17 Kids Books That Celebrate Black History
When it comes to teaching kids about history, it’s never too soon to start. Remember, little ones’ brains are like sponges! That’s especially the case when it comes to introducing children to the lives and crucial work of the Black people whose achievements shaped the world today. And, what better way to teach kids about these important moments and figures in Black history than through books? Here are 17 books that honor the men, women, and milestones of Black history.
Written by Colin Kaepernick, illustrated by Eric Wilkerson
Before Colin Kaepernick grew up to be a world-famous athlete and an activist, he was a kid who loved to read books and to play games…and to embrace his uniqueness! From the start, Colin stood out from his white adoptive family with his dark skin and his curly hair. In the relatable and engaging story, Colin shares how, at 5 years old, he found himself explaining to his classmates why he drew himself with a different color crayon than the rest of his family. The sweet, slice-of-life tale is a great lesson on self-love and understanding, hitting home that what makes us different makes us magnificent!
Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Queenbe Monyei
Who says history has to be forever ago? This book tells the story of America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who performed her inspiring poem “The Hill We Climb” at the Presidential Inauguration in January 2021. Modern history, right here! This just-right-for-kids read shares Amanda’s personal story, from growing up with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment…to becoming a world-renowned author and activist. The book is stylish, quirky, and smart—just like its subject.
Written by Roberta Flack and Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Hayden Goodman
Your tyke does not need to know who Roberta Flack is to adore her book. The Green Piano is the autobiographical tale of the Grammy Award winner’s upbringing in a Blue Ridge Mountain town where she didn’t have much in the way of fancy toys or clothes, but she was always rich in the ways of love and music. The centerpiece of the story is Roberta’s weather-worn piano, which was brought back to life after being rescued from the junkyard. With time, practice, and a giant helping of passion, Roberta eventually grows up to be a musical legend. Kirkus Reviews calls The Green Piano “a moving testimonial to the effects of instilling a love of live music in childhood”...and you’ll surely agree!
Written by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Keisha Morris
Leave it to a former teacher and school librarian to create a vivid and masterful children’s book that introduces the Great Migration to the 4- to 8-year-old set. Our protagonist, Thelma, is a young Black girl who loves watching the choo-choo chug through her small Louisiana town. The train has been taking lots of folks to California, including her uncle, who fled when “a man named Jim Crow had made trouble.” Meanwhile, at school, Thelma and her third-grade classmates ride an imaginary train through history. Will Thelma eventually ride to the coast like her uncle, to Minnesota like her best friend…or stay put? Children will be itching to learn all about it.
Written by Alliah L. Agostini, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud
A must-read for all—parents included! This 100% kid-appropriate book is chock-full of interesting and must-know facts about Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the date enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free...900 days after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and 339 years after slavery began. Here, rich illustrations and engaging words work together, not only to beautifully convey the sadness and joy that Juneteenth embodies, but also to shine a light on what occurred in America beforehand…and what’s happened since. The back-of-book timeline and author’s note about her personal connection to celebrating Juneteenth makes this book an even more valuable resource. (Find more children's books that celebrate Juneteenth.)
Written by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
This award-wining book tells the story of a Lorraine Jackson, a fictional 9-year-old girl whose father joins the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968. With her dad, Lorraine watches the events unfold, including when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" sermon in Mason Temple Church the day before his assassination. Through art and poetry, this stunning book helps kids (9 and older) better understand the bravery and compassion that defined a generation.
Written by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
Your little one will adore the bright and joyful board book version of Young Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present! Written in the spirit of Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," your baby or toddler will be introduced to brilliant Black trailblazers such as Rosa Parks, Zadie Smith, Nelson Mandela, and Serena Williams, with simple, yet exuberant words and illustrations. Plus, the book includes a baby-safe mirror in the back so that your child can gaze at their reflection and imagine themselves becoming a future change-maker, too!
