Black History Month Picture Books Children's Books Living Books
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Black History Book List: 75+ titles for children and families

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Black History Month, alternatively known in the United States as African American History Month, is an annual celebration each February of the lives, achievements, and impacts of African Americans in our country.  The list of children’s books below provides a wonderful introduction to learning more about the tremendous achievements of many incredible African American men and women…#TextbookFree!

While I certainly hope this booklist is an aid to observing Black History Month in your homes and schools, the books that follow are also a vital component of your everyday reading as a family.  It is important to me that the books we read as a family are as beautifully diverse as the world in which we live!  Many of these books would be ideal additions to your morning time or family read aloud time.

The picture books and other children’s books that follow describe the lives of artists, musicians, athletes, scientists, explorers, inventors, poets, politicians, activists, soldiers, and ordinary families.  There is art to observe and poetry to memorize…new names and familiar faces to admire…tears and laughter and smiles to fill your hearts.  I hope you enjoy reading these titles as much as I have enjoyed them!  “Picture book research” is my favorite job ever.

While obviously many times the categories overlap, I have tried to organize the titles in a semblance of sub-categories to aid in your booklist planning.  Below you will find the following categories: Artists, Musicians, Athletes; Scientists, Explorers, Inventors; History Before 1860; History After 1860; Poetry; More Great History Resources; and The Beauty of Everyday Lives. The books are listed in no particular order within each category.

Many deal with extremely difficult subject matter; this is an important opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations as a family.  Often, also, even the simplest picture books have informative author’s notes, so make sure you don’t skip the introductions and author/illustrator epilogues!

Remember, we’re never too old for children’s books … don’t let your middle schoolers or teens miss out on the richness of these beautiful books!

Tell me in the comments which ones you read as a family, and share any titles I may have inadvertently overlooked!  This booklist is just a place to start…

Black History Month Children's Books Living Books Picture Books

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclaimer.}

Artists, Musicians, and Athletes


A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, Jen Bryant 

Horace Pippin grew from a young boy who loved to draw, to a young man greatly affected by his time fighting in France during WW1, to a man who struggled and succeeded in making beautiful art.  The illustrations in this one are particularly fascinating!
 

Firebird, Misty Copeland

Famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland inspires young dancers.  Vibrant illustrations!


Wake Up Our Souls: a Celebration of Black American Artists
, Tonya Bolden

Comprehensive resource and reference guide, or could be read all the way through by an older child.

Jump!, Floyd Cooper

Before Michael Jordan was a famous athlete, he was a younger brother who never could quite keep up with his older brother or the other older kids on the basketball court.


Trombone Shorty
, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

Autobiographical picture book! This is the story of how Trombone Shorty made his dreams of being a musician a reality.

This Jazz Man, Karen Ehrhardt

Not merely a simple counting rhyme or a celebration of jazz, but a tribute to 9 great musicians.



A Dance Like Starlight
, Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper

The story of Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, is told from the perspective of a young aspiring dancer.


Black Jack, Charles R. Smith, Jr. 

Ballad style, Smith’s words and the accompanying illustrations tell the story of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world.


Something to Prove; The Great Satchel Paige -vs- Rookie Joe Dimaggio
, Robert Skead

A famous baseball matchup between two of the best ballplayers of the twentieth century.


Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, Heather Lang

The incredible story of Alice Coachman, the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams, Howard Bryant

Competitors. Teammates.  Record breakers. Epic athletes. Sisters.


Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song
, Gary Golio

Famous jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday and the story of the powerful song “Strange Fruit.”

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, Russell Freedman

When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let famed vocalist Marian Anderson sing in Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. and invited Anderson to sing her brilliant concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  This book looks at Anderson’s life and career in the context of the struggle for civil rights.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Pat Zietlow Miller

Alta can’t wait to see Wilma Rudolph, Olympic gold medalist, in the upcoming parade.  But what will happen with a neighbor with new shoes challenges Alta to a race?

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Chris Raschka

The rhythms of the text echo the music of Charlie Parker, the famous jazz saxophone player.

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, Lesa Cline-Ransome

The inspiring story of how Robert Battle became the leader of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa, Andrea Davis Pinkney

The text of this delightful picture book echoes the rhythms of the scat of jazz, telling the story of the amazing Ella Fitzgerald.

Tree of Hope, Amy Littlesugar

Florrie’s daddy used to be an actor, and he gets another chance during the Great Depression when “Harlem’s Macbeth” is performed in the Lafayette Theatre.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

This picture book tells the story of the first southern African-American man to be published, George Moses Horton.  Born into slavery in NC, George was early filled with a love of words and language.  His passion inspired him to teach himself how to read, and he began to compose poetry even before he learned to write.

