Celebrating Black History with Picture Books
Explore these powerful picture books for Black History Month. They include real people who fought for change, equality and improved the lives for many.
Why Use Picture Books for Celebrating Black History?
If you are as interested in children’s picture books as I am, you will have noticed the increase in titles about black history and identity.
No matter the cultural makeup of your school, your students need access to books celebrating black history and culture.
Black children need to see themselves and their ancestors represented in books. Other children need to read about the experiences and lives of those different from themselves to educate and counter racism and prejudice.
Remembering and Celebrating Black History
Books with black characters like the ones below need to be accessible to students all year round. Black History Month, observed in America during February and in the UK in October, offers the opportunity to celebrate the history, art and culture of people often under-represented in literacy and media.
You will find Black History Month activities below the picture books, which provide ways to teach and discuss racism, slavery, and prejudice in the classroom.
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Picture Books for Black History Month
These picture books for Black History Month explore many aspects of black history and culture, including:
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Harriet Tubman led hundreds of slaves to freedom, but this biography describes the other names she used at different times during her life.
Use this book to discuss remarkable women, slavery, civil rights and the underground railroad.
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Coming to England: An Inspiring True Story Celebrating the Windrush by Floella Benjamin
Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
Joe and John are best friends. Before 1964, John, who is black, may not use the pool. The Civil Rights Act allows John to legally use all public places, but the local pool closes rather than allow black people to use it. Joe is dismayed and cannot understand why Joe doesn’t have the same rights as himself.
Use to promote discussions on civil rights, prejudice, equality, segregation and fairness.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford
Gordon Parks, born in 1912, lived in a time of limited prospects for a poor African American. He bought a camera for $7.50 and taught himself to take photos. He saw people being treated differently because of their race and used his camera to take a stand against racism. Gordon followed his dream despite the prejudice he faced and brought awareness to others who faced intolerance.
This biography highlights civil rights, artists, black history and social justice.
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes
Explore the story of the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to become Vice President of the United States. Read how Kamala Harris’ immigrant parents instilled her with a passion for freedom and justice.
Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson
Narrated by a child who joined the 1963 civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. Through their words, we see the harsh consequences for children protesting after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. Children were jailed and treated with disdain by many adults. Regardless, they took a stand and used their voice to change the world.
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs
Elisabeth Cotten taught herself to play her brother’s right-handed guitar upside down and backwards as she was left-handed. She created her own music as a teenager and composed the song ‘Freight Train’
Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, is determined to walk up the steep hill to her polling station to make her voice heard. During her journey, she remembers the difficult voting history of her family. After the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment her great grandfather voted for the first time, she witnesses her parents registering to vote and she marched from Selma to Montgomery.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
Ilyasah Shabazz writes about the childhood of her grandfather, Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. We learn about his natural leadership, his curiosity, and his nurturing family. His optimism is tested when he experiences intolerance and tragedies, including the death of his father by the Ku Klux Klan.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Ethel Payne fought for her education despite the adversity and racism she faced. After graduating in journalism, she wrote about segregation and racism, before becoming one of three black journalists to be issued a press page for the White House. She asked tough questions and was a vocal critic to those in power for their lack of action in the civil rights movement.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford
Arturo Schomburg was an Afro–Puerto Rican who moved to Harlem. When his collection of African literature, art and music threatens to burst out of his house he created and curated a collection at New York Public Library. Today, scholars from around the world still use the collection.
The Teachers March! by Sandra Neil Wallace
Reverend F. D. Reese was a teacher, principal and leader of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. He recognised the respect felt towards educators and organised a teacher only march for voting rights. In 1965, black teachers left their classrooms to march to the courthouse to register to vote.
The book includes an interview with Reverend F.D. Reese and other teachers, photographs and a timeline.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson writes about one African American family and the effect of the Great Migration on them. As the family moves from South Carolina to New York, a piece of rope symbolizes the journey and connections of the three generations of the family.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
A girl is frightened when she discovers a slave hiding in a barn. Her compassion takes over when she saw the fear in their eyes and she cares for them even when slave hunters come looking for the escaped slave. She is rewarded with a doll as a token of gratitude.
Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of equal voting rights, but she had to overcome prejudice, verbal abuse and a beating which nearly killed her. In 1964 she gave a televised speech that prompted people to support the Freedom Democrats.
White Water by Michael S. Bandy
As Michael quenches his thirst with gritty water from a fountain, he is curious whether the water from the white-only fountain is better. Set in the segregated South just before the civil rights movement, he plucks up the courage to taste the white water, only to realise it is exactly the same.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Audrey lived in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. She saw first-hand the mistreatment and discrimination of people because of their skin color. Despite knowing the dangers, she marched to end segregation after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King talk. Audrey Faye Hendrick, at nine, was the youngest child arrested and placed in jail.
This powerful book about a young girl taking a stand will help children realize they too have a voice, no matter their age.
Black History Month Activities
- ASALH: Black History Themes
- BBC: Black and British: A Forgotten History
- BBC Teach: Black History Month – Teacher Resources
- Edmentum: Black History Month Resource Pack
- GCHQ: Black History Month – My Black Heroes
- iCivics: Black History Month: Lesson Plans and Resources for the Classroom
- Learning for Justice: Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History
- Learning for Justice: Microaggressions: The Small Moments Add Up
- National Education Union: Black History Matters
- NEA: Black History Month Lessons & Resources
- Scholastic: Black History Month Lesson Plans and Teaching Resources
- Stonewall Scotland: Black History Month – lesson plans for primary schools
- TeacherVision: Black History Month Activities
Visit Embrace Race to read more on choosing picture books with diverse characters.
What picture books for black history month do you recommend? Let me know in the comments!
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