“Brave. Black. First.”


by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

c.2020, Crown   | $18.99 / $24.99 Canada   | 128 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Step right up.

When you want to be first in line, that’s what you have to do: get in place at the head, let everybody else queue behind you, and lead them forward. You might have to show them how it’s done. You might have to show some responsibility. Or, as in the new book “Brave. Black. First.” by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson, you might have to take some big risks.

Cheryl Willis Hudson | Photo by Stephan Hudson

Is it always good to be first?  You might think so: you often get the best seat, the newest things, the nicest choice in a bunch of choices. But think about this: sometimes, being first is really hard. Sometimes, it’s downright scary.

Take, for instance, Ruby Bridges. When she was just six years old, she became the first Black child to attend what had once been an all-white school. She put on a brave face and marched into the school building but afterward, Ruby’s dad lost his job and her grandparents lost their farm because she just wanted to go to school. Still, Ruby continued going day after day after day.

Being first might be a big honor, as it was for Barbara Jordan, “the first African American elected to the Texas state senate after Reconstruction, and the first African American woman elected to the… House of Representatives.”  And then there’s Shirley Chisolm, who was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to try to be a Democratic candidate for the office of President.

The first American athlete to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab was Ibtihaj Muhammad. Ella Fitzgerald was the first African American to win Grammy Awards. Phillis Wheatley was America’s first Black published poet. Ava DuVernay was the first Black woman to direct a film with $100 million budget. Basketballer Sheryl Swoopes was the first Black female player to land a major shoe sponsorship. And though she’s not the last in this book of firsts, Michelle Obama was America’s first Black First Lady.

Sometimes, the easiest-to-learn lessons come in the smallest of doses. That’s certainly the case inside “Brave. Black. First.”

Indeed, this book leaps into its subject matter with no introduction, just biography, which is something young readers might appreciate since it won’t overwhelm them with too much information. No, author Cheryl Willis Hudson gives them just enough to teach but also enough to keep them curious with a nice balance of biographies. Women from all walks of life, from many periods of history, all age groups, and with accomplishments in a variety of fields are represented, and Hudson includes tales of adversity as well as those of triumph. That, and draws-them-in artwork by Erin K. Ropbinson, makes this book accessible and meaningful for kids ages 8-to-12, and for boy readers as well as for girls.

“Brave. Black. First.” is perfect if your child enjoys quick reads that are easily browsed and flipped-through. It’s likewise great for the kid who loves inspirational biographies, so step right up.