I began teaching 2nd grade in 2003. It struck me early on how necessary it was for my minority students to see themselves in the books we read. I’ve come to believe that books, more than any other medium, are the most critical area for children to see themselves represented because books are the most intimate. Books live in a child’s room with them, travel on the bus or in their car, and give the most room for their imagination to find themselves in the story.
For Black History Month, I am sharing my favorite stories by a black author or illustrator. In these books, the main character and narrative center around African-Americans. Some of these have to do with civil rights heroes but most of them don’t. Children need to see themselves in more arenas than social justice. They need books which center around black characters in many different plots and stories. They need books by black poets, black theologians, and black artists. And not only black kids, but all kids need to see others represented in the stories they read. My white kids have learned an incredible amount of their own history in reading African-American history.
Sadly, as I spent time researching my AA-centric children’s books, I found that many of them weren’t written by black authors. I appreciate that white authors would attempt to help enhance black representation in children’s books but I also know that this has much to do with the publishing system in which white authors find further privilege over their minority colleagues.
If you’re a person of color who has a good idea and a desire to write, be encouraged to start writing. We desperately need more minority representation in children’s and teens’ books.
The list below falls very short of including all that’s out there. I would appreciate if you would leave a comment below on the books you or your children have connected with that would fit in the category described above. Then encourage the library at your school, in your town, and in your church to start putting them on their shelves.
“March” is a must. Written and experienced by John Lewis, and powerfully illustrated by Nate Powell, it is hands-down one of my favorite graphic novels.
“Salt In His Shoes” is a great book that touches on failure and perseverance (and it’s also about Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time).
“The Skin I’m In” is an acclaimed book for children in middle school that speaks on feeling different and finding identity. Sharon G. Flake is an incredibly moving and profound author.
“God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family” by Trillia Newbell is nothing short of amazing.
“My Brother Martin” invites children into an intimate understanding of Martin Luther King Jr. from the perspective of his sister. It is wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated.
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” embodies family, strength, and integrity. Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is another must read.
“Dancing in the Wings” is beautifully illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The author, Debbie Allen, tells a story of perseverance, taking risks, and being yourself.
“Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes” Children are never too young to be introduced to poetry.
“Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet” is a fresh and engaging comic. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, it will engage teens on a lot of levels.
“Juneteenth for Mazie” by Floyd Cooper ought to be on every early childhood educator’s bookshelf. Read how Mazie celebrates the day her ancestors were no longer slaves.
“Storm in the Night”, illustrated by Pat Cummings, is a beautiful story. This book won the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration.
“Whose Knees Are These?” is a night stand book for all little kids. This is an easy book for parents to enjoy reading over and over to their little ones.
“Please, Baby, Please” by Spike Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee is sure to please your little ones. Fun, catchy, and beautifully illustrated, you’ll love reading this with your young children.
“Mixed Me!” by Taye Diggs goes through a day in the life of a bi-racial boy. It looks at the hard questions he faces and some of the complicated issues that come up for him in everyday life.
“Happy Hair” is all about the beauty of different types of hair. A call and response book, your child will catch on in no time.
“Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold invites readers into the dream of 8-year-old Cassie through paint, quilts, and fantastic narrative.
“My Brother Charlie” is the story of twins from a sister’s perspective. It revolves around Charlie’s autism and touches on differences and family.
“Everett Anderson’s Goodbye” is the story of one little boy’s grief. Told by poet Lucille Clifton, this story of pain and loss is told in beautiful and healing verse.
“Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra” by Andrea Davis Pinkney is a visually stunning biography of The Duke. Children will read and experience the importance of black artists.
“I, too, am America” is a visual telling of Langston Hughes’ original poem. Winner of the Coretta Scott King illustrator award.
“Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington” by Jabari Asim tells the true story of Booker T. Washington. Emphasizing the importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge, this book shows children hard work through all kinds of adversity.
“Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” by President Barack Obama is a lyrical affirmation to his daughters. He tells stories of women and men who influenced him and built his character.
“I Have a Dream” is the illustrated telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Wonderfully illustrated by Kadir Nelson, this book will help children connect to the themes, ideas, and emotions of Dr. King’s speech.
“Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry” takes excerpts from the poetry of African-Americans and set it along her own beautiful paintings. Saturate your children with poetry and beautiful visuals.
“When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop” tells the history of the beginning of hip-hop. Laban Carrick Hill encourages creativity, taking chances, and community through the arts.
“Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X” by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, celebrates family, longing for justice, and striving to reach our highest potential.
“Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” by Carole Boston Weatherford is a powerful story told from Hamer’s perspective that includes poems and stunning illustrations.
“Love Will See You Through” by Angela Farris Watkins was recommended by his daughter, Bernice King, as the children’s book she thinks best represents her father in substance and legacy. Dr. Watkins, writes about 6 principles and values she grew up seeing in her uncle’s life.