Did you know that African-American inventors are responsible for the modern day supermarket and cell phone mikes? Or that a 9-year-old was arrested at a Civil Rights protest in 1963? Here are nine Black History books that will teach children the rich history of African Americans and enlighten, encourage and inspire your kids. Scroll down to see the list.
A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Celebrate the life and voice of poet Gwendolyn Brooks with this thoughtful story that combines both Brooks' legacy with her life story. Known for being one of the most foremost poets on the Black experience and the role of women in society, Gwendolyn Brooks went from a young child writing all the time to becoming the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize and authoring 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies and one novel. Celebrated author and children's librarian Alice Faye Duncan makes Brooks come to life on the page for the young reader. Find a copy here.
Recommended age: 5 and up
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
Written by Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Brenda Woods, The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA tells the story of a unique friendship between a young white boy and a black WWII veteran. Mr. Meriwether Hunter returns to Jim Crow South in 1946. When he saves little Gabriel’s life during a bike accident, Gabriel’s father offers Meriwether a job as a mechanic at their family garage. Gabriel and Meriwether form a friendship that endures in spite of the extreme prejudices in the world around them. A beautiful read. Get it here.
Recommend age: 10 and up
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville
Little Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee and tomorrow is the big parade where three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph will be riding on a float. Just like Alta, Wilma was once the quickest kid in Clarksville, and just like Alta, Wilma once had holes in her shoes. What will happen when a new girl comes to town, a new girl with shiny brand new shoes, and challenges Alta to a race? This clever story teaches kids about Wilma Rudolph and the power of dreams and grit, in a way they will totally get (and remember). Get your copy here.
Recommended age: 5-8
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
This little book packs a big punch! Featuring forty trailblazing women in African-American history, each entry is accompanied by a beautiful illustration. From pilot Bessie Coleman to crooner Nina Simone to poets, inventors, athletes and more, this book will inspire children of any gender to be bold, beautiful and make history. Get it here.
Recommended ages: 3 and up, but we think you should read it to your baby.
Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a young boy, Neil deGrasse Tyson was starstruck when he first visited his local planetarium in New York City. His quest for knowledge knew no bounds and this is the story of how young Neil went from stargazer to one of the most respected astrophysicists in the world. Beautifully illustrated, excellent for young readers. Find your copy here.
Recommended age: 4-8
We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders
Sixteen award-winning children's book artists illustrate the civil rights quotations that inspire them in this amazing book available in May 2019. With an introduction by Harry Belafonte, words from Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. includes illustrations by Selina Alko, Alina Chau, Lisa Congdon, Emily Hughes, Molly Idle, Juana Medina, Innosanto Nagara and many, many more. Pre-order here.
Recommended age: 8-12
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten
Singer-songwriter Laura Veirs brings the story of the folk singer Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten to life in this beautiful book illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.Libba, best known for the song g Freight Train, taught herself to play guitar as a child: upside down and backwards no less (Libba was left-handed and did not have a left-handed guitar). She wrote the song Freight Train when she was just 13 but wasn’t really “discovered” until she was in her 60s. Learn about the woman behinds the song and teach your children that creativity and productivity is important no matter your age. Find it here.
Recommended age: 5-8
Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior
Originally published in 1964, this new edition is as important and relevant today as it was then. It features a foreword from the Xernona Clayton, the wife of the late author Ed Clayton, as well as illustrations by Donald Bermudez, who had close ties to Dr. King's family. Learn the message of equality and all about the man behind the message, his early life and career. An excellent example of what it really is to be a true and powerful leader. Get your copy now.
Recommend ages: 8-12
You Should Meet: Katherine Johnson
Who was Katherine Johnson? This brand new hardcover book will tell you: she is said to be one of the greatest minds of all time! She worked in the 1950s for the NASA space program and was such a brilliant mathematician that she figured out the math needed to send a rocket to the moon in her head. She didn't even use a computer or a calculator. This book will teach kids about her early life as a child growing up in small town in Virginia that didn't even have a high school for African Americans (schools were segregated then), how her family moved to a town with a high school she could attend, and her incredible career as a scientist and mathematics marvel. Find a copy here.
Recommended age: 6-8
Schomburg: The Man Who Buildt a Library
Afro-Puerto Rican immigrant and hero Aturo Schomburg was a law clerk with a passion: he collected books, letters, art and music from Africa and the African diaspora. When the collection got too big for his own shelves, he turned to the New York Public Library where, in 1905, he curated a collection known then as the "Negro Division." Not only does this book take you through the life and times of the amazing Arturo Schomburg, it details critical and often overlooked African Americans and African American history throughout major events in the forming of the United States of America, including revolutionaries, the woman who wrote poems in praise of George Washington, the powerful writings of Frederick Douglass and the whitewashing of African history. A must-read for kids from all walks of life. Find your copy today.
