She Was the First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm

Written By: Katheryn Russell-Brown

Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez

For Ages: 6-12 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Historical Figures, Own Voices, Politics, Women in Politics, Black Culture & Identity, Leadership.


Two books about the powerhouse that is Shirley Chisholm published in the same summer?? My dreams are coming true! This biographical picture book gives lots of details about Shirley’s early life, her time in Barbados, and her education that led her inevitably into the political sphere. For this week’s #sweetsandsocialjustice I put my spin on the traditional Barbadian rock cake, which is similar to a scone. Sue me, I don’t like raisins in baked goods! Rock cakes were brought to Barbados by British colonizers, but have stuck around to become a staple in homes and cafes.

Shirley was born in New York, but spent 7 years in Barbados living with family. She credits that time seeing so many Black and Brown people as solidifying her views that people of color were intelligent, capable, and that she could create change when she grew up. Upon moving back to New York, she had a hard time being taken seriously by the school who set her back 2 grades, not believing that she knew enough US history. Shirley’s family had rich political and global discussions, and she was enamored listening to her parents and their friends.

Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress, and the first Black person to run for president. She believed in community support networks, distributing resources to marginalized populations, and was against war. Shirley is a role model for me in her unwavering ability to speak out against injustice and in favor for the citizens of her congressional district and the nation. In the back of the book is more detailed information about her life, some photographs, and sources. I love this section of the book, it can be used by older students who require more in-depth information and allows the book to be used by a wide range of ages. If you respect and adore Shirley Chisholm’s legacy like I do, you absolutely need this book! And if you’re someone who is unfamiliar with her long history of sparking social change, you need this book even more!

This book was kindly sent to us by Lee and Low, but all opinions are my own!



1c flour

1T baking powder

1 stick softened butter

1/4c sugar

3/4c dried fruit (I used what I had on hand: 1/2c dried cherries and 1/4c dried blueberries)

1 egg

1-2T milk


Whisk and sift flour and baking powder, and then mix in butter by hand until mealy texture. Stir in sugar and fruit, and add egg with 1T of the milk. Stir and keep adding in milk a Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. The dough should be able to be scooped or picked up and rolled into a circle, like a ball of cookie dough. You can sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar if desired before baking. Evenly space a dozen rock cakes onto a lined or greased sheet pan and bake at 350 for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Katheryn Russell-Brown

Image is from Katheryn’s About section of her website.

Eric Velasquez

Illustrator Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem. His dual heritage coupled with the experience of living in dual cultures in New York City gives Eric a rich and unique cultural perspective. 

As a child, his love for doodling and drawing was strongly encouraged by his mother. From his grandmother he inherited a love of music and from his father he developed a love of film. Growing up in this setting, Eric says, “Becoming an artist was a natural choice for me. I have never thought of being anything else.”

Eric Velasquez lives and works in New York. He teaches book illustration at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC.

Leave a Reply