BCBA Author Spotlight: Kadir Nelson

In an interview with Reading Rockets, Kadir Nelson described his decision to change his major from architecture to art this way: “I decided, even if I had to starve I would become an artist and do what I really love to do.” Well, good news—Kadir Nelson didn’t starve. In fact, after graduating from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, his career took off immediately. He credits this to his college work ethic, which helped him build a solid relationship of trust with his professors. Nelson also recalled that his mother encouraged him to tap into the power of visualization. Ever since his first job as a visual development artist for the movie Amistad, the trajectory of his career soared.

Before entering the world of children’s literature, Nelson was a well-known and respected artist. His foray into children’s literature produced more accolades and awards for books he both illustrated and authored. One of the first books he illustrated was Jerdine Nolen’s Big Jabe. Other authors that he has illustrated books for are Ntozake Shange, Nikki Grimes, Debbie Allen, and Carole Boston Weatherford. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball is the first book that Nelson authored and illustrated. He loves writing about historical figures and events and said “I always felt that it was important to share African-American history because I enjoy it. I find it very interesting and I think that we don’t really get a lot of it in our schooling. I think one of the great ways for me to learn and share is by painting it.”

Nelson has been commissioned to create art for companies and organizations such as the U. S. Postal Service, Major League Baseball, and Coca-Cola as well as the covers of Michael Jackson and Drake’s albums.  Denzel Washington and Venus Williams are two of the many celebrities who own pieces by Nelson. To learn more about Kadir Nelson, see the sources and additional readings below.




I would recommend that kids really practice…imagine themselves becoming what they want to become. Say it out loud. I want to be this, I want to be that. And then set about the business of becoming that.

Kadir Nelson

Selected Books Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

I Have a Dream (2012) – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit (2009) 

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson (2009) – Sharon Robinson 

Coretta Scott (2009) – Ntozake Shange 

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (2006) – Carole Boston Weatherford  

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (2005)

Please, Puppy, Please (2005) -  Spike & Tonya Lewis Lee 

Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life (2005) – Jerdine Nolen  

The Real Slam Dunk (2005) - Charisse Richardson 

A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson (2004) – Michelle Y. Green 

Ellington Was Not a Street (2004) - Ntozake Shange 

Thunder Rose (2003) – Jerdine Nolen 

Under the Christmas Tree (2002) – Nikki Grimes 

Just the Two of Us (2001) – Will Smith 

Please, Baby, Please (2000) – Spike & Tonya Lewis Lee 

Dancing in the Wings (2000) – Debbie Allen 

Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream (2000) – Deloris Jordan & Roslyn M. Jordan 

Big Jabe (2000) – Jerdine Nolen 

Brothers Of The Knight (1999) – Debbie Allen 

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