245150.
This in-depth biography portrays Jemison’s childhood years as a dreamer who knew that she would have to break barriers to accomplish her goals.

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Gary Griffieth

This is awesome what you are doing. God bless you.

Posted : Jul 23, 2020 02:54



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