February is here and with it comes Black History Month!
It’s the perfect time to check out some books to read with your children about the amazing accomplishments of Black Americans both in the past and in the present.
There are so many good books available and I maxed out my library holds in a hot second (I can request 50 at a time which sounds like a lot and then is. . . not a lot at all) as I collected titles for this list.
As I’ve done more research and reading about diversity in children’s books over the past couple of years, one of the things I’ve heard a lot about Black History Month is to make sure, as you read with your children or your classroom, that you don’t only include books about slavery and the Civil Rights movement.
Certainly, those are important topics that need to be taught but Black History includes so much more than just those two things.
Look for books that feature scientists, artists, musicians, athletes, politicians, and every other category you can think of!
Also, Charnaie from Here Wee Read, who does a ton of work around diversity and inclusion on her book site and Instagram, created the most amazing free printable resource for Black History Month with activities to do each day. It is GORGEOUS. You can download it here and print it as an engineering print (directions for doing that here!)
25 Picture Books for Black History Month
- Mae Among the Stars by
- Henry’s Freedom Box by
- Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Arturo Schomburg was a law clerk during the Harlem Renaissance and he LOVED collecting books, music, art and correspondence that showed the achievements of people of African descent, since much of it was being left out history and museums and libraries. Today, that collection is the world-famous as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
- Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate. You know those items you just take for granted and don’t think about the origin of at all? The Super Soaker, one of the most popular toys of all time, is one of those. But someone had to invent it – here’s how it happened.
- We March by Shane W. Evans. I love the sparse words and spectacular illustrations in this book about the March on Washington. It’s a perfect book for Black History Month for even the youngest reader.
- Martin’s Big Words by
- Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Laura Freeman. Have you seen the gorgeous Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? This is the story of the architect who designed it and his personal history that led him to that moment.
- I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer
- Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Dave was many things – an outstanding artist, a gifted potter, and an amazing poet. He was also a slave in the 1800s in South Carolina, and he didn’t let it keep him from using his talents.
- Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz. When Wilma Rudolph was a tiny girl, she contracted polio which paralyzed one of her legs. The doctors said she’d never walk again. Wilma wasn’t having it – she declared that not only would she walk, but she would run. And she did. Right across the finish line at the Olympics, becoming the first American woman to earn 3 gold medals in one set of games.
- Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by Raúl Colón. It’s hard to believe that humans were launched into space by calculations made by people on the ground with not much more than pencils and adding machines. Those people were called “human computers” and Katherine Johnson was one of them, working at NASA to prepare for John Glenn’s history-making flight. And he specifically wanted her to work on the calculations that would make his flight successful because she was so talented and he trusted her so much.
- The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This book just won the Caldecott for best illustrations last week and I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more (I showed it to Bart and he looked through the pages and said, “What would it be like to be able to create art like this?!”). It’s the perfect introduction to so many incredible men and women who have fought for freedom and equality, excelled in their fields, and dreamed of better for themselves and others.
- Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger, illustrated by Teresa Flavin. Bessie Coleman didn’t want to spend her life picking cotton in Texas. And she didn’t. She became the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license.
- Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Leire Salaberria. The Little People, BIG DREAMS is also a great source of biographies for children – this series includes ones about Ella Fitzgerald, Wilma Rudolph, and an upcoming one on Jesse Owens.
- Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, illustrated by Brittany Jackson. My girls were so into this picture book about a little girl who visits the National Portrait Gallery in DC and sees the iconic portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama hanging there, inspiring her to go after whatever she dreams of doing with her life.
- The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora. I love Oge Mora and I love reading, so of course I love this book about Mary Walker who was born into slavery and 100 years after she was freed as a teenager, she learned to read. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
- When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick. You might know Marian Anderson because of her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, but that’s only part of her story.
- Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Ernie Barnes grew up in North Carolina in the 40s, dreaming of being an artist. But a career as an artist seemed unlikely for him, so he used his other skills to make a name for himself on the football field. But eventually, he was able to follow his real dreams.
- Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome. This book about Harriet Tubman begins with her as an old woman and then travels back to revisit all the roles she played in her life, from a young girl until old age.
- Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier. This book won a Caldecott Honor several years ago, about a little boy from New Orleans who was a trombone prodigy with a band of his own by the time he was six! (It also won the Coretta Scott King award for illustration that same year!)
- Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. If you’re looking to study a whole bunch of amazing women in one book, this book is a total winner. And she also wrote Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History.
- Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Are you familiar with the Great Migration? (If not, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration is a fantastic book on this topic for grown-ups – my book club read it years ago and it was superb). This brand-new book introduces the topic in picture book form with poetry. This is the Rope is also a great book about the Great Migration.
- Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This lovely book makes you truly understand why Harriet Tubman earned the nickname Moses. I kind of can’t even comprehend how brave and selfless she was.
- Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. I follow sports basically not at all, but even I knew who Venus and Serena Williams are. And this book made me just LOVE them, especially how much they love each other and work to both succeed. I hope my girls are sisters like this (although their odds of being world tennis stars are . . . not great).
- Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Dr. King encouraged peaceful protests against inequality and four young men took him at his word, staging a sit-in at the white only counter in Woolworth’s. Who would have guessed such a simple action would become such a defining moment?
This list of books for Black History Month just scratches the surface! If you have other favorite titles, I’d be so grateful if you’d share them in the comments!
And if you’d like a printable copy of this list that you can take to your library or screenshot on your phone for easy access, just pop in your email address below and it’ll come right to your inbox!