It’s Black History Month again!
This year I decided to focus on a few board books and picture books for the younger readers ages 3 – 5 (and up). If you’ve been looking for excellent quality historical books about prominent Black people from the past and present, I hope you’ll enjoy this list. Maybe you’ll find something new or be reminded of some of your old favorites.
I recommend these books because they are not overly wordy and don’t dwell strictly on oppression, slavery, pain, or struggle. Most are easily digestible for the younger crowd and great for reading aloud at home or with a preschool or early elementary class.
Remember, Black History shouldn’t be limited to the month of February. Make a commitment to read books about people of all different races with your children year-round. Enjoy!
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Dream Big, Little One
Featuring eighteen trailblazing black women in American history, Dream Big, Little One is the irresistible board book adaptation of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Among these women, you'll find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things - bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn't always accept them.
Young, Gifted and Black: With a Mirror!
Now you can introduce your tiniest readers to Black excellence with this newly released board book that includes a mirror in the back.
Young readers will enjoy looking back at their own reflection in the mirror and imagine themselves becoming future leaders and change makers of their generation.
Some of the Black leaders and trailblazers featured in the book include: Katherine Johnson, Zadie Smith, Nina Simone, W.E.B. DuBois, Nelson Mandela and more!
Follow Your Dreams, Little One
This beautifully illustrated board book highlights eighteen true stories of black men in history. The exceptional men featured include: artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, lawman Bass Reeves, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, writer James Baldwin, astronaut Leland Melvin, pilot John Robinson and more!
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children
Using simple poetic language and stunning photographs, Sandra and Myles Pinkney have created a remarkable book of affirmation for African-American children. Photographic portraits and striking descriptions of varied skin tones, hair texture, and eye color convey a strong sense of pride in a unique heritage. A joyous celebration of the rich diversity among African-Americans.
I Look Up To...Michelle Obama
It's never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire! This board book distills Michelle Obama's excellent qualities into deliciously illustrated little baby-sized bites, with text designed to share and read aloud.
Each spread highlights an important trait, and is enhanced by a quote from Michelle herself. Kids will grow up hearing the words of this influential woman and will learn what YOU value in a person!
I Look Up To...Misty Copeland
It's never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire! This board book distills American ballet dancer Misty Copeland's excellent qualities into an eminently shareable read-aloud text with graphic, eye-catching illustrations.
Each spread highlights an important trait, and is enhanced by a quote from Misty herself. Kids will grow up hearing the words of this powerful, determined woman and will learn what YOU value in a person!
I Look Up To...Oprah Winfrey
It's never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire! This board book distills powerhouse guru Oprah Winfrey's excellent qualities into an eminently shareable read-aloud text with graphic, eye-catching illustrations.
Each spread highlights an important trait, and is enhanced by a quote from Oprah herself. Kids will grow up hearing the words of this powerful, determined woman and will learn what YOU value in a person!
Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
The chronology and themes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s meaningful life are presented in a masterfully succinct text, with just a few sentences per page. The fresh, stylized illustrations are sure to captivate young readers and adults alike. With a read-aloud biographical summary in the back, this age-appropriate introduction honors and shares the life and work of one of the most influential civil rights activists of our time.
Who Was Jackie Robinson?
The chronology and themes of Jackie Robinson's meaningful life are presented in a masterfully succinct text, with just a few sentences per page. The fresh, stylized illustrations are sure to captivate young readers and adults alike. With a read-aloud biographical summary in the back, this age-appropriate introduction honors and shares the life and work of one of the most influential professional baseball players of our time.
The Story of Rosa Parks
This little book introduces Rosa Parks, the "mother of the civil rights movement." Simple, toddler-friendly text tells the story of her courageous decision to remain on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama -- an action that resulted in Parks' arrest, and ultimately, a victory for civil rights. Illustrated with rich oil paintings, The Story of Rosa Parks will help even the smallest children understand who Rosa Parks is, and why she is so important.
I Look Up To...Serena Williams
It's never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire! This board book distills tennis superstar Serena Williams's excellent qualities into an eminently shareable read-aloud text with graphic, eye-catching illustrations.
