Black History Month presents a wonderful opportunity to teach your children about the incredible accomplishments of Black men and women in America and abroad. Here's a collection of non-fiction and historical fiction books to help children learn about a past that should be highlighted far beyond these 28 days each year.
4 to 8-years-old
Ever since Barack Obama was young, Hope has lived inside him. From the beaches of Hawaii to the streets of Chicago, from the jungles of Indonesia to the plains of Kenya, he has held on to Hope. Even as a boy, Barack knew he wasn't quite like anybody else, but through his journeys he found the ability to listen to Hope and become what he was meant to be: a bridge to bring people together.
Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher
Even though she can’t afford a ticket to see the great blues singer Bessie Smith perform, Emmarene listens outside Bessie’s tent—that is, until she bursts into the show to warn the crowd:The Night Riders have come!
Bessie marches right outside and confronts the Night Riders by giving one of her famous low moans that says, "I may be down and out, but I ain’t gonna take it no more." But will that be enough to scare them off ?
Based on a true incident, Bessie Smith and the Night Riders is a powerful story of facing down danger and standing up for what’s right. With John Holyfield’s luminous paintings setting the stage, readers will be cheering for Bessie and Emmarene all the way to their final bow.
Ada Ruth's mama must go away to Chicago to work, leaving Ada Ruth and Grandma behind. It's war time, and women are needed to fill the men's jobs. As winter sets in, Ada Ruth and her grandma keep up their daily routine, missing Mama all the time. They find strength in each other, and a stray kitten even arrives one day to keep them company, but nothing can fill the hole Mama left. Every day they wait, watching for the letter that says Mama will be coming on home soon. Set during World War II, Coming On Home Soon has a timeless quality that will appeal to all who wait and hope.
This extraordinary union of poetic text by Ntozake Shange and monumental artwork by Kadir Nelson captures the movement for civil rights in the United States and honors its most elegant inspiration, Coretta Scott.
When Ellen and her family make the long trip to the courthouse dressed in their best, she brings the broom her parents had jumped so many years before. Even though freedom has come, Ellen knows the old traditions are important too. After Mama and Papa's names are recorded in the register, Ellen nearly bursts with pride as her parents jump the broom once again.
In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there. These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theater.
Yet in the face of this tremendous adversity, these dedicated souls and others like them not only demonstrated the importance of Black culture in America, but also helped issue in a movement that "changed the world." Their lives and their works inspire us to this day, and serve as a guide to how we approach the challenges of tomorrow.
Born into slavery, young Booker T. Washington could only dream of learning to read and write. After emancipation, Booker began a five-hundred-mile journey, mostly on foot, to Hampton Institute, taking his first of many steps towards a college degree. When he arrived, he had just fifty cents in his pocket and a dream about to come true. The young slave who once waited outside of the schoolhouse would one day become a legendary educator of freedmen.
If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold
In this book a bus does talk, and on her way to school a girl named Marcie learns why Rosa Parks is the mother of the Civil Rights movement. At the end of Marcie's magical ride, she meets Rosa Parks herself at a birthday party with several distinguished guests. Wait until she tells her class about this!
Langston Hughes was a courageous voice of his time, and his authentic call for equality still rings true today. Beautiful paintings from Barack Obama illustrator Bryan Collier accompany and reinvent the celebrated lines of the poem "I, Too," creating a breathtaking reminder to all Americans that we are united despite our differences.
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
Joe and John Henry are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim. But there's one important way they're different: Joe is white and John Henry is black, and in the South in 1964, that means John Henry isn't allowed to do everything his best friend is. Then a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone. Joe and John Henry are so excited they race each other there...only to discover that it takes more than a new law to change people's hearts.
In this picture book biography, award-winning author and illustrator Kadir Nelson tells the story of Mandela, a global icon, in poignant free verse and glorious illustrations. It is the story of a young boy's determination to change South Africa, and of the struggles of a man who eventually became the president of his country by believing in equality for all people, no matter the color of their skin. Readers will be inspired by Mandela's triumph and his lifelong quest to create a more just world.
Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree—and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin's Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America-and the world-forever.
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford
There were signs all throughout town telling eight-year-old Connie where she could and could not go. But when Connie sees four young men take a stand for equal rights at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, she realizes that things may soon change. This event sparks a movement throughout her town and region. And while Connie is too young to march or give a speech, she helps her brother and sister make signs for the cause. Changes are coming to Connie’s town, but Connie just wants to sit at the lunch counter and eat a banana split like everyone else.
Sally is a young girl living in rural Alabama in the early 1900s, a time when people were struggling to grow food in soil that had been depleted by years of cotton production. One day, Dr. George Washington Carver shows up to help the grownups with their farms and the children with their school garden.
He teaches them how to restore the soil and respect the balance of nature. He even prepares a delicious lunch made of plants, including "chicken" made from peanuts. And Sally never forgets the lessons this wise man leaves in her heart and mind. Susan Grigsby's warm story shines new light on an African American scientist who was ahead of his time.
Zora and Langston. Billie and Bessie. Eubie and Duke. If the Harlem Renaissance had a court, they were its kings and queens. But there were other, lesser known individuals whose contributions were just as impactful, such as Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.
