Today I’m sharing a huge list of our favorite black history books for kids!
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Do your kids encounter a lot of racial diversity?
We live near a major American city, full of people of all races. But our own little suburb is mostly white. Unless we go shopping, my children don’t encounter a lot of faces different from their own during the school week.
I can’t begin to understand the racial struggles that African Americans have faced throughout our history and in the present day. Neither can my children.
But we can try.
Over the past month, my first, second, and fourth grader have listened to countless books about notable African Americans.
We’ve been saddened by stories of the slavery era, inspired by stories of the civil rights movement, and stunned by stories of incredible people of whom we’d never heard.
Since 1975, Americans have recognized February as Black History Month.
During this month we make a special effort to recognize the often neglected accomplishments of notable African Americans.
Of course, we should be remembering the achievements of people of all races all year long.
Let this be a list you refer to every month of the year!
Black history books for kids
Wilma Unlimited, by Kathleen Krull
I start with this book because you must find it at your library! It’s the story of Wilma Rudolph, born tiny and sickly as the twentieth child to a poor, hard-working family. When Wilma suffered polio and paralysis at age five, everyone said she’d never walk again. No one guessed that she’d win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics, becoming the fastest woman in the world!
My Five requested this book again and again. I was happy to oblige!
I Am Rosa Parks, by Brad Meltzer
By refusing to give up her seat, Rosa Parks became a leader in the long fight to end public bus segregation. This is her story.
With his Ordinary People Change the World series, Meltzer has created a fantastic set of picture book biographies. The stories are told in a conversational style and feature engaging illustrations. Even my preschooler asks for them. I recommend that you reserve all of Meltzer’s books from your library now, before you forget!
Rosa Parks, by Kiton Jazynka
This little book is a gem from National Geographic Kids. I love the bright text, bold photographs, and interesting captions. I also love that it’s written in an easy-reader style at about a second grade reading level. Not only does it tell the inspiring story of Rosa Parks, but it also has a Cool Facts page, Quiz Whiz, and picture glossary.
Even my preschooler was engaged through the whole book.
Back of the Bus, by Aaraon Reynolds
This tells Rosa Parks’ story from a boy’s perspective. Sitting in the back of the bus with his mother, the boy has many questions and concerns when Mrs. Parks is arrested. Children will relate to this captivating book.
I Am Rosa Parks, by Rosa Parks (with Jim Haskins)
Here’s another book about Rosa Parks, told by the woman herself. My first grader loved this easy reader about the famous civil rights heroine.
If A Bus Could Talk, by Faith Ringgold
I love this book, but I want to offer a caveat – despite the cute picture and title, this book is for advanced listeners. It is a very long (and wordy!) biographical account of Rosa Parks. If your students know a little about her already and are up for a long read aloud, I highly recommend it.
Teammates, by Peter Golenbock
This book tells the true story of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Jackie was the first African American to play Major League baseball. This incredible man faced threats and opposition at every turn while keeping his promise to “turn the other cheek.”
Pee Wee was the white player who had the courage to publicly support and befriend Jackie Robinson. My big kids (ages 6, 8, and 9) were fascinated by the story.
I Am Jackie Robinson, by Brad Meltzer
While grabbing a link on Amazon, I was surprised to read a scathing review of this book from the School Library Journal. The reviewer called it “preachy and moralistic” with a “perky tone that will cause eye-rolling among readers and listeners.”
I couldn’t disagree more! This wonderfully written and illustrated book is a gentle introduction to race issues and teaches the importance of leading by example. In fact, after reading this book on their own, my older kids were eager to read other books about Robinson.
Even my preschooler loved it and asked for it repeatedly.
Dad Jackie and Me, by Myron Uhlberg
Based on the author’s own life, this is the story of an extra special summer for a father and son. For the first time, Myron’s deaf father shows an interest in professional baseball. Inspired by Jackie Robinson’s fight against prejudice, he keeps a scrapbook and asks his son to teach him how to catch a baseball. At the end of the book he has big news for his son: they are going to Ebbets Field to see Jackie play.
In the epilogue we learn that, as a deaf man, Myron’s father related to Jackie’s stoic endurance of prejudice and fight for acceptance.
Freedom’s School, by Lesa Cline-Ransome
This historical fiction picture book was another favorite. It’s the story of Lizzie and Paul, former slave children who finally have the chance to attend a school just for them.