Each spread highlights an important trait, and is enhanced by a quote from Serena herself. Kids will grow up hearing the words of this powerful, determined woman and will learn what YOU value in a person!
On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place--more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation's capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, advocating racial harmony.
Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins
A lyrical picture book biography of Janet Collins, the first African American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools.
The ABCs of Black History
Author Rio Cortez introduces readers to Black History from A to Z. In addition to rhyming text, the book includes back matter with information on the events, places, and people mentioned in the book.
I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids
From A is for Afro, to J is for Justice, to R is for Rally, this alphabet book offers affirmations featuring Black children and role models to help children nurture and embrace their authentic selves and to enjoy the magic of childhood.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
A beautiful picture book about Ann Cole Lowe, a little-known African-American fashion designer who battled personal and social adversity in order to pursue her passion of making beautiful gowns and went on to become one of society’s top designers.
Fearless Mary: Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver
Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was the first African-American female star route mail carrier in the United States. Born as a slave in Tennessee during the administration of Andrew Jackson, Mary was sixty years old in 1895 when she became the second woman and first Black person to ever work for the U.S. Post Office.
Mae Among the Stars
“If you can dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible.” This is the advice Dr. Mae Jemison received from both of her parents after telling them she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up. Mae was ridiculed by her friends and discouraged by her teacher when she told them about her dreams of going to space. On September 12, 1992, Mae’s dream finally came true and she officially became the first African American woman to go to space.
By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music
Known as The Founding Father of American Gospel music, Charles Albert Tindley was born in 1851 in Berlin, Maryland. His father was enslaved, but his mother was born free.
Tindley taught himself to read and write at age 17 using newspaper scraps to learn the alphabet and spelling. He was a driven young man, working as a janitor while attending night school, and earning his divinity degree at the same time. In 1902, he became pastor of the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the church where he had earlier been a janitor.
Tindley wrote over 40 hymns in his lifetime. His “I’ll Overcome Some Day” was the basis for the American Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” popularized in the 1960’s. Other songs he wrote include: “Stand By Me”, “I Know the Lord Will Make a Way”, and “The Storm Is Passing Over” among others.
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist
Harriet Powers learned to sew and quilt as a young slave girl on a Georgia plantation. She began making pictorial quilts, using each square to illustrate Bible stories and local legends. Harriet exhibited her quilts at local cotton fairs, and though she never traveled outside of Georgia, her quilts are now priceless examples of African-American folk art.
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and You
This picture book is perfect for teaching little readers ages 4-8 about some of the things Dr. King stood for like peace and equality. It shows children how they too can be an agent of change by doing things like banding together against bullies, believing in your cause, learning as much as you can, and doing the very best at anything you do.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Explore the true story of four female African American mathematicians (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden) at NASA, known as "colored computers," and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career.
Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown
Henry “Box” Brown’s ingenious escape from slavery is celebrated for its daring and originality. Throughout his life, Henry was fortified by music, family, and a dream of freedom. When he seemed to lose everything, he forged these elements into the song that sustained him through the careful planning and execution of his perilous journey to the North.
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne
What do you know about Ethel L. Payne? Trailblazing journalist Ethel L. Payne was a columnist, lecturer, and writer who combined advocacy with journalism while reporting on the civil rights movement during the 50’s and 60’s. Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” Payne also became the first female African American commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her in 1972. Not only did Payne report about American domestic politics, she also covered several international stories as well.
Payne was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 14, 1911. She began her journalism career while working as a hostess at an Army Special Services club in Japan. She allowed a visiting reporter from the Chicago Defender read her journal, which gave details of the experiences that she and black soldiers endured while in Japan. The reporter was amazed by Payne’s writing skills and brought the journal back to Chicago. Payne’s information was used by the Defender, which was a popular, national newspaper among African Americans.
As her career progressed, Payne earned a reputation as an aggressive journalist who asked tough questions. In 2002, Payne was one of the four journalists honored with a U.S postage stamp. Ethel Payne died in 1991 at the age of 79.
