14 Must-Read Picture Books in Honor of Black History Month
We don’t need a reason to expand our kids’ bookshelves and fill them with titles that honor, remember and celebrate the history of African-American people and events, but Black History Month—which takes place in February every year—is yet another occasion to do so. (Better yet, it’s a critical opportunity to talk to young kids about race.) Here, a selection of our favorite new (and new-ish) picture books on the subject.
1. The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez
Ages 5 to 10
This A to Z guide spans continents and centuries to tell a breathtaking—and deeply imaginative re-telling—of the Black stories that represent triumph and heartbreak at the same time. This materializes as “C is for Community” or “J is for Juneteeth,” but woven within each rhyming line are the detailed stories of the people, places and events that have shaped an entire culture, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Sam Cooke.
2. Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb by Veronica Chambers
Ages 4 to 8
A book that tells the iconic story of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, who sought the Democratic nomination to become president of the United States. A force to be reckoned with, she famously proclaimed: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This book goes back to the beginning—sharing details from her early years up through her presidential bid—and proves that her legacy is one that not only inspires, it instructs.
3. Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry
Ages 4 to 8
Based on a true story—the moment that Parker Curry came face-to-face with artist Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.—this book shows how a trip to the museum became so much more for a young and impressionable little girl. The message is about how an everyday experience has the potential to quickly pivot to the extraordinary, but also teaches what Parker’s mom Jessica spells out: the fact that “anything is possible regardless of race, class or gender.”
4. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Ages 4 to 8
Born into slavery in 1848, Mary Walker grew up to become the world’s oldest student, learning to read at age 116. (Yes, this is a true story.) But before she did that, Mary lived through quite a bit. This book vividly shares her life’s journey, which spanned the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. She was freed from slavery at age 15, married and a mother by age 20. By 68, she’d held numerous jobs including cooking, cleaning and babysitting. But at 116, she still had one last thing to do: Prove to the world you’re never too old to learn.
5. I Am Brave: A Little Book About Martin Luther King Jr. by Brad Meltzer
Ages 2 to 5
Part of a larger biography series called Ordinary People Change the World, this book focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader, and his efforts to teach kindness and acceptance and inclusion. Full of age-appropriate facts and inspiration, this is a great introduction to the Civil Rights movement for the younger set.
6. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker
Ages 5 to 9
She was the African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race, but more importantly, she was the person who made sure the Apollo 13 safely returned home. Growing up, Katherine lived for calculations and math. This is the story of her curious mind and a groundbreaking tale of a woman who dealt with racism and sexism, but ultimately calculated the course of moon landings and saved lives.
7. Opal’s Greenwood Oasis by Quaraysh Ali Lansana and Najah-Amatullah Hylton
Age 7 to 12
It’s 1921 and Opal Brown is offering a tour of her beautiful neighborhood: Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a place filled with busy stores and happy families and where, in her own words, “everyone looks like me.” But soon after Opal’s happy narration, the area once dubbed America’s Black Wall Street by Booker T. Washington would be lost in the Tulsa Race Massacre, considered the worst act of racial violence in American history. This book paints a historically accurate picture of the town and what could have been.
8. We March by Shane W. Evans
Ages 4 to 8
Speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr., this book is about the historic “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered that advocated for racial harmony on August 28, 1963 when more than 250,000 gathered for the March on Washington. It was one of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s history—and one that needs re-telling over and over again. This book, with its simple prose and illustrations, is one of the best ways to re-live it, for parent and child.
9. Superheroes Are Everywhere by Kamala Harris
Ages 3 to 7
Before she was the first female, first Black and first Asian-American Vice President, Kamala Harris was a little girl who loved superheroes. Lucky for her, the more she looked around, she discovered superheroes are everywhere—and those superheroes taught her that all you need to be a superhero is to be the best you can be. This inspirational book shows how she applied that lesson to her own life, striving hard to achieve her ultimate goal: making the world a better place.
10. Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks
Ages 4 to 8
Ella Fitzgerald’s gift was her song, but when the biggest blues club in town refused to let her play because of the color of her skin, a Hollywood star by the name of Marilyn Monroe stepped in to help. This book tells the story of their friendship and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity during America’s golden age.
11. Harriet Tubman: My First Harriet Tubman by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Ages 0 to 3
She’s well on her way to becoming the face of the $20 bill, which is yet another reason to introduce Harriet Tubman’s story to your kid. This book—part of the Little People, Big Dreams series—shares her escape from slavery on a plantation in Maryland via the Underground Railroad, and also how she bravely made the dangerous trek back to the South many times just to bring so many others to freedom.
12. Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim
Ages 5 to 8
This glimpse into the childhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis is one your kids won’t soon forget. A young Lewis, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up, gets put in charge of the family’s flock of chickens only to discover that they actually make a wonderful congregation. The book uncovers what it means to dream big and find your voice in a story about a man who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, a demonstrator at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and a Georgia congressman.
13. Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight by Karyn Parsons
Ages 4 to 8
The story of the first African American female pilot, Bessie participated in death-defying flying shows that earned her the nickname “Queen Bess.” But she also traveled the country speaking out against discrimination. This story shares her plight and how she endured racism to become an inspiration for so many people of color who came after her. (Mae Jemison and Josephine Baker, for example.)
14. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Ages 8 to 12
An anthology that features the stories of 18 trailblazing Black women (think Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou and Katherine Johnson), this collection is meant to be read aloud to your young reader. Then, when you finish it up, move on to the next: Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History.