Books by Theme
The following are some of our favorite books for Black History Month — and all year long. Some describe our different histories while others show the joys and challenges that are shared by children of all colors as they learn and grow.
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World
History is made up of moments. Twenty-eight moments revealed in poetry, well-known quotes, and more and rich, swirling illustration are presented – one for each of the days in Black History Month. This creative presentation, however, amply demonstrates that African American history is worth sharing all year.
A Chair for My Mother
After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother save their money to buy a big comfortable chair. Suffused with warmth and tenderness, A Chair for My Mother celebrates family love and determination. A Caldecott Honor book. Spanish version also available.
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round
What makes an activist? The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Tennessee in 1968 so effected young Kathlyn, she started tirelessly working to improve the lives of African Americans and make MLK’s birthday a national holiday. She tells her own story in verse, contextualized by the time in which she lived
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom
This story, written in free-verse poetry, begins with one Texas family learning about their freedom, leaving the sweltering cotton fields, and going to celebrate with a whole community on a cool beach at night. Beautiful watercolor illustrations and extra historical information at the end.
Grace loves to act, but one day some kids tell her she can't play the part of Peter Pan because of the way she looks. Grace's grandmother helps this young girl realize that with effort anything can be achieved. An inspiring and heartwarming story.
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti
Have you ever wondered how the Moon was placed in the sky? According to this Ashanti tale, Nyame, the god of all things, put it there when Anansi could not decide which of his sons deserved it. Brilliant illustrations accompany this classic retelling of a traditional tale.
Every year the narrator and his family take a trip down to Cottondale, Florida, to visit his grandmother, Bigmama. This autobiographical story recalls the joys of summer and the contrast between the author's life in the city and Bigmama’s lush, rural home. While the illustrations suggest it was a period of segregation, this thought never overpowers the carefree summer celebration.
Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin Cowboy
The most celebrated black cowboy was Bill Pickett, a fearless rodeo star with a knack for taming bulls that brought the crowds to their feet. The closing note in this book provides an overview of the history of rodeos and black cowboys.
Bright Eyes, Brown Skin
Four African American children interact with one another in a preschool environment, exploring their facial features, skin tones, what they wear, what they do, and how they learn from and enjoy each other. A happy book and nice addition to preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse
Writer extraordinaire, Walter Dean Myers, created original poetry to accompany selections of late 19th (perhaps early 20th) Century monochromatic photographs of African American children. The result is a handsome, sepia-toned album of poems and pictures that not only read aloud well but also capture the universal joys of children and childhood.
Newbery Award winner Virginia Hamilton describes how Lindy and her family suffer through a long drought. Then a mysterious boy comes and teaches them the secrets of finding water hidden in the earth.
Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man
An engaging look at the many contributions of Frederick Douglass — including his work as a publisher, a diplomat to Haiti, a bank president, and a prolific writer. Chockful of quotes, excerpts from Douglass's writing, and images that capture the atmosphere of the times.
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
A girl and her mom want to have a sweet treat on a hot day but cannot sit at the soda fountain simply because they are "colored." Impressionistic paintings soften the harshness of the story of segregation in the South during a turbulent time.
Joe and John Henry are friends who have many interests in common, including swimming. But because John Henry has brown skin and Joe's is the "color of pale moths," they cannot swim together in the town’s pool. Told by Joe and eloquently illustrated, the emotions and power of friends trying to understand an unfriendly world are timeless.
Harlem Renaissance Party
Lonnie travels back in time to meet many of the artists, writers, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. During this rich time, African American culture was reinvigorated. Illustrations are boldly colored acrylic paintings, and additional information is included at the end.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
The true story of four African American women whose talent and tenacity led to careers at NASA is recast for younger readers. The unfairness and dscrimination caused by segregation is presented in an accessible, age appropriate, and engaging way.
How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz
Jelly Roll Morton became – to his grandmother’s horror – a musician in New Orleans, developing his own unique style of jazz. Rhythmic, rhyming language and swirling, color-saturated illustrations glimpse the life and work of this little known musician, perhaps inspiring readers to take a longer look at the artist and his work.
How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture
The history of African Americans is also the history of the United States. How the history and culture of once enslaved people came to sit proudly on the National Mall in the nation’s capital is told in word and image for a riveting portrait of a particular place and a country’s history.
I Am Rosa Parks
The famous civil rights activist Rosa Parks has simplified her autobiography for young readers in this Puffin Easy to Read book. She describes how she was arrested for not giving up her bus seat and shows that her personal role was part of a wider political struggle.
Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals
Three well known spirituals, "This Little Light of Mine," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," have been interpreted in vivid, jewel-toned illustrations and presented in a large format for a new generation. A bit of information about the songs' history as well as musical notation for each are included.