But even though Lizzie and Paul are excited to finally go to school, it isn’t easy. The walk is long. The path is dangerous. And when someone deliberately burns the school down, it seems like all hope is lost. But the determination of their teacher and other members of the community give this book a happy and hopeful ending.
Ellen’s Broom, by Kelly Starling Lyons
During the slavery era, slaves were not permitted to wed legally. Many of them literally “jumped the broom” when they made a commitment to live as husband and wife.
After slavery ended, former slaves could visit a local courthouse to become legally married. This book is the fictional account of Ellen and her family who visit the courthouse, broom in hand, to make her parents’ marriage legal.
A lovely story with beautiful illustrations!
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation, by Pat Sherman
This is the true story of a slave named Benjamin Holmes who taught himself to read by studying street signs. Though Ben was a hard-working, valued slave, he was sent to a slave prison when his master joined the Confederate army. When the slaves smuggle in a newspaper, Ben has the privilege of reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his fellow captives.
Bad News for Outlaw, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
One thing these books have taught me is that there are some amazing African American heroes whom I’ve never even heard of. Bass Reeves is one of them. Born into slavery, he later became a Deputy U.S. Marshall – and one of the most feared and respected lawmen in the territories. It’s a long book with a fair amount of unfamiliar vocabulary, which made it a great book to read and discuss with my big kids (ages 6, 8, and 9). They were riveted.
Henry’s Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine
This is the astounding true story of Henry Brown, a hard-working American slave who deeply loved his wife and children. One day, while he was at work, Henry’s wife and children were sold. Heartbroken, Henry decided to mail himself to freedom. After a 27-hour journey, cramped in a crate, Henry arrived safely in Philadelphia.
Tragically, Henry never saw his family again. But he lived the rest of his life as a free man.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement, by Paula Young Shelton & Raul Colon
This is a fantastic book written by the youngest daughter of Andrew Young. She tells the story of her parents moving from their home in the North back to the segregated South – to become leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
I loved this rare, behind-the-scenes look at how Young, King, Abernathy, and other civil rights leaders planned and marched to Montgomery.
The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko
My kids were astounded that Richard and Mildred Loving’s marriage was illegal in the state of Virginia – simply because he was white and she was black. This book is the story of their battle to change the law… all the way to the Supreme Court.
New Shoes, by Susan Lynn Meyer
This is the fictional story of two girls who live during the Jim Crow era. They are hurt and humiliated to learn that they’re not permitted to try on shoes in shoe stores simply because they are black. So they collect second hand shoes from their black neighbors and create their own shoe store, where everyone can try on shoes before buying them.
We loved this book! It’s a thought-provoking story with endearing characters and beautiful illustrations.
Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport
With its collage style illustrations and very simple story line, this book is an excellent introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr. I love how it weaves his quotes throughout the story of the civil rights movement. An excellent book!
I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer
In Meltzer’s signature style, he talks directly to children in this engaging first-person biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Like all of Meltzer’s books, the illustrations are unique: King is illustrated as a miniature version of his adult self on every page, even as a young child. This may be confusing to preschoolers who wonder why a little boy has a mustache. If this bothers you, I think the book is good enough to look past it!
My Brother Martin, by Christine Farris
I highly recommend this beautifully-told memoir by the sister of Martin Luther King, Jr. Young listeners will love the stories from King’s childhood and be inspired by his determination to speak out against hatred and racism.
Follow the Drinking Gourd, by Jeanette Winter, is the moving story of Peg Leg Joe, a conductor on the Underground Railroad who taught slaves the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” It sounded like a simple folk song, but within its lyrics were clues that led slaves along the path to freedom.
We don’t know whether Peg Leg Joe was a real person, but the story is a wonderful introduction to the Underground Railroad for young listeners.
Fly High! by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger
This is a long picture book that tells the story of Bessie Coleman, a determined woman who overcame both poverty and prejudice to become the first African American to earn a pilot’s license. Because of the length, I recommend this book for advanced listeners – but the text and pictures make it an enjoyable listen.
Seeds of Freedom, by Hester Bass
We’re familiar with all the tragic stories of integration – from police dogs to bombings, but most of us haven’t heard of the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama. We loved this story of a small town whose members worked together to peacefully integrate their city and schools. Do note that this is a very long book. I recommend it for advanced listeners.