Written by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
The true story of a prominent Black mathematician might seem a tad boring…but it’s anything but! Katherine Johnson is a downright hero! Kids will adore learning about this amazing woman’s key part in the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. (Psst: She calculated the course of the landing, saved lives, and made history.) If Katherine sounds familiar it may be because you watched—and loved—the film "Hidden Figures" which told her story, too.
Written by Sara Chinakwe, illustrated by Ken Daley
Described as a “love letter to Black children,” You Come from Greatness (geared toward 3- to 7-year-olds) shares the story of a young boy learning the history of his ancestry from his beloved father. Here, the child is introduced to groundbreaking Black inventors, engineers, philosophers, storytellers, leaders, and more…right along with your little one. Poetic and empowering, Sara Chinakwe’s words and Ken Daley’s pictures are sure to spark the interest of the next generation of change-makers.
Written by Tonya Leslie, PhD
There's so much detail in The Story of John Lewis, but since it's presented in such a digestible, kid-appropriate manner, it's the perfect way to introduce your child to this legendary activist and Congressman. Here, kids get a biographical timeline of John Lewis' life and work, from young farm boy to famed politician and leader. And they learn that you can—and should—stand up for yourself and others...and doing so can make a massive difference. (Best for children 7 and up.)
Written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
This award-winning biography of celebrated poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks is a must-have picture book for all kids. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from girlhood to adulthood, exploring how race, gender, and poverty intersected and fueled her brilliant work. And it does so with stunning paintings and lyrical prose. Exquisite will surely inspire your young reader (or listener) to create poetry of their own!
Written by L. A. Amber
Each of the 50 bedtime stories featured here celebrates a different Black figure in history. These lovely nighttime tales emphasize the lessons kids can learn from each amazing person’s journey, including the importance of believing in oneself no matter what people say about you, determination, and doing what's right to make the world a better place. Bonus: The book also featured 50 positive affirmations to say aloud with your child. Double bonus: There are two more volumes of this fab book!
Written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Dream Big, Little One is the beautiful and inspiring board book adaptation of the best-selling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. So now, even wee kiddos can relish 18 true stories of trailblazing Black girls and women who never gave up on themselves or what they believed in! This is a spot-on pick for introducing your toddler to some seriously inspirational women, like Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Chisholm.
Written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Another book in the Little Legends series, this one is also wonderfully written and brilliantly illustrated. Here, Vashti Harrison brings to life the incredible stories of so many Black artists, writers, athletes, politicians, and even pop stars. Kids will love that each mini biography highlights the fact that all of the men featured showed interest in something specific at a young age...and with determination and grit, they all left their mark on the world!
Written by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer
This beautiful, folk-art inspired book takes children on a journey through Black history and culture by way of the alphabet. (A for anthem, G for the Great Migration, for example.) With rhyming text and bright colors, this is a fun book to read that will leave you wanting to learn more about figures like Zora Neale Hurston, Mae Jemison, and W.E.B. du Bois, and so many more. Also great: The book's endnotes clarify terms and figures and point readers to more child-friendly books, websites, museums, and poems
Written by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Kelly Kennedy
What would you do if you were a kid during the civil rights era? That's what this historical fiction read tries to dissect through the story of two girls, Joyce Jenkins and Connie Underwood, who suddenly find themselves in the middle of a civil rights protest. The kid-appropriate storytelling and the book's fact boxes do a great job of helping to break down the civil rights movement for young readers. (This book is for children 7 and older.)
Written by Tonya Leslie, PhD
It would be pretty tough to teach kids about Black history without mentioning the first Black president of the United States of America. This fun book takes kids on a ride through the impressive timeline of Obama's life from his childhood growing up in Hawaii all the way through his eight years as president. Accessible and fantastically engaging, this book is ideal for kids 6 and up. PS: There's a "The Story of" book on Michelle Obama, too! (For younger children, check out the Little Golden Book biography of Barack Obama.)
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