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
As the older woman, Ms Lillian, walks a steep hill to vote. While walking, she remembers the precipitous climb that those who preceded her made so that she could cast her ballot. The storyteller’s tone of the text and dramatic illustrations tell a powerful story.
March: Book One
John Lewis, son of a sharecropper, grew up to become an activist and later, a U.S. Congressman. His life and crucial role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement is dramatically presented in word and image in graphic format in three volumes (March: Book Two and March: Book Three). The story of the young John Lewis can be shared with children as young as four years in the picture book biography, Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice.
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman
This beautifully written book, illustrated by four-time Caldecott Honor recipient Jerry Pinkney, makes the story of Harriet Tubman's childhood accessible to very young readers. As a young slave nicknamed Minty, Harriet Tubman was a feisty and stubborn girl with a dream of escape, and a rebellious spirit that often got her into trouble. Pinkney's expressive illustrations bring every emotion to brilliant life – from troubled sorrow to spirited hope for freedom.
My Daddy and I
A boy and his father, shown as African Americans in warmly hued illustrations, enjoy doing everyday activities together, from laundry to sharing a book and more. The simple pleasures of family life are conveyed affectionately through easy but flowing language and realistic paintings in a sturdy format.
Soonie's great grandmother was only seven-years-old when sold to the big plantation. A quilt that showed the way to freedom and chronicled the family's history connects the generations, and continues to do so. Idealized illustrations and the poetic text provide an unusual family story.
Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride
Lively language and energetic illustrations create a memorable portrait of a woman who was to become known as Sojourner Truth. She was "Big. Black. Beautiful. True." Just like her name. Further information and photographs of Sojourner Truth completes this dynamic, fictionalized biography.
A young girl learns to find beauty in her sometimes gritty urban neighborhood, showing how the way one sees makes a difference that affects others. Luminous watercolors detail the child, her neighborhood, and suggest what she sees around her.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
Clara is born into slavery but learns an important skill when she becomes a seamstress. Her quilting ability allows Clara to put together directions to escape north to freedom when she overhears a conversation about a route to Canada.
The Gold Cadillac
Set in the 1950s, this book by Mildred Taylor is frank in its portrayal of racism. Lois and Wilma are proud when their father buys a brand new gold Cadillac. Only their mother won't ride in it. On a trip from their home in Ohio to Mississippi, there are no admiring glances only suspicion directed toward the black man driving such a fancy car. For the first time, Lois knows what it's like to feel scared because of her skin color.
The Great Migration: Journey to the North
"Between 1915 and 1930, more than a million African Americans…moved to the North" including the poet's family. Join the travelers as they seek a better life in a different part of the United States. Rhythmic but not rhyming verse is complemented by evocative illustrations.
Publishers Weekly called this delightful book a "landmark in children's literature." Made from her old pajamas and curtains, a young girl's new quilt inspires a dream adventure. The squares of the quilt become part of a dreamscape she enters into in order to find her lost stuffed dog. An ALA Notable Children's Book.
The Story of Ruby Bridges
This is the true story of a brave six-year-old child who found the strength to walk through protesters and enter a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960. The sepia watercolors capture the warmth of Ruby's family and community.
This poem is a love letter to black life in the U.S. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Robust back matter provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration
The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history.
Through My Eyes
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American to integrate an elementary school. Her memories of that year, when so much hatred was directed at her, makes for a powerful memoir. A 1999 Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner.
Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales
One of the most well known of African American folktales are the Uncle Remus tales, originally written down by Joel Chandler Harris over a hundred years ago. This four-book series drops the heavy and difficult dialect of the original tales and adds contemporary language and references to Brer Rabbit's fun.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer
Stirring poems and vibrant collage illustrations combine to celebrate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of the Civil Rights and voting rights movements during the 1950s through the 1970s. Born in the Mississippi delta, the youngest of 20 children, Hamer had to drop out of school after sixth grade to work in the cotton fields before she became a powerful voice for her people. The book vividly brings to life Hamer’s legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.
We Are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball
An introduction by baseball great Hank Aaron opens this riveting look at the history of the Negro League. A large format supports revealing portraits of League players and an absorbing narration revealed in nine innings. Endnotes and further readings conclude this memorable and accessible history.
Two children aroused by their parents join a march for equal rights. Short sentences and semi-abstract illustrations convey the children's evolving feelings as they join scores of others in what adults recognize as an historic march for civil rights.
A young African American boy tells the story of his great-great-uncle, who realized his dream of flying by becoming a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. Richly hued paintings evoke the period, and spare language allows the story to speak for itself.
Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass
A young Frederick Douglass narrates this handsome, moving, and authentic story of his early life as a slave, his desire to learn, and plans to escape slavery. The child who grew up to be an abolitionist, memorable writer, and orator knew that words — reading — would set him free.
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