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Celebrating Black History with Picture Books
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Picture Books Celebrating Black History and Identity

These picture books celebrate black history and black characters living their lives, fighting for change and equal rights, and improving life for everyone.

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Celebrating Black History and Identity

If you are interested in children’s picture books, as I am, you will have noticed the increase (thankfully) in titles about black history and identity.
No matter the cultural makeup of your school, your students need access to books that educate and counter racism and prejudice. Black children need to see themselves represented in books, and other children need to read about the experiences and lives of other cultures.

There are over 40 picture book recommendations in the list below. The books 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 experience racism, prejudice, and intolerance.
  • Positive relationships that inspire and empower.

 

Black History Month

Books with black characters like the ones below must 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 resources below the suggested books, which provide ways to teach and discuss racism, slavery, and prejudice in the classroom.

Children’s Books Embracing Black History and Identity

Visit Embrace Race to learn more about choosing picture books with diverse characters.

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey

Set against the backdrop of Harlem, a young girl is profoundly inspired by Janet Collins – the first African American prima ballerina. She is determined, overcomes adversity, and achieves her dreams against all odds.

A Dance Like Starlight promotes resilience and fosters empathy, courage, and dream-chasing in your students.

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.

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. 

Coming to England: An Inspiring True Story Celebrating the Windrush by Floella Benjamin

Baroness Benjamin recalls her journey from Trinidad to London as a ten-year-old, and how she overcame adversity, embraced hope, and demonstrated determination to build a new life in a new country. She went on to educate millions of children on TV and become a member of the House of Lords.

This book is a powerful tool to teach children about the experiences and contributions of Black people to British society and inspire them to be resilient and hopeful in the face of adversity.

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. 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

A young black boy enters a barbershop as ‘a lump of clay’ and emerges feeling like royalty after his fresh cut. The boy’s newfound confidence demonstrates the significant impact of this simple act on his self-esteem and outlook.

Crown promotes discussions on the importance of self-confidence and self-worth, the role of cultural institutions in shaping identity, and finding joy and transformation in everyday experiences.

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Belle learns to make Freedom Soup, a traditional Haitian dish, from her Ti Gran during New Year’s celebration. As they cook, Ti Gran shares the story of the Haitian Revolution, providing historical context for the significance of their culinary tradition. 

Freedom Soup sparks conversations about family traditions, pride, unity, shared experiences, understanding one’s roots and the value of preserving and passing on cultural traditions. 

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Zuri adores her curly hair, even though it has a mind of its own. Her daddy steps up to the challenge, ready to learn and do whatever it takes to make Zuri and her hair shine with joy.

Hair Love fosters discussions on self-esteem, positive relationships, cultural pride and identity, self-expression, individuality and inclusivity.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English

Best friends Kishi and Renée are waiting for each other to apologise. They sit on their front porches, but before long, they forget their fight and join in the fun, showing the power of forgiveness and the strength of their friendship.

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue inspires discussions on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and positive friendships. Friendship’s ups and downs underline that bonds can endure even after a quarrel.

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

A young black boy describes himself as creative, smart, funny, adventurous, and a good friend. He acknowledges his failures but emphasises his resilience in overcoming setbacks. He shares his fears of being misjudged by others, revealing the reality many young black boys face.

I Am Every Good Thing explores self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-esteem, respect, resilience, and the struggles of being misunderstood.

Islandborn by Junot Díaz

Lola gathers memories of the Caribbean island where she was born for a school project. From tales of music, beaches, and sweet mangoes to a vibrant environment and its challenges, Lola begins to understand and take pride in her heritage. 

Islandborn explores themes of belonging, identity, and inquiry and provides discussion points for your students, such as acknowledging the complexities of immigration and celebrating family ties.

Jake Makes a World by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Jake Makes a World by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Artist Jacob Lawrence found creative inspiration in the people, streets, and colours of Harlem. From his mother’s apartment, coloured with intricate patterns, to the streets full of faces, sounds, rhythms, and smells, Jake created a world that reflected the beauty and spirit of Harlem.

Jake Makes a World promotes discussions on creativity, self-expression, community impact, and art’s transformative power.

John Agard's Windrush Child by John Agard

A young child leaves his Caribbean home and sails aboard the Empire Windrush to start a new life in England. He experiences many emotions as he says goodbye and faces the uncertainty of a new country and home.

Windrush Child initiates discussions on black history, hope, resilience, overcoming adversity, and the challenges associated with a new life in a different country.

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

Step into the world of a young boy brimming with excitement and confidence as he embarks on his first day of Kindergarten. The boy showcases self-confidence, enthusiasm, and healthy self-esteem through his journey as he eagerly engages with new friends and experiences.

The King of Kindergarten encourages students to approach new beginnings with confidence and enthusiasm, helping to foster a positive attitude towards school life.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

On a bus ride with his nana, CJ questions why he doesn’t have the same things as his friends and why they volunteer. His nana’s positive responses help him see the beauty in what he has and the power of giving.

