Honor Black History Month with These Awesome Kids’ Books
It’s time for Black History Month 2021! Let’s aim to teach and celebrate Black history every month, but February is a great reminder to check in.
I read a lot of children’s picture books, because I’m the mom of a 6-year-old, and because I lead weekly storytimes for kids 0–6. Also, I just love children’s books.
Books are inspiration, education, and often conversation starters. It’s tough to talk to little kids about the hard parts of history; like slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing racism. It’s so tough that many parents attempt to avoid those conversations altogether. But books provide the tools we need to start talking.
I’m a big believer that we need to have those conversations early, but please remember: Black history is so much more than a history of Black people dealing with racism. So yes, teach the tough stuff, but also make sure to teach your kiddos about Black people rocking it: scientists, dancers, musicians, artists, politicians, athletes, and teachers.
I’ve chosen books to let your kids (of all races) see Black people as accomplished achievers and heroes, despite all the racism they’ve had to (and continue to have to) deal with.
In my essay Teach Your Kids About Badass Black Women, I wrote about watching Beyoncé music videos with my then-4-year-old. Those videos were a perfect conversation-starter for us to talk about race. My daughter’s 6 now, and has watched the entirety of “Black is King” twice, and we’ve had a million great discussions about race. (Thanks Beyoncé!)
Teach Your Kids About Badass Black Women
Beyoncé videos and children’s books to teach intersectional feminism
In that Beyoncé piece, I mentioned my favorite books for preschoolers that deal with slavery, and those books are still the same.
My Favorite Picture Books for Preschoolers that Deal with Slavery
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Colin Bootman
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott
Show Way continues to completely wow me. Definitely check out all those children’s books.
But for now, let’s quit focusing on that part of Black history, and explore some positivity!
Black is a Rainbow Color
Here’s the #1 book I’m recommending to my storytime families today: Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. This book is gentle, positive, affirming, and honest. It’s full of Black history without seeming at all like our idea of a history book.
The read-aloud video by the author herself is fantastic (I adore how she starts the video with, “Hello scholars”), but definitely check out the book IRL if you can. It includes pages and pages at the end, decoding all the historical and musical references embedded in the book.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
I also adore Vashti Harrison’s books Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and her follow-up book, Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History. (Harrison also released a Little Dreamers book, spotlighting women from around the world, of all races.)
All the Little books come in even littler versions: board books! For my storytimes, because some of my participants are just toddlers, I turn to the board books (like, Dream Big, Little One, the board book version of Little Leaders).
I definitely recommend the bigger versions though for your preschoolers and beyond. Each page features just one person’s story. Let your kids flip through till a picture grabs their attention, then you grab onto that attention and tell them about the very real person and how they made history.
Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present
Okay, one more book! Like Little Leaders, this book features single-page snippets about famous Black folks. It’s Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins.
Young, Gifted and Black takes its title from the song To Be Young, Gifted and Black by Nina Simone. Simone is just one of the 52 history-makers in this great book with gorgeous, attention-grabbing art.
Here’s the full list of heroes featured in Young, Gifted and Black: Mary Seacole, Matthew Henson, Ava Duvernay, Bessie Coleman, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cathy Freeman, George Washington Carver, Malorie Blackman, Harriet Tubman, Mo Farah, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jesse Owens, Beyoncé Knowles, Solange Knowles, Katherine Johnson, Josephine Baker, Kofi Annan, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Brian Lara, Madam C.J. Walker, Yannick Noah, Maurice Ashley, Alexandre Duma, Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Simone Biles, Stevie Wonder, Esperanza Spalding, Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Pele, Nelson Mandela, Louis Armstrong, Rosa Parks, Naomi Campbell, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Muhammad Ali, Shirley Chisholm, Steve McQueen, Zadie Smith, Usain Bolt, Wangari Maathai, Mae Jemison, W.E.B. Du Bois, Nicola Adams, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Misty Copeland.
Yup, Beyoncé’s in there.
Black History Month Picture Books with a Tighter Focus
I’ve recommended some great books that list or allude to a ton of Black superstars. I think books like that are great for young kids, because they expose the kids to lots of positive role models, and kids can flip through and find what interests them the most. Then grownups can support them by learning more about those specific people.
The picture books below are some ideas if you’d like Black History Month picture books with a tighter focus. Three of these books focus on just one Black achiever (Michelle Obama, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Mae Jemison). The other book tells children the story of four Black, female mathematicians who worked at NASA.
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, illustrated by Brittany Jackson
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington
When Books Aren’t Enough
All right, one last thought:
Books are the best. Especially in this time when so many families are turning to screens for education and entertainment, for any sign of the outside world, we need to reach more often for books. BUT…
Screens can be useful tools too. For instance, I was happy to snuggle my kiddo in front of a screen to watch National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recite her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” on Inauguration Day. You probably watched this, but did your kids? Why not? Go ahead, cuddle up and watch it together.
Love diverse books? Me too! I compiled this epic list of over 200 of my favorite children’s books. Check it out!