Black History Month offers the chance to explore and reflect on the experiences, struggles, and achievements of people of African American descent, and what better way to share that history with your children than through the lens of a great book? Whether it’s tales of the amazing feats of leaders, abolitionists, athletes, CEOs, civil rights freedom fighters, or innovators, this collection of both picture and chapter books will help pave the way for conversations and discussions between you and your child about the importance of our nation’s African American history and culture.
And let’s be absolutely clear: these books should be read and shared year round, not just during February, because Black history is American history. So let’s get reading!
What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Authored by basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, this book tells the story of many lesser-known African-American inventors, and their amazing inventions that have improved the lives of millions. Funny quips and facts make this nonfiction title very readable for grades 3 to 7.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story Of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Meet Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest child to be arrested in a civil protest in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, and learn about the courage and fortitude this little girl possessed while being jailed for her cause. Enchanting digital collage illustrations make this ideal for grades K through 5.
Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell
In advance of the soon-to-be released movie of the same title, this chapter book for grades 8 and up is riveting, honest, and powerfully tells the story of the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving, and their fight against interracial marriage laws — all the way to the Supreme Court.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal
Ever heard of Ann Cole Lowe? She was an African-American fashion designer who designed dresses for Jackie Kennedy and Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland. Forced to study in a segregated fashion class, she persevered and became an icon in the fashion industry. Recommended for preschool through grade 3.
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly
This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the Civil Rights Era, and went on to find great success at NASA. It is a perfect introduction for middle-grade readers to the topics of gender roles, prejudice, and scientific exploration.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
This is a not-to-be missed story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend a New Orleans elementary school after court-ordered desegregation in 1960. It is a very moving version that illustrates the bravery and fortitude of both Ruby and her first-grade teacher. Dynamic watercolor illustrations set the perfect backdrop. Recommended for preschool through grade 3.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
If you’re introducing your child to the history of slavery, start with this book. Henry’s story of his escape from slavery in a mailing crate is awe-inspiring. Written for the younger set, it doesn’t dilute slavery yet talks about it honestly and inventively. Recommended for preschool through grade 3.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
The multi-award-winning book is a must-have in your home library and tells the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of equal voting rights and a speaker at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Gorgeous mixed media art also won this title illustration awards. Recommended for grades 4 to 7.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award and Newbery Medal winner, Brown Girl should be on all mandatory reading lists for grades 5 and up. A mesmerizing memoir told in verse, these poems recount the experiences of growing up black and female in the 1960s and ’70s.
28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr.
With 28 brief descriptions of crucial people and events in black history, ranging from 1770 to the present, this title is a fresh take and offers untold stories you may have not heard. It provides a general overview and solid introduction to Black History Month for preschool through grade 5.
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Including portraits of 10 female African-American freedom fighters and activists and their accomplishments, this comprehensive collection of bios should be on every school and public library shelf. Exquisite paintings and illustrations round out this gem. Recommended for grades 1 to 4.
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
An illustrated edition of Langston Hughes’s classic poem and the winner of the Coretta Scott King illustrator award, this is the perfect picture book for young readers learning about Hughes. Recommended for preschool through grade 3.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton
Author Paula Young Shelton grew up the daughter of famed civil rights leader Andrew Young, and here she tells the story of her childhood in racially charged America. Bringing history alive through her childhood memories, this title easily explains to smaller children what it was like to live through social injustice and prejudice. Recommended for preschool through grade 3.
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.
A multi-award winning title and your first go-to book on anything MLK for young readers, this also includes a CD recording of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Featuring gorgeous, breathtaking oil paintings of Dr. King, this standout title will engage young readers and is the perfect introduction to the Civil Rights Movement for grades K through 12.
Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson by Sue Stauffacher
Althea Gibson was the first African-American female to play (and win) at Wimbledon, having learned to play tennis on the streets of Harlem. This is the spirited story of a little girl and tomboy at heart, and her athletic dreams will please and inspire young athletic girls of color.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
Written by his daughter, this 50-page middle grade book is perfect for kids ages 6-10 who are just learning about the Civil Rights era and the most influential leaders in it. With moving pictures from acclaimed illustrator AG Ford, children will learn about Malcolm X before he was Malcolm X and what influenced him to take the actions that he did.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
A whimsical introduction to teaching your kids about the Harlem Renaissance and African American culture, this award-winning book is about a little girl who flies over the famed New York City neighborhood in 1939, seeing all of the beauty and bustle below. It’s lovling illustrated and absolutely dreamy. All of Ringgold’s books are perfect additions to any child’s bookcase.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson
With lyrical text and moving pictures, this introduction to the amazing life of Harriet Tubman is perfect for elementary school children. The hero of the Underground Railroad, and one of the foremost American heroes, Tubman, perhaps more than anyone else in our history, fought for freedom and equality for all, putting her life in danger at every turn.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
This stunning picture book, which as won multiple awards including the Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor, spans all of American history, not only highlighting the struggles of African Americans, but also their moments of glory. Inspiring and moving, it also contains discussion questions that you can share with your kids as you turn each page.
The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer
Perfect for kids ages 2-8, this rhyming picture book celebrates centuries of Black history, hitting on everything from music to literature to politics to industry to science. And yes, you guessed it: X is for Malcolm X.
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