Discovering African American Art for Children

The Come Look With Me series is a wonderful way to introduce simple art study and narration with your children.  Why not start this month with Discovering African American Art for Children?

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.

Scientists, Explorers, and Inventors

Dear Benjamin Banneker, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Benjamin Banneker was born free in 1731, and is often regarded as America’s first black man of science.  He was a gifted mathematician and astronomer.

A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver, Aliki

George Washington Carver was an brilliant scientist who is perhaps best known for the research he did on sweet potatoes and peanuts.

A Picture Book of George Washington Carver, Adler

Another introduction to the amazing life of George Washington Carver.

Onward, Dolores Johnson

The National Geographic photobiography of African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson.

I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer, Carole Boston Weatherford

Beautifully illustrated and simply told story of the life of Matthew Henson, famous polar explorer.

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, Chris Barton

If you’ve ever enjoyed playing with a super-soaker, or wondered how inventions get made, you’ll enjoy this book.  Lonnie Johnson was a creative thinker whose perseverance paid off.

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, Nikki Grimes

Bessie Coleman was 11 when the Wright brothers first flew, and she became the first African-American female pilot, overcoming both racial and gender discrimination.


Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker, Kathryn Lasky

Madam C. J. Walker rose from extreme poverty to become an entrepreneur, successful business owner, and philanthropist.


The Moon Over Star, Dianna Hutts Aston

A story about a young girl, Mae, who watches the 1969 moon landing with her family.

Mae Among the Stars, Roda Ahmed 

A glimpse into the childhood dreams of Mae Jamison, the first African American woman in space.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling

This picture book makes the well-regarded book of the same name accessible even to young children.  There is also a young reader’s edition  of the full-length adult book for your young teens.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (revised kids edition), Gregg Lewis and Devorah Shaw Lewis 

The story of the man who transformed from “class dummy” to pediatric neurosurgeon.

History before 1860

A Spy Called James, Anne Rockwell

The subtitle says it all: “The true story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War double agent.”


The Black Regiment of the American Revolution
, Linda Crotta Brennan

Tells the often-overlooked story of these heroes of the American Revolution.

Freedom in Congo Square, Carole Boston Weatherford

Once a week, those enslaved in New Orleans, Louisiana, would join together for a time of celebration, music, and dancing in Congo Square.


So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom, Gary Schmidt

“In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted, Isabella looked at the night sky and dreamed of freedom.”  Isabella, who later changed her name to Sojourner Truth, became a leader and a champion for the equality of all people regardless of their color or gender.

Henry’s Freedom Box, Ellen Levine

An amazing true story from the Underground Railroad.

Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jeanette Winter

Another tale of the underground railroad that I remember from my own childhood.


History after 1860

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, Chris Barton

In the words of the author, this picture book tells the story of “a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.”


Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen?, Sherri Smith

Accessible read for those who want to learn about the brave heroes who fought as military pilots during WW2.

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels, America’s First Black Paratroopers, Tanya Lee Stone

A good read for your older middle schooler or young teen, a history of the role of African Americans in the military accompanied with many historic photographs.

Ruth and the Green Book, Calvin Alexander Ramsey

Told through the perspective of a young girl traveling south with her parents to visit relatives, where they discover black travelers need the wisdom found in a special green book to know where they can find welcome and safety in the land of Jim Crow.

Granddaddy’s Street Songs, Monalisa DeGross

A celebration of the love between grandfather and grandson, and a look at the vendors (known as  “arrabers”) who used to sell their wares on the streets of Baltimore.

Introduction to the life of Booker T. Washington:

Who Was Booker T. Washington 

Fifty Cents and a Dream, Jabari Asim

Booker T. Washington, Thomas Amper

Up From Slavery (for older students or as a read-aloud resource)

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Lewis Henri Michaux founded The National Memorial African Bookstore in the 1930s, and it became a gathering place for scholars, politicians, activists, writers, and more!

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Carole Boston Weatherford

The youngest of twenty children in a sharecropping family, Hamer went on to become (according to Malcom X) “the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.”

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea Davis Pinkney

This book also has an audiobook version we check out from the library each year, and describes important events from the civil rights movement.

Introductions to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr:

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr

What Was the March on Washington

Martin’s Big Words (you can also watch this as a video)

Introductions to the life of Rosa Parks:

A Picture Book of Rosa Parks

Who Was Rosa Parks

Poetry

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes

A compilation of some of Langston Hughes’s most beautiful work, accompanied by rich, beautiful illustrations.

Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes, Floyd Cooper

Childhood history of the great poet, Langston Hughes.  A celebration of home.

{We’re memorizing one of Langston Hughes’s poems, “Mother to Son”, in our Year of Memory Work.  Check it out here.}

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sally Derby

Told in conversational style, this lyrical work tells the story of the famous poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, interspersed with many of his greatest poems.

Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou

A compilation of some of Maya Angelou’s poetry, accompanied by rich, beautiful illustrations.


More Great History Resources

Dream Big, Little One, Vashti Harrison

Beautiful, simple picture book filled with inspiring role models from Ella Fitzgerald to Katherine Johnson.

 Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Vashti Harrison

Brief biographies of 40 amazing women, some famous and some less well known.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, Carole Boston Weatherford

Tells about the remarkable life and impact of the Afro-Puerto Rican scholar who brought to light the amazing achievements of people of African descent throughout history.

How to Build a Museum, Tonya Bolden

A fascinating look at the history, construction, purpose, and content of Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World, Charles R. Smith Jr

Each page spread tells of a famous moment in black history and why it is important today.

Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, Andrea Davis Pinkney

I think this is the only title on this list either I or my children have not read personally.  It is in our library basket right now, and I look forward to reading it with them this year!  I feel comfortable sharing it already because several of Pinkney’s other books have already made it to our list.

The Beauty of Everyday Lives

Come On, Rain, Karen Hesse

Tess and her mother are sweltering on a muggy afternoon, but when the rain comes, the whole neighborhood begins to celebrate.

Princess and the Peas, Rachel Himes

A creative re-telling of the princess and the pea folk tale, set in a close-knit, African American community of the 1950s.

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, Jacqueline Woodson

A beautiful, moving story telling the history of several generations in a family and the rope that serves varying purposes throughout their lives.

Grandpa’s Face, Eloise Greenfield

When a young girl sees her actor-grandpa practicing a mean face in the mirror, she worries that he might one day look at her like that.  A sweet story of family love.

Juneteenth for Mazie, Floyd Cooper

A father tells his daughter, Mazie, their family’s history and why they celebrate Juneteenth.

The Hello, Goodbye Window, Norton Juster

The picture book describes the magic one little girl from a bi-racial family finds in the kitchen window at her Nanna and Poppy’s house.

Tea Cakes for Tosh, Kelly Starling Lyons

Tosh loves going to Grandma’s house and hearing the story of his ancestor and the tea cakes she made as a plantation house cook.  But when Grandma begins to forget the stories and the recipes, Tosh knows what to do.


Ada Twist, Scientist, Andrea Beaty

Ada is full of questions, and sometimes being a scientist gets her into mischief.

Daddy Calls Me Man, Angela Johnson

Beautiful paintings accompany simple, family, daily-life poems.

Momma, Where Are You From?, Marie Bradby

Through poetic text and beautiful illustrations, a mother tells the story of their family.

Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold

This Caldecott Honor book’s illustrations are based on the author’s story quilt (which can be seen in the Guggenheim Museum).

When I am Old with You, Angela Johnson

A grandson tells his granddaddy all the things they will do together “when I am old with you.” So sweet!

My Family Plays Music, Judy Cox

Each member of this large extended family enjoys a different musical genre.

Donald Crews

Donald Crews  is one of our favorite author/illustrators.  Any time is a great time to explore his books if you haven’t before!  Freight Train  is one of our favorites!

Follow the author/illustrator rabbit trails…

Many of the books are this list are themselves written and/or illustrated by gifted African American authors and artists.  You’ll notice several authors/illustrators in this booklist whose names may even appear multiple times.  They have written even more that I haven’t had a chance to read or list as of yet!  Be sure to see all the other wonderful children’s books by Carole Boston Weatherford, Jacqueline Woodson, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Floyd Cooper, for example.  Also, notice the skill of many of the illustrators, and be sure to find other books they have illustrated.  (If you don’t know how to search your library’s collection by illustrator, be sure to ask your local librarian!)  These are men and women who, themselves, are worth celebrating!

Happy Reading!  I hope your library hold shelf stays full in the weeks ahead. ❤

I always love to gather more books for our family’s reading stack. Please comment below with other fabulous books celebrating African American men and women that I have not yet listed!

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.


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Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 4, 7, 8, 11, and 13. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, perseveres through half-marathons and weight-training, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.

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