Last Stop on Market Street explores appreciation for what we have, the joy of gratitude, helping others in need, a sense of community, being reflective and considering different perspectives.

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs

Elizabeth Cotten was left-handed but still taught herself to play her brother’s guitar backwards and upside down. By the time she was a teenager, she had discovered her own unique music and written the famous song “Freight Train”. 

Reading Elizabeth’s story can be inspiring and teach important lessons about determination, self-belief, and never giving up.

Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillian is a centenarian African American woman determined to walk to her polling station to have her say. As she makes her way up the hill, she reflects on the efforts of her family to secure the right to vote. 

Her great-grandfather was the first to do so after the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, her parents registered to vote, and she took part in the march from Selma to Montgomery to support the cause.

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. Despite hardships and racial prejudice, Malcolm’s resilience and strength emerge, setting the stage for his transformation into a charismatic leader.

Malcolm Little promotes discussions on racial identity, resilience, Malcolm Little’s transformation to Malcolm X and self-belief.

Masai and I by Virginia Kroll

An African American girl, Linda, learns about the Masai tribe at school. She daydreams and compares her urban life with the lifestyle of the Masai people, sparking kinship and respect.

Masai and I explores empathy and respect for different cultures, the role of education in broadening our worldview and respecting and valuing different lifestyles and cultures.

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin

Alvina’s Grannie Vero hails from Trinidad, while Grannie Rose is from the north of England. Their different ways of doing things lead to a clash of cultures. Alvina finds a simple solution that helps her grannies understand and appreciate each other’s differences.

My Two Grannies explores respecting different cultures, resolving conflicts, bridging cultural differences, adaptability, and problem-solving.

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon and started singing before she could talk. Her music was inspired by classical composers like Bach, whose pieces began softly and finished powerfully. During the Civil Rights Movement, Nina sang to stand up against racism and unfairness.

Nina used her voice to fight for justice and equality. You can use her story to discuss civil rights, discrimination, and social justice.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848 and experienced the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. When she was 116 years old, she learned how to read and showed everyone that it is possible to learn no matter how old.

Mary Walker’s determination teaches us important lessons about black history, the joy of reading, perseverance, and character and exemplifies how people can adapt to change.

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan

Opal Lee’s commitment to the cause deepened when, at twelve years old, an angry mob burned down her family’s home on June 19th. She gathered over 1.5 million signatures to make Juneteenth a national holiday, symbolising her vision of freedom and equality.

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free promotes discussions on perseverance, determination, activism, freedom and the importance of Juneteenth in American history.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Clover and Annie live in houses divided by a fence, symbolising segregation. They are prohibited from crossing the fence because of their racial backgrounds. They break down this barrier through curiosity, one conversation at a time.

The Other Side inspires discussions on tolerance, open-mindedness, challenging societal norms and communication in breaking down barriers and forming connections.

Our Story Starts in Africa

Our Story Starts in Africa by Patrice Lawrence

When Paloma visits her family in Trinidad, she doesn’t feel she belongs. Tante Janet tells her a story about warrior queens and things that happened thousands of years ago. Paloma is part of this story, too! Her story starts in Africa. 

Join Paloma and her aunt as they share how Paloma’s family journeyed from Africa to the Caribbean. They’ll talk about the hard times of colonization and slavery and how this adversity led to a vibrant and successful community.

Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus

Maya Angelou, a poet, author, and activist, was born into difficult circumstances and faced hardships growing up. She never gave up, turned her adversity into resilience and courage and, with it, achieved her dreams. 

Maya wrote poetry that embraced her black identity and celebrated black history. Her words offered hope and inspired many to take risks and stand up for their beliefs.

Ruby, Head High: Ruby Bridge's First Day of School by Irene Cohen-Janca

Ruby Bridges became a symbol of courage during the Civil Rights Movement. She became the first African American student to attend an all-white school in New Orleans on her first day of school. Despite facing hostility and prejudice, Ruby remained strong, keeping her head high.

Ruby, Head High, translated from French, highlights Ruby’s bravery and resilience in adversity, inspiring readers to stand up against injustice and embrace equality.

Sarah Rising by Ty Chapman

Sarah Rising is set against the Black Lives Matter movement. Sarah takes part in a protest against racial injustice. She learns about standing up for equality and justice and the role of peaceful protest in bringing about change.

The book encourages discussions about activism, social justice, community engagement, and standing up against racism and intolerance.

Saturday by Oge Mora

Ava eagerly anticipates Saturdays for special bonding time with her mom. She learns that things can still work out beautifully when their plans don’t pan out as expected.

Read Saturday to foster discussions on the power of positivity, resilience in the face of disappointment, and adaptability in unexpected circumstances.

So Much! by Trish Cooke

A mother and her baby are enjoying an ordinary day at home. However, their quiet day turns into a family gathering as relatives arrive one after another, each showing their love and affection towards the baby in their own unique way. 

So Much! sparks conversations about the feelings of love, joy, and belonging that come from being part of a close-knit family, the diversity of familial relationships, and the role of fathers in a child’s life.