I Am Every Good Thing
I Am Every Good Thing is a beautiful book that encourages readers to celebrate everything that makes them the person they are. Kids learn they can be a leader, an explorer, the life of the party, and an undisputed champion. They also learn it’s okay to make mistakes, to get back up when they fall down, and to be a shoulder to cry on when needed.
While this book is a celebration of Black joy and self-love, it’s a story to be enjoyed by everyone. Children of all races and cultures can appreciate the uplifting and positive messages in this book. If your children or students ever start do doubt their own beauty and begin to reject themselves, let this book serve as a mirror for children by reflecting and reminding them of how special they are. I Am Every Good Thing is an excellent resource to help reinforce a positive self image.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read
Born on May 6, 1848, Mary was enslaved at birth. From a young age, she picked cotton, toted water, cleaned houses, and worked as a blacksmith.
When she was 15 she was freed along with her mother, brothers and sister. They stayed in the South crammed in a one-room cabin for years laboring for long, hard hours.
Years later, Mary went on to get married and give birth to three sons. When she was twenty years old she had her first son and was given a Bible as a gift from a friend. She longed to read the Bible, but she didn’t know how to read or write.
It would take Mary 116 years to learn to read, write, add and subtract. In 1964, she was certified as the nation’s oldest student. She lived to be 121 years old before her death on December 1, 1969. She lived through twenty-six presidents.
I am SO inspired by this amazing story! Readers young and older will admire Mary’s determination, strength and her willingness to learn despite her age.
No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas
Discover the incredible true story of how one of history's most successful potato farmers began life as a slave and worked until he was named the "Potato King of the World"!
Junius G. Groves came from humble beginnings in the Bluegrass State. Born in Kentucky into slavery, freedom came when he was still a young man and he intended to make a name for himself. Along with thousands of other African Americans who migrated from the South, Junius walked west and stopped in Kansas.
A tale of perseverance that reminds us no matter where you begin, as long as you work hard, your creation can never be called small potatoes.
A History of Me
Life can be hard for the only brown girl in a classroom full of white students. When the teacher talks about slavery, she can feel all of her classmates staring at her. When they talk about civil rights, she is the one that other kids whisper about on the playground. In those moments, she wants to slip away or seep into the ground; and she wonders, is that all you see when you look at me?
What really matters is what she sees when she looks at herself. She is a reflection of the courage, strength, intelligence and creativity that’s been passed down from generation to generation through her ancestors.
Black is a Rainbow Color
A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.
From the wheels of a bicycle to the robe on Thurgood Marshall's back, Black surrounds our lives. It is a color to simply describe some of our favorite things, but it also evokes a deeper sentiment about the incredible people who helped change the world and a community that continues to grow and thrive.
Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch
This biography picture book tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an African American opera singer turned environmentalist and the legacy she preserved.
MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of Jim Crow, she couldn't just go to any beach--most of the beaches in Jacksonsville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather (Abraham Lincoln Lewis) bought a beach that African American families could enjoy without being reminded they were second-class citizen; he called it American Beach. Buying a beach is a total boss move! 🙌🏾 Am I right?!
Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It's here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.
After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others, so determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home.
Today you can still visit American Beach located on Amelia Island in Florida. There is also a museum called American Beach Museum also in Florida.
Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader
Ida B. Wells was an educator, journalist, feminist, businesswoman, newspaper owner, public speaker, suffragist, civil rights activist, and women's club leader. She was a founder of the NAACP, the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, the Alpha Suffrage Club, and the Negro Fellowship League.
She wrote, spoke, and traveled, challenging the racist and sexist norms of her time. Faced with criticism and threats to her life, she never gave up. This is her extraordinary true story, as told by her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster.
Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Georgia Gilmore was a cook at the National Lunch Company in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus boycotts broke out in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was arrested, Georgia knew just what to do. She organized a group of women who cooked and baked to fundraise for gas and cars to help sustain the boycott. Called the Club from Nowhere, Georgia was the only person who knew who baked and bought the food, and she said the money came from "nowhere" to anyone who asked. When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for his role in the boycott, Georgia testified on his behalf, and her home became a meeting place for civil rights leaders.
