Inside: Black history children’s books are critically important to teach kids American history. Check out this fabulous list of kids books to read all year round!
Why Black History Children’s Books Should be Read All Year Round
Black history is AMERICAN HISTORY.
I know I’m not the first one to say this. Far from it, actually. But it doesn’t make this critical notion any less important.
If there’s one idea I’ve been working hard to instill in my students this year more than ever, it’s that ALL stories need to be heard ALL year round, no matter if they have their own special month or week dedicated to their celebration.
What does that mean, exactly?
It means stories about strong women do not need to be saved for Women’s History month in March. LGBTQ children’s books should be shared all the time, not only during Pride month in April. Kids shouldn’t be limited to hearing stories about Hispanic heritage only between September 15 and October.
Similarly, stories about Black history — stories about Black leaders and innovators and authors and artists — make for rich and profound read alouds throughout the entire year.
Yes — that means January to December! The last thing we want is for children to believe these vital American stories do not need to be told and heard during the rest of the year.
Reading Black History Children’s Books Helps Combat Bias and Harmful Stigma
As I have said before, contributions by Black men and women have been nothing short of remarkable. Their accomplishments — their legacies — are engrained in the very essence of America, shaping our country, our communities, and many of our daily lives.
The stories on this list are about Black men and women that children need to hear all year round. When we show children from the time they are young that Black history is American history — that reading stories about Black men and women who have changed our world for the better is as inspiring as it is important — we not only help bridge perceived divides, but we begin to combat preconceived notions and harmful stereotypes.
Black history children’s books are about so much more than struggle.
It is therefore up to us to show kids the beauty and accomplishments that Black Americans have made in connection with the arts, literature, sports, politics, science and math. And it is up to us to ensure that all children know even the toughest obstacles can be overcome. The following illuminating biographies about Black trailblazers don’t just encourage persistence and effort, but they empower kids with an understanding that they can be and DO anything, no matter who they are and what they look like.
We hope you find these stories as inspiring as we do!
Black history children’s books we absolutely love!
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Kamala Harris was a fighter for justice even as just a little girl when she accompanied her parents to civil rights marches in her stroller. As Harris grew from a young girl in Oakland to a law student to a U.S. Senator and then to the Vice President of the United States, she learned a thing about persistence — and justice — along the way. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Frank Morrison: This was my very favorite picture book biography of 2020!! Sports fanatics will love this lyrical book about Elgin Baylor, one of basketball’s greatest players of all time and considered one of the game’s greatest forwards. Despite Baylor’s prowess on the court, however, he was often refused service when his team traveled to away games — one hotel wouldn’t let him lodge on its premises simply because he was black, and he was always turned away from restaurants. He thus decided to use his voice and platform to stand up against this blatant discrimination by sitting out of an NBA game in protest. Baylor’s actions captured the attention of the media and the NBA, and the NBA soon made a rule that no NBA team would stay in a hotel or sat in a restaurant that practiced discrimination. Elgin will always be remembered as an advocate for positive change. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston, by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara: Zora Neale Hurston was “attracted to tales like mosquitoes to skin.” In this picture book biography, readers are instantly transported to the sultry South, where a young Zora spins tales almost as early as she walks. Her mama knows she’s talented, telling Zora to “jump at de sun” because even if you don’t reach it, you’re still getting off the ground. After Mama dies, Zora does just what Mama had always told her: she jumps from home to Howard University to Harlem, where she was good friends with Langston Hughes, and then to Barnard, where a professor suggested she tell the stories of her people, of a culture rarely represented in literature. And so she did— and the rest is history. This is a wonderful and inspiring biography, lovely and fresh, that gives readers an insightful Introduction to one of America’s iconic writers. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn: I have so many gymnastics obsessed students, and they are all head over heels for Simone Biles! They thought they knew all about her, yet they didn’t know so much — like the fact that she grew up in foster care, or that her grandparents actually adopted Simone and her sister and became their parents. This is a story of remarkable dedication, perseverance, sacrifice, and the devotion of love from family. This is a great one for very young readers! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk: You’ve likely heard of Katherine Johnson from the now famous movie and book, Hidden Figures. And though you have also probably heard of the Apollo 13’s famous moon landing, you may not know how the Apollo 13 came safely back to Earth. We have Katherine Johnson to thank for that! Katherine always loved math, and her love for calculations led her to become a gifted student — and then a prominent mathematician at NASA! Katherine not only helped the Apollo 13 come back home, but she saved lives too. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera: Even as a young girl, Gwendolyn Brooks wanted to write. And when, at seven years old, her mother saw snippets of Gwendolyn’s poetry and compared her to a famous poet, Gwendolyn glowed. Readers follow Gwendolyn from her girlhood to her adult life and all the writing she did along the way, including the poems she had published in a newspaper when she was just eleven years old. But it wasn’t always an easy path, as the Great Depression wreaked havoc on the country, and Gwendolyn began to struggle with her identity and finding her place in the world. From invisible to invincible, the story of Gwendolyn Brooks will resonate with readers young and old, who will applaud her perseverance and celebrate her becoming the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership and Legacy, by Kekla Magoon and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Looking to teach your kiddos about a civil rights icon who fought against inequality and unfairness at one of the highest levels? Look no further than Thurgood Marshall, also known as “Mr. Civil Rights.” As a boy, Thurgood knew things around him weren’t fair, and his parents taught him that if you wanted to change the status quo, you had to fight for it. Thurgood was a bit of a joker in school, and after getting in trouble one day, he was forced to read the United States Constitution. Turns out, this assignment opened his eyes, and he became fascinated with the law and the fact that Jim Crow laws were unjust and wrong. From college to law school to a coveted seat on the United States Supreme Court, this is an inspiring and empowering story of a man who not only had to fight to be heard, but fought for equality each and every day. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Playing to Win: How Althea Gibson Broke Boundaries and Changed Tennis Forever, by Karen Deans and illustrated by Elbrite Brown: We all know about tennis champions and boundary breakers Venus and Serena Williams, but before them was Althea Gibson, whose little known story continues to surprise people today! Althea grew up in Harlem at a time when tennis was only played by wealthy white people in restricted country clubs. But Althea grew up in Harlem, and she took the tough neighborhood attitude with her to the court where she dreamed of being a tennis champion. Through much determination and undeniable talent, Gibson became the first Black American to win a major championship at The French Open, followed by Wimbledon the next year. Her success and ability to break boundaries became her legacy both on and off the court! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison: Aretha Franklin was practically born to sing! When she was just a child, her musical ability shined, with a voice spanning three octaves. As an adult, she had a multitude of hit songs, won numerous Grammy awards, and even won a coveted spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And when she wasn’t singing, she used her voice to speak out against injustice, fighting hard for civil rights. This beautiful story – winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award – will have kids mesmerized as they learn about the Queen of Soul! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight, by Karyn Parsons and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie: Many kids know the story of Ameilia Earhart, but they probably are less familiar with Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn her pilot’s license! Bessie was a little girl with a great big imagination, one that always took her to the sky. She was no stranger to racism, but she never let it stop her. Instead, she endured tough training in the field of aviation to become the first Black female pilot! From death-defying flying shows through which she earned the name of “Queen Bess,” to speaking out against prejudice and discrimination around the country, Bessie’s story is one that will intrigue kids of all ages! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums, by Moira Rose Donohue and illustrated by Laura Freeman: Do you love jazz? Swing? Playing the drums? If you have a kiddo who loves music, you’ve got to check out this awesome book about a man who never let a disability get in his way! William Henry “Chick” Webb was born with a disability that left him with a hunched back. But did he let that stop him from playing music? Absolutely not! Chick saw the world as one big drum, pounding every surface he could from pots to pans to stair banisters. An influential drummer and big band leader, Webb led one of the biggest bands of the swing era for which he earned the nickname the “King of the Savoy.” With great onomatopoeia, awesome illustrations, and pages that hum with music, this one is a true joy! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Little People, Big Dreams: Prince, by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Cachetejack: Prince was obsessed with music even as a little boy, and he was talented. His talent turned him into a musical and cultural icon, becoming one of the greatest musicians of all time. Prince combined funk, disco, soul and other musical genres to create his very own sound, and between his unique music and creative personality, he became a true legend. Prince never let anyone stop him from being his authentic self, and his story, perseverance and inventiveness will be an inspiration to children everywhere! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate: There’s no doubt about it: your kids have heard of — and probably played with — the super soaker. But do they know the story behind this iconic invention? Enter Lonnie Johnson, and this fabulously fun Black history biography that tells about how the super soaker came to be…. by accident! Though he always had a penchant for problem solving and engineering, it wasn’t his work with NASA that was Lonnie’s claim to fame, but his invention of the super soaker instead! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Black History Children’s Books: Anthologies
Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies Hardcover, by DK with a forward by Mireille Harper: Oh my gosh, this book rocks! This awesome book of timelines introduces children to Black history world wide, covering not just the United States, but movements in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, too. With 30 timelines and more than 100 Black leaders featured within these pages, this compelling book will leave kids captivated, mesmerized, and eager to learn more about history that was once ignored, hidden, lost or simply under appreciated. A new favorite! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
Black Heroes: 51 Inspiring People from Ancient Africa to Modern Day U.S.A., by Arlisha Norwood: If your child enjoys both long-ago history and more modern stories, he will love the extraordinary Black heroes featured in this awesome book! Highlighting not just Black Americans but Black men and women from around the world too, this lovely compilation includes not only biographies of trailblazers world wide. Find out how people like Queen Nzinga, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman and Benjamin Banneker paved the way for future generations. Even better? We love the way this book includes ways for children to learn more, with additional book, video and website suggestions! Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!
The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World, by The Staff of the Undefeated and illustrated by Robert Ball: Written by the staff at ESPN’s The Undefeated, this awesome and hip collection features biographies of 44 of America’s most important “movers and shakers.” From entrepreneurs to innovators, athletes to activists, the Fierce 44 introduces children to beacons of Black excellence, celebrating the achievements, accomplishments and contributions these heroes have bestowed on America’s history. Support independent bookstores and get the book on Bookshop.org right here!