Must-Read Black History Books for Kids and Teens: Exploring History and Culture
Explore History and Culture All Year Long With Tips and Advice for Sharing These Black History Books for Kids and Teens
Black History Books for Kids: A Brief Introduction
Across the United States, Black History Month triggers a surge in people buying, selling, searching for, and teaching books on black history to children. Begun in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by Carter G. Woodson, the second black historian to earn his Ph.D. from Harvard, Black History Month has played an important role over time as an impetus for schools, libraries, and educators to turn a spotlight on the important contributions of black individuals and communities to American history.
However, books on black history are not just for Black History Month. It goes without saying (or it should go without saying) that “black history is American history” and should be an integral part of any child’s exposure to U.S. history and culture all year long.
Exposing children to books on black history is essential to presenting a complete and accurate picture of the United States—both in the past and today. It contributes to developing diverse perspectives on all walks of life as a U.S. citizen and helps provide children with positive examples and role models for black achievement. This article offers tips and advice on integrating black history books beyond Black History Month.
Black History Books for Kids: Reading Beyond Slavery
As many writers and teachers lament, black history has frequently been relegated in the past to a single month. Primarily white teachers covered the topics of Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. However, it is important to remember and communicate that black history is far richer and more complex than this limited focus reveals. Writing for Edutopia, Ran Miller reminds us that “[i]t’s imperative that teachers not reinforce a milquetoast version of Black history that is anti-Black because of its erasure of painful truths.” At the same time, it is essential to celebrate the important black achievements and contributions that reach far beyond the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement.
Besides reading and sharing black history books all year round, there are two key ways you can help promote these important goals. Firstly, choose books by black authors. By highlighting black voices and black expertise, such books offer authority and authenticity. Second, read outside the history curriculum: expose young readers to the black history of chemistry, literature, mathematics, healthcare, and so on. As Coshandra Dillard argues in an article for Teaching Tolerance, “it’s … critical that teachers show that people of African descent have contributed more than forced, free labor to U.S. [and world] history.”
Black History Books for Kids: Picture Books
The range of beautiful black history picture books available for toddlers, preschoolers, and first readers is truly stunning, and this article can only touch the tip of the iceberg. These Hands, by Margaret H. Mason, depicts the wisdom passed down from generation to generation in lovely, sepia illustrations, celebrating quiet, everyday talents and knowledge. Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford, tells the story of a black community’s togetherness and dedication as they build themselves a new school. Ellington Was Not a Street, by Ntozake Shange, is based on a poem by the same author and highlights the way history shapes voice.
The range of beautiful black history picture books available for toddlers, preschoolers, and first readers is genuinely stunning, and this article can only touch the tip of the iceberg. These Hands, by Margaret H. Mason, depicts the wisdom passed down from generation to generation in lovely, sepia illustrations, celebrating quiet, everyday talents and knowledge. Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford, tells the story of a black community’s togetherness and dedication as they build themselves a new school. Ellington Was Not a Street, by Ntozake Shange, is based on a poem by the same author and highlights how history shapes voice.
Moving outside of U.S. history, Kadir Nelson’s Nelson Mandela uses free verse to tell the inspiring South African president’s story. In science history, Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, provides a picture book adaptation of the story of the four black female mathematicians behind NASA’s race to space. As a final selection, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison, offers inspiring snapshots of inspiring black women, from politicians to chemists and everything in between.
Black History Books for Kids: Narrative and Non-Fiction
There are fantastic choices for middle-grade readers in both narrative and non-fiction to highlight the richness of black history. Brenda Woods’ The Unsung Hero of Birdsong offers a narrative about a black WWII veteran returning from war to the restrictions of the Jim Crow South. Carole Boston Weatherford’s Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library tells the story of the creation of the “Negro Division” of the New York Public Library in 1905 and, moving forward in time, Phil Bildner’s Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans celebrates the difference a single, ordinary person can make to the lives of others.
Moving away from narrative, What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, shares the black inventions that have changed the world we live in, while We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levinson, shares some less-well-known figures in Civil Rights history. Eloise Greenfield’s fascinating The Women Who Caught The Babies provides the story of African-American midwives in the history of U.S. healthcare.
Black History Books for Teens
Books for teen readers naturally have more scope for exploring complex and difficult themes and ideas, and offerings from authors in this area are rich and diverse. Books like Eve L Ewing’s 1919, which explores the violence and intensity of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, Bernard Aquina Doctor’s Malcolm X for Beginners provides a deep dive into the darker pages of Civil Rights history. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has become a modern classic, as has Patricia Hruby Powell’s poetic novel Loving v. Virginia.
For first-hand words and experiences, readers may enjoy Frank Webb Sikora’s Selma, Lord, Selma, which shares the author’s memories and experiences of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work in Selma, Alabama, or Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir of being a sixteen-year-old Civil Rights activist at Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. These inspiring stories offer plenty of scope for further discussion and research.
More Favorite Black History Books For Kids
- Black History for Kids
- Black Lives Matter Book List for Kids and Teens
- 4 African American Biography Books For Kids
- 5 Tips to Help Diversify Your Child’s Home Library or Reading List
- How Children’s Books are Inspiring the Next Generation of Activists
If reading is your superpower and you feel that we must know about one of your favorite black history books for kids and young adults, you can send us suggestions through our Twitter handle and share your most distinguished books on Instagram or Facebook with #thechildrensbookreview. In the meantime, keep turning pages out there.
Buy Black History Books for Kids in our affiliate Book Shop. If you’re lucky enough to have a favorite hometown bookstore, they can always place a special order, or the book you’re looking for might just be on their shelf.
This article, Must-Read Black History Books for Kids, was written by Dr. Jen Harrison.