This picture book highlights a hidden figure of the civil rights movement who fueled the bus boycotts and demonstrated that one person can make a real change in her community and beyond. Georgia Gilmore’s cooking helped feed and find the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
I am totally inspired by Georgia Gilmore’s bravery and determination to do her part and make a difference by doing the one thing she loved doing most: cooking.
Stacey's Extraordinary Words
As a child, Stacey loved words. She loved to read, write, and say words aloud. Every time Stacey came across a new word, she wrote it in her special Notebook of Extraordinary Words. Not only did Stacey enjoy learning new words, but she also learned at a young age that words were a gift that shouldn’t be used to hurt people.
After Stacey’s second grade teacher Mrs. Blakeslee noticed Stacey’s gift to spell words, she invited her to participate in the school spelling bee. At first Stacey is excited about the spelling bee, but her excitement quickly evaporates when she learns the school bully Jake would also be competing. Stacey is intimidated by Jake and isn’t looking forward to competing with him in the spelling bee.
Stacey studied all week long reviewing the words she wrote in her Notebook of Extraordinary Words. When the day of the competition arrives, her mother tells her to do her best and lets her know how proud she and her father are of her.
Although Stacey places second in the spelling bee, she is a good sport as Jake receives his trophy and she gets a second place ribbon.
In the end, Stacey learns important lessons and remembers one of her favorite words: P-E-R-S-E-V-E-R-A-N-C-E.
I loved this story for many different reasons: the adorable illustrations, the vocabulary words featured throughout, the overall story, and the lessons Stacey learned along the way.
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop
The Roots of Rap is a lyrical rhyming book accompanied by captivating illustrations by Frank Morrison @frankmorrison. The book also features a foreward by Swizz Beatz and mentions both male and female rappers. Some of the artists mentioned are: DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill Gang, James Brown, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Tupac, Biggie, and more. All of these artists used rap music as a form of wordplay, repetition and extended metaphor to relate real-life experiences that were sometimes dark, violent, romantic, hopeful or funny.
The Roots of Rap teaches readers about the history, creativity and diversity of hip-hop and how it has become a major genre of popular music in the 21st century.
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood
Harlem Grown tells the inspiring true story of how one man made a big difference in a neighborhood. After seeing how restless they were and their lack of healthy food options, Tony Hillery invited students from an underfunded school to turn a vacant lot into a beautiful and functional farm. By getting their hands dirty, these kids turned an abandoned space into something beautiful and useful while learning about healthy, sustainable eating and collaboration.
Who Are Your People?
This picture book is a beautiful tribute to our ancestors, the people whose shoulders we stand on today. It teaches children to dream big and to be proud of their culture and where they came from.
The author, Bakari Sellers is not only a New York Times Bestselling author, he is also the son of Civil Rights activist, Cleveland Sellers. The book was inspired by the author’s twin son and daughter.
With stunning artwork by Reggie Brown, this book is filled with so much love and joy.
Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free
Have you heard of Opal Lee? She’s a story keeper and historian, also known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth”.
For years, Opal Lee has been leading a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday in the United States. From 2016 to 2020, she walked across America and collected more than 1.5 million signatures for her petition to the U.S. Congress.
Finally, on June 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday with Grandmother Opal Lee standing by his side.
Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free begins with Grandmother Opal telling a Juneteenth story to a group of kids at a Juneteenth Jamboree celebration. She also recalls a painful Juneteenth story from her childhood that taught her a big lesson.
Throughout her lifetime, Opal Lee became a teacher, community leader, and civil rights activist. She genuinely believes that remembering the past is the key to a better future. Opal Lee is still alive today at the age of ninety-five years old.
This is an inspiring story of determination about a woman who never gave up on her dream even in the face of rejection and disappointment.
Opal Lee’s constant reminder that she keeps in the back of her mind is: “None of us are free until we’re all free, and we aren’t free yet.”