Recommended age: 9-12
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
This heartwarming book tells the story of real garabage man who took care of the city streets of New Orleans. He danced the streets and the barbers, bead twirlers and beignet bakers followed him in a one-man parade. And then came Hurricane Katrina. Find out how this humble man made a lasting impact in the aftermath. Get it here.
Recommended age: 5-8
42 Is Not Just a Number: The Odyssey of Jackie Robinson, American Hero
Jackie Robinson was an all-star from a young age: baseball, basketball, football, he excelled. With talent like that, it seemed likely he'd go pro except for one thing: the color of his skin. So Jackie joined the Negro Leagues, setting records and impressing the manager of the major league team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1946, Jackie became the first African American EVER to play in MLB. He faced cruelty, protests and violence. But he persisted: he displayed courage, determination, restraint and an incredible ability to win the game. This detailed chapter book will help parents and kids alike to remember never give up. Buy it now.
Recommended ages: 8-12
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
If you want to talk about Black History with your kids, this book will take you back to the beginning. Told from the point of view of a 100-year-old African-American woman, Heart and Soul takes kids on a journey through the history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to the quest for equality and freedom in our schools and beyond. It teaches them about the reality and the inspiring truth: the men, women and children of all colors who rallied to change education laws and end segregation and who fight still for truth, justice and the true American way. Kadir Nelson is an award-winning author and illustrator, whose honors include the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Award. Find it here.
Recommended age: 6–10
I Am Harriet Tubman
Brad Meltzer’s latest release (Jan. 16) in his Ordinary People Change the World series, we learn the story of Harriet Tubman and her bravery as she fought to abolish slavery. She helped hundreds of African Americans escape slavery and find freedom through the Underground Railroad and is and this is one book that will inspire your kids to become heroes themselves. Find it here.
Recommended age: 5-8
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
Written by President Barack Obama as a letter to his own daughters, this is the story of 13 key players in American history. From Jackie Robinson to Georgia O’Keefe to George Washington, Obama illustrates how his own children—and all kids—have these heroic traits in themselves. Uplifting and encouraging, your kids will gain an understanding of the history of the United States and know that “yes!” they can. Illustrated by Loren Long. Click here to find your copy.
Recommended age: 5 and up
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Both a picture book and a biography, this intro to the life, times and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a bestseller for a reason. Illustrated with stunning, lush pictures by Bryan Collier, author Doreen Rappaport has hit the sweet spot with telling the true history and making a book kids won’t want to put down. Shop here for your fam’s copy.
Recommended age: 5–8 years
Maya Angelou (Little People, Big Dreams)
Like the “I Am” series, the Little People, Big Dreams series explores amazing men and women of history, from artists to scientists to activists, teaching kids that one person can make a difference. This book covers the inspiring Maya Angelou’s journey, from a traumatic childhood to one of the world’s best loved authors. If you thought you knew who Maya Angelou is, you are in for a treat: this book will leave you even more in awe than you already were. Written by Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrated by Leire Salaberria. Buy it here.
Recommended age: 5–8 years
Making Changes: Poems About Great African Americans
This collection tells the story of influential African Americans through poetry. From Gwendolyn Brooks to Thurgood Marshall to Mae Jemison, each poem gives kids a memorable and relatable description of the important contribution of these individuals. Photos throughout. Written by Dina Anastasio. Find out more at Reading A-Z.
Recommended age: 8–10 years
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist
was arrested! Cynthia Levinson brings this true tale of the youngest known child to be arrested at a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama. Kids will cheer for Audrey, equality and the rights of all children. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Order your copy here.
Recommended age: 5–10
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors
Co-authored by NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, learn about 16 inventors who not only broke the color barrier, they created some of the most widely used and extraordinary things in the world. From refrigerated trucks to the ice cream scoop to open-heart surgery, join Kareem and his team as you explore history you use every day. Co-authored by Raymond Obstfeld and illustrated by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford. Find it now.
Recommended age: 8–12
I Am Rosa Parks
You are never too young to learn about real-life heroes and Brad Meltzer’s “I Am” series proves it.I Am Rosa Parks shows kids how Rosa Parks dared to stand up for herself by staying seated and refusing to give up her seat. Not only will they learn about her courage and her role in helping to end bus segregation and fight for Civil Rights, they will be empowered with the idea that one person, one small act, can change the world. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Also in the collection are I Am Jackie Robinson and I Am Martin Luther King Jr. Order your copy here.
Recommended age: 5–8
Loving vs. Virginia : A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case
This book for older readers tells the story of a landmark civil rights case. Richard and Mildred Loving met in 1955 in Caroline County, Virginia, during a time when segregation, prejudice, injustice and cruelty were the norm. They fell in love and their love was at the heart of the Supreme Court case that legalized marriages between races.
Recommended age: 12 and up
All book covers courtesy Goodreads unless otherwise specified; photo of Mae Jemison courtesy Wikimedia commons.