50+ Biographies for Children – Africa

This post lists 7 Biographies written with young readers as the target audience. The main characters in these non-fiction books were born in different countries of the African continent.

Emmanuel's Dream - book coverEmmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,  by Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls
  • Lexile Measure: AD770L (adult directed)
  • Grade interest: K-3
  • Setting: Ghana
  • Cultural group: physically disabled people
  • This is the story of a brilliant boy who was born in Ghana with only one strong leg. His handicap did not stop him from going to school, from working, from playing sports, or from helping his friends. With his shrp mind, his boldness, and the support of friends and of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Emmanuel pedaled his bicycle around his country for ten day raising awareness about physical disabilities. Emmanuel is a national hero. This is an inspiring story for children and adults alike.

Mama Africa - book coverMama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song, by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Charly Palmer

  • Lexile Measure:  not available
  • Grade interest: 1-5
  • Setting: South Africa
  • Cultural group: African women
  • Miriam Makeba transcendent the boundaries of her country, South Africa, with her voice and music. She was born in a time when South Africa was a country divided by the Apartheid. Miriam used her songs in many languages to tell the world what happened to her people and to call for help. She did not plan to be a leader, but as she became known as Mama Africa, she also became the voice of freedom. This book is a great resource for an integrated unit on social studies, civil rights, world history, music, and literacy.
Wangari Maathai - book coverWangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prevot, Illustrated by Aurelia Fronty
  • Lexile Measure: not available at this time
  • Grade interest: 1-4
  • Setting: Kenya
  • Cultural group: African women
  • Wangari was born in Kenya and grew up in a time when the British colonizers cut the trees of her country to plant tea. Because of the boldness of her older brother, Wangari had the opportunity to attend school although most women in Kenya were not even allowed to read. Wangari was selected to come study in the U.S. After the end of British domain over Kenya, Wangari returned to her country and made an impact in the lives of women and on the Kenyan environment by planting millions of trees. This book is an excellent resource for a study unit that integrates literacy, socials studies, and sciences.

Planting the trees of Kenya - book cover

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai, by Claire A. Nivola

  • Lexile Measure: 1030L
  • Grade interest: K-3
  • Setting: Kenya
  • Cultural group: Africans
  • This book also tells the story of Wangari Maathai, but it differs from the book above with its stronger focus on Maathai’s work. The vivid illustrations make this book a great resource for a read aloud in K-3 classrooms. Planting the Trees of Kenya could be used as a follow up to the Prevot’s book as it adds up more details to how Wangari Maathai accomplished the challenging task to change lives in Kenya.

The Boy who harnesses the wind - book coverThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

  • Lexile measure: 850L
  • Grade interest: 1-3
  • Setting: Malawi
  • Cultural Group: Africans / inventors / boy
  • The boy who harnessed the wind - novel coverWilliam Kamkwamba tells his young readers how he built a windmill to provide energy to his small village in Malawi. From the books available in the local library, William learned about windmills and engineering when he was a young boy. The author had the help of his cousin Geoffrey and his best friend Gilbert, and he used parts and pieces of a bicicle and other scrap materials. After providing electricity to the village, William also built an irrigation system that soaked the land and yielded food where there was none. This story can be part of a STEM unit in science and engineering. The authors also wrote this story in the form of a novel – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, which can be used in the upper-grade levels (Lexile measure: 960L; age range: 14-18).

Nelson Mandela - book cover

Nelson Mandelaby Kadir Nelson

  • Lexile Measure: 960L
  • Grade Interest: K-3
  • Setting: South Africa
  • Cultural group:
  • This picture book has received the Coretta Scott King Award and the NYT Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year Award. Indeed, the illustrations are stunning, but most importantly, the message of peace and change is what really makes this book relevant. Through this text and images, the emotions related to the Apartheid and then its end in South Africa.

And More!

Taking flight     May I have this dance 


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