A Kid's Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders
What do all these people have in common: the first man to die in the American Revolution, a onetime chief of the Crow Nation, the inventors of peanut butter and the portable X-ray machine, and the first person to make a wooden clock in this country? They were all great African Americans. For parents and teachers interested in fostering cultural awareness among children of all races, this book includes more than 70 hands-on activities, songs, and games that teach kids about the people, experiences, and events that shaped African American history. This expanded edition contains new material throughout, including additional information and biographies. Children will have fun designing an African mask, making a medallion like those worn by early abolitionists, playing the rhyming game "Juba," inventing Brer Rabbit riddles, and creating a unity cup for Kwanzaa. Along the way they will learn about inspiring African American artists, inventors, and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few.
Rosa and her mama go to school together-in the dark of night, silently, afraid that any noise they hear is a patroller on the lookout for escaped slaves. Their school is literally a hole in the ground, where they and other slaves of all ages gather to form letters out of sticks, scratch letters in the dirt, and pronounce their sounds in whispers. Young Rosa is eager to learn the letters and then the words, because after the words comes reading. But she must have patience, her mama reminds her, and keep her letters to herself when she's working on the plantation. If the Master catches them, it'll mean a whipping-one lash for each letter. No matter how slow and dangerous the process might be, Rosa is determined to learn, and pass on her learning to others.
This poetic book is a resounding tribute to Tubman's strength, humility, and devotion. With proper reverence, Weatherford and Nelson do justice to the woman who, long ago, earned over and over the name Moses.
Now that Hannah’s papa has decided to make the run for freedom, her patchwork quilt is not just a precious memento of Mama — it’s a series of hidden clues that will guide them along the Underground Railroad to Canada. A fictionalized account of a fascinating oral history, THE PATCHWORK PATH tells the story of a two of the thousands who escaped a life of slavery and made the dangerous journey to freedom — a story of courage, determination, and hope.
Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This picture- book tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.
Award-winning poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni’s evocative text combines with Bryan Collier’s striking cut-paper images to retell the story of this historic event from a wholly unique and original perspective.
As a seamstress in the Big House, Clara dreams of a reunion with her Momma, who lives on another plantation--and even of running away to freedom. Then she overhears two slaves talking about the Underground Railroad. In a flash of inspiration, Clara sees how she can use the cloth in her scrap bag to make a map of the land--a freedom quilt--that no master will ever suspect.
There's a sweet, sweet smell in the air as two young girls sneak out of their house, down the street, and across town to where men and women are gathered, ready to march for freedom and justice. Inspired by countless children and young adults who took a stand, two Coretta Scott King honorees offer a heart-lifting glimpse of children's roles in the civil rights movement.
Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman was always being told what she could & couldn't do. In an era when Jim Crow laws and segregation were a way of life, it was not easy to survive. Bessie didn't let that stop her. Although she was only 11 when the Wright brothers took their historic flight, she vowed to become the first African -American female pilot. Her sturdy faith and determination helped her overcome obstacles of poverty, racism, and gender discrimination. Innovatively told through a series of monologues.
The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.
Before Wilma Rudolph was five years old, polio had paralyzed her left leg. Everyone said she would never walk again. But Wilma refused to believe it. Not only would she walk again, she vowed, she'd run. And she did run--all the way to the Olympics, where she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals in a single olympiad. This dramatic and inspiring true story is illustrated in bold watercolor and acrylic paintings by Caldecott Medal-winning artist David Diaz.
Marian Anderson is best known for her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, which drew an integrated crowd of 75,000 people in pre-Civil Rights America. While this momentous event showcased the uniqueness of her voice, the strength of her character, & the struggles of the times in which she lived, it is only part of her story. Like the operatic arias Marian would come to sing, Ryan's text is as moving as a libretto, & Selznick's pictures as exquisitely detailed & elaborately designed as a stage set. What emerges most profoundly from their shared vision is a role model of courage.
White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman
In the segregated south, a young girl thinks that she can drink from a fountain marked "Whites Only" because she is wearing her white socks.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
In 1955 people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral held by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention. In a profound and chilling poem, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement.
8 to 12-years-old
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
In November 1960, all of America watched as a tiny six-year-old black girl, surrounded by federal Marshall's, walked through a mob of screaming segregationists and into her school. An icon of the civil rights movement, Ruby Bridges chronicles each dramatic step of this pivotal event in history.
A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma's church is blown up.
Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice.
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine's powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.
Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. Slavery is over, but laboring in the fields all day doesn't make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar has a knack for finding her own fun, especially when she joins forces with forbidden friend Billy, the white plantation owner's son.
Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family's new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren't treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws...
Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth's family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook--and the kindness of strangers--Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma's house in Alabama.
What did it take to be a paratrooper in World War II? Specialized training, extreme physical fitness, courage, and — until the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (the Triple Nickles) was formed — white skin.
It is 1943. Americans are overseas fighting World War II to help keep the world safe from Adolf Hitler’s tyranny, safe from injustice, safe