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Ignite Classroom Conversations: Unlock Picture Books for Black History Month

Ready to make Black History Month truly impactful in your classroom? Dive into picture books that not only celebrate the rich history and achievements of black individuals but also open doors for essential classroom discussions. From biographies of trailblazers to stories of resilience and resistance, these picture books for Black History Month are perfect for creating an inclusive environment and engaging your students in meaningful dialogue all year round.

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Black History Month and Its Importance in the Classroom

Black History Month is a time dedicated to celebrating the achievements and contributions of black individuals throughout history. It allows you to cultivate an inclusive classroom environment and teach students about the diversity of human experiences.

Black History Month, observed in America during February and October in the UK, offers the opportunity to celebrate the history, art and culture of people often under-represented in literacy and media.

A group of children reading books in a library.

Why Read Picture Books for Black History Month?

Picture books, especially those focusing on black history, simplify complex historical events and figures, making it easier for students to grasp. 

Moreover, these books often portray powerful messages of resilience, bravery, and innovation, helping to foster empathy and respect among students.

No matter your school’s and classroom’s cultural makeup, 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 must read about the experiences and lives of those different from themselves to educate and counter racism and prejudice.

When teaching about black history and culture, picture books celebrate the beauty, difficulties and diversity of African American life. These picture books should be accessible all year round, not only during Black History Month.

Overcoming Challenges in Teaching Black History Month

Teaching about Black History Month can sometimes be challenging, especially in creating a balance between the realities of historical injustices and the celebration of black accomplishments.

Using picture books for Black History Month can help navigate these challenges, offering stories of success, resistance, and hope and creating room for age-appropriate discussions about discrimination and injustice.

A group of children posing for a photo.

Questions to Pair with Picture Books for Black History Month

  • Who is the main character in this book?
  • What challenges did they face? How did they overcome these challenges?
  • What can we learn from their experience?
  • How does their story contribute to Black History?
  • What emotions did you feel while reading this book?
  • How would you feel if you were in the protagonist’s situation?
  • Can you identify any major events in the book?
  • How does this story relate to what we know about black history?
  • What does this book teach us about resilience?
  • How does this story reflect the culture and traditions of the Black community?
  • Why do you think it’s important for us to read this book during Black History Month?
  • How does this book help you understand the experiences of Black people in history?
  • What is one new thing you learned about Black History from this book?
  • If you could ask the protagonist one question, what would it be?
 

Picture Books for Black History Month

These picture books for Black History Month explore many aspects of black history and culture, including

  • Role models who fought for change and equal rights.
  • Scientists and inventors who improved all our lives. 
  • People who experienced racism and prejudice and fought for tolerance and equality.
  • Positive relationships that inspire and empower.

Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid

Born and raised in Harlem, Althea Gibson had a passion for tennis. Undeterred by the racist and sexist attitudes she faced, Althea persevered. Her hard work and resilience paid off when she became the first African American recipient of tennis’s highest honours. 

Althea’s story demonstrates the power of commitment, perseverance, and overcoming adversity.

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford

A series of poems tells the story of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in 1915. She navigates through pain, poverty, and legal issues to pursue her dream of becoming a music icon.

Becoming Billie Holiday reflects on resilience and perseverance in adversity and the pursuit of dreams.

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

This is the first of two picture books for Black History Month on this list by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Despite being born into slavery, Harriet Tubman devoted her life to fighting for freedom and equality. Her many roles included – conductor of the Underground Railroad, a nurse, a suffragist, and a spy.

Before She Was Harriet explores courage, perseverance, social justice, and how a single person can bring about change, historical issues like slavery, civil rights, and the role of women in societal changes.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Lewis Michaux started the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. It became a hub for Black culture, knowledge, and activism. It was a meeting place for figures like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

The Book Itch promotes discussions on freedom, truth, the power of literature, learning from others, cultural heritage, and empowering change and fostering new ideas.

Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis by Melvina Noel

Edna was a chef, a trailblazer, and the “Queen of Southern Cooking”. She came from a small town called Freetown, Virginia, and she changed the world of cooking. She taught America how to make delicious dishes like Hot Buttered Biscuits, Fried Chicken, and Peach Cobbler. She became the first African American cookbook author published by a mainstream publishing house. 

Coretta's Journey by Alice Faye Duncan

Coretta Scott King was not just the wife of the renowned civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was a pacifist committed to freedom work long before she met Dr. King. After Martin’s death, she continued the struggle, preserving his legacy for future generations. 

Coretta’s Journey promotes discussions on resilience, social justice, standing strong in adversity, fighting for what is right, and the power of one’s voice. 

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

Katherine Johnson broke racial and gender barriers to play an instrumental role in NASA’s space missions. Her mathematical skills and quick thinking were critical to the astronauts’ safe return aboard the troubled Apollo 13 spacecraft.

Counting on Katherine inspires discussions on perseverance, problem-solving skills, gender roles in the STEM field, the fight against racial discrimination and equal opportunities.

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

Joe and John navigate the realities of segregation when John, who is black, may not use the pool. Despite the Civil Rights Act, the local pool closed rather than allowing black people to use it. Joe cannot understand why John doesn’t have the same rights as himself.

Freedom Summer prompts discussions on civil rights, segregation, equality, tolerance, prejudice and challenging inequality.