The back matter includes a recipe to make Juneteenth “Red Punch” Strawberry Lemonade, a Juneteenth timeline, additional information about Opal Led, and a list of sources.
A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon
Katherine Johnson loved numbers from an early age. Her love of counting – steps, number of dishes she washed, and even the stars – primed her for starting high school as a 10 year old. She excelled in school, devouring knowledge and starting college at just 15 years old.
Ever since seeing the #hiddenfigures movie, I’ve loved seeing all of the books about the inspiring women from the movie. I’m thrilled all of their stories have finally been told and continue to inspire generations of men and women alike all over the world.
A Computer Called Katherine is spectacular and beautifully captures the life of human-computer Katherine Johnson. Katherine Johnson knew that women could be anything and do the same things as men so she boldly set out to prove it.
Marley and the Family Band
A picture book that celebrates music, love, and family from author Cedella Marley. A poetic story about a young girl who moves to a new country and learns to make friends—inspired by a childhood growing up with the musician Bob Marley as a father.
Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
Meet an incredible woman who broke down barriers throughout her whole life and is now known as one of the most preeminent painters of the 20th century. Told from the point of view of young Alma Thomas, readers can follow along as she grows into her discovery of the life-changing power of art.
All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball
The remarkable story of Larry Doby, the first Black baseball player in the American League. In 1947, Larry Doby signed with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first Black player in the American leagues. He endured terrible racism, both from fans and his fellow teammates. Despite this, he became a unifying force on and off the field, and went on to become a seven-time All Star. Illustrated with Cannaday Chapman’s bold, stylized illustrations, this exceptional biography tells the story of an unsung hero who not only opened doors for those behind him, but set amazing records during his Hall of Fame career. More significantly, it examines the long fight to overcome racism in sports and our culture at large, a fight that is far from over.
When the Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl's Story of Virginia's "Lost Generation" and the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Decision
An awe-inspiring autobiographical picture book about a young African American girl who lived during the shutdown of public schools in Farmville, Virginia, following the landmark civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. Most people think that the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 meant that schools were integrated with deliberate speed. But the children of Prince Edward County located in Farmville, Virginia, who were prohibited from attending formal schools for five years knew differently, including Yolanda.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government.
The People Remember
This is an important book to read as a family—a story young readers can visit repeatedly to deepen their understanding of African American history in relation to their own lives and current social justice movements. By turns powerful and revealing, this is a lyrical narrative that tells the story of survival, as well as the many moments of joy, celebration, and innovation of Black people in America.
Sing, Aretha, Sing!: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Civil Rights Movement
When Aretha Franklin sang, she didn't just sing...she sparked a movement. As a performer and a civil rights activist, the Queen of Soul used her voice to uplift freedom fighters and the Black community during the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Her song "Respect" was an anthem of identity, survival, and joy. It gave hope to people trying to make change. And when Aretha sang, the world sang along.
Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman's Dreams Took Flight
Before Bessie Coleman blazed a high trail with her plane . . . Before she performed in death-defying flying shows that would earn her fame as Queen Bess . . . Before she traveled the country speaking out against discrimination, Bessie was a little girl with a big imagination that took her to the sky, through the clouds, and past the birds.
Knocking down barriers one by one, Bessie endured racism and grueling training to become the first black female pilot and an inspiration to Mae Jemison, Josephine Baker, and many more influential people of color for years to come.
Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan's Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal
Before Garrett Morgan became a successful inventor and saved countless lives with his creations, he was a little boy with a head full of ideas on how to make life better for everyone.
At a tumultuous time filled with racism and discrimination, Garrett became a prominent businessman and skilled inventor who produced the traffic signal, a gas mask, and others objects still used today.
M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child
M is for Melanin is an empowering alphabet book that teaches kids their ABC and celebrates black children. Each letter of the alphabet contains affirming, black-positive messages, from E is for Empowerment, to L is for Lead to W is for Worthy. This joyful book, written and illustrated by Tiffany Rose, teaches children their ABC and encourages all kids to love the skin they're in.