The Great Migration, by Eloise Greenfield
Through a collection of poems and collage artwork, this book tells the stories of African Americans who left their homes in the South in the hope of a better life in the North. My kids loved the illustrations.
She Loved Baseball , by Audrey Vernick
This is the remarkable story of a woman who owned an African American baseball team. Effa Manley not only cared for her players, she also stood up for the rights of African Americans everywhere. Later, when her players were integrated into the major leagues, she fought for their right to get fair salaries and to be recognized in the baseball hall of fame.
My only complaint about this book is that it had too much baseball talk. But that’s because I love history, not sports. 😉
We March, by Shane W. Evans
If you’re looking for a short and simple book that will introduce the civil rights march to young readers, this is it. With just a couple of words on each page and bold illustrations, it will introduce young listeners to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Such a great conversation starter!
With Books and Bricks, by Suzanne Slade
This is my favorite book about Booker T. Washington, the former slave who became a teacher and built his own school for black students – the Tuskegee Institute. Like us, you’ll be stunned by this story of hard-working people who worked hour after hour to make thousands of bricks – by hand! This school with humble beginnings had a hundred buildings and fifteen hundred students at the time of Booker’s death.
Be sure to reserve this true story of one of America’s greatest educators. Highly recommended!
More than Anything Else, by Marie Bradby
If you’d like a book about Booker T. Washington’s life as a child, this is the one to get. We love this beautiful first-person narrative about the post-slavery era. Despite working all day at the saltworks, 9-year-old Booker is determined to learn to read and unlock the power of words. What a wonderful story!
The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles
This is my favorite kid-friendly book about Ruby Bridges, the brave first grader from New Orleans who was the first black child to attend William Frantz Elementary. I like how this book emphasizes her Christian faith amidst the hate and prejudice that she endured.
Sit-In, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The author tells the story of the four young black men who took a stand against segregation by sitting down at the whites-only lunch counter in Woolworth’s. We enjoyed the poetic prose and cooking metaphors in this stunning portrait. For older listeners.
Gordon Parks, by Carole Boston Weatherford
Before Gordon Parks became the first black director in Hollywood, he was a poor African American looking for work. Armed with a camera, he began taking stunning photographs in America’s cities. Parks’ photos of struggling African Americans helped illuminate racism and segregation, making him a strong advocate for the Civil Rights Movement.
Such an interesting book! Appropriate for young listeners.
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman, by David Adler
We own this book, and it’s been a favorite of my kids for years. In fact, as preschoolers my older kids would run around the house playing “Harriet Tubman.” They were fascinated by this picture book biography of the famous former slave who led many African Americans to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
We have many of Adler’s books, and even my preschoolers enjoy them – despite their length.
If you like this book, you’ll also like other titles by Adler: A Picture Book of Rosa Parks, A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass, A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall, A Picture Book of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and A Picture book of Jackie Robinson.
Have you heard of the former slave who became a great scientist? This is a vintage book (1965), but my kids still enjoyed the lovely illustrations, the interesting story, and the captivating text. Just be aware that you will probably want to substitute some of the language, as the book uses the word “Negro” to refer to African Americans.
A Sweet Smell of Roses, by Angela Johnson
This gentle book honors the children who participated in the civil rights marches of the 1960’s. I love the powerful charcoal images in this thought-provoking story. Great for young listeners!
Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles
Joe and John Henry are good friends who are a lot alike. But the two friends can’t do everything together because Joe is white and John Henry is black – and much of their Southern town is closed off to its black citizens.
When a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone, the boys eagerly race each other there… only to find that the city is filling it with asphalt rather than let blacks and whites swim together.
Despite this heartbreaking ending, the book is beautiful and inspiring – and one of my favorites! Recommended.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird, by Renee Watson
This is a beautiful book about Florence Mills, the daughter of former slaves who became a famous singer and dancer in the 1920’s. Like me, you will probably want to jump straight to Youtube to find a recording of her voice. Sadly, none exists, but you will treasure this story of a woman who used her fame and fortune to advance civil rights.
This is the Dream, by Amistad
This lyrical rhyming book is a fantastic introduction to the civil rights movement. But it’s also a beautiful book that older listeners will enjoy. I absolutely love this treasure of a book which honors the people who brought about change through their peaceful protest.
We hope you enjoyed this list of amazing picture books!
Did we miss your favorite? Share in the comments!
© 2017, Anna Geiger. All rights reserved.