Every February we set aside some time to commemorate the African-American community and celebrate the impact they have had on our nation. Reading books together as a family is a wonderful way to learn more about these great Americans and the important contributions they have made to our society. Here’s a few recommendations to add to your list as you explore African-American history.
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange
Growing up in the segregated South, Coretta Scott felt a yearning for equality. This books lyrical text and captivating illustrations capture Scott’s important place in the Civil Rights Movement.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford
This poetic non-fiction book describes what a slave’s week looked like in 19th century New Orleans. After 6 1/2 days of labor, the slaves counted down the hours until Sunday afternoon when they could have a brief moment of leisure where they gathered in Congo Square for singing, dancing, and enjoying each other’s company.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Long before it was culturally acceptable, these four female mathematicians overcame gender and racial barriers to thrive in extremely demanding math-based careers. Their hard work and persistence helped further some of NASA’s greatest successes. Learn more about how these women provided the calculations that supported some of America’s first space travels in this inspiring book.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
This award-winning picture book brings America’s foremost Civil Rights leader to life through stunning collage illustrations, quotes from some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most beloved speeches, and a timeline of his life and accomplishments. If you add just one picture book biography of Martin Luther King to your collection, make it this one.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
This book is a colorful portrayal of how a young New York City boy who saw art all around him grew up to be the bold collage artist whose unique works of art captivated audiences in the 1980s and beyond. If you’re raising an artistically-minded child, they will surely find something to relate to in Basquiat’s story.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
Journey with Harriet Tubman as she travels the Underground Railroad on her first trip to freedom in this inspiring picture-book. You’ll hear not only about the physical challenges Tubman had to overcome, but also her spiritual struggles as she looked to God for comfort and provision on her harrowing escapes.
Teammates by Peter Golenbock
In this book you and your children will travel back in time to 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player on a Major League baseball team. Historical photos and watercolor illustrations tell the story of how Jackie was terrorized by fans, opponents and even teammates. You’ll be deeply moved by the historic moment when Pee Wee Reese embraced Jackie Robinson before a crowd of hostile spectators, showing what being a true friend is all about.
That is My Dream! by Langston Hughes
Artist Daniel Miyares brings the poetry of Langston Hughes to life as he invites readers to follow an African-American boy through his day encountering racism in the form of segregation, prejudice and discrimination. Nevertheless, the boy’s spirit soars as he envisions a world of possibility and freedom. This book holds the tension between outrage and hope in a way that few children’s books do.
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Raymond Obstfeld
When Ella and Herbie move into their fixer-upper of a house, their handyman teaches them just how much their home owes to the many pioneering African-American inventors. With fold-out pages providing biographical details about each inventor and information on the science behind their inventions, this book blends together fact and storytelling in a winsome way.
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan
The rich history of gospel music has a significant place in the story of African-American culture, and this book is a great way to share this world with your children. You’ll meet six-year-old Marian Anderson singing in her parent’s kitchen and follow her amazing career to its pinnacle – her triumphant 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, thirteen-year-old Isabel and her sister find themselves fighting for their freedom. Though they were promised emancipation upon their owner’s death, instead they find themselves sold into the hands of a cruel family of British sympathizers. Isabel must decide whether she will risk her life to help the cause of freedom for her country and for her sister.
Coretta Scott King: First Lady of Civil Rights by George Edward Stanley
This chapter book imagines the childhood of freedom fighter and advocate for peace, Coretta Scott King. Though you may be familiar with her Civil Rights work, your children will delight to hear how as a kid Coretta could out-climb any child in the neighborhood, how she cherished her relationship with her father, and loved singing.
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney
This book spans the history of our nation through the stories of ten African-American leaders from colonial times all the way to the present day. In addition to complete biographies of Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama, you’ll hear how each man legacy built that of his predecessors in the fight against injustice.
Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker by M. M. Eboch
This fictionalized biography portrays Jesse Owens’s childhood growing up in a sharecropping Alabama family and going on to train as an Olympic athlete, winning multiple gold medals at the 1936 Olympics.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
In 1957 Arkansas, twelve-year-old Marlee befriends the new girl in class, Liz. But when Liz is caught passing for white and leaves school, Marlee must take on segregation and the racial bias of her family in order to preserve her friendship with Liz.
Out of the Mouths of Slaves: African-American Oral History by Carole Marsh
Though they were in many cases denied access to education and deprived of the resources to record their history, slaves have plenty to tell us about their sufferings, their culture and their wisdom. This book invites children into the rich world of African-American oral history through the songs, interviews, stories and journal entries of former slaves.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This Newbery Medal winner portrays the harsh realities of racism in Depression era Mississippi as nine-year-old Cassie and her family fight to hang onto their land and their dignity. A classic for generations, this book is just as relevant and important now as when it came out in 1976.
Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Laskey
Through hard work and determination Sarah Breedlove Walker rose to fame and fortune through the hair and beauty products she developed. The first child in her family born in freedom, she used her success and influence as a tireless Civil Rights activist and a philanthropic businesswoman.
Who Was Frederick Douglass? by April Jones Prince
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, but at great risk to his life he learned to read and write and later fled his slave master. He went on to become one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement. Your children will be inspired and humbled by Douglass’s drive to learn and his courage in the face of terrible hardships.
Who Was Rosa Parks? by Yona Zeldis McDonough
A shy, sickly child, there was little indication that Rosa would grow up to be a famous Civil Rights crusader, but when she courageously refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, she launched a wave of change that swept through the American South. Her story is sure to inspire your children to stand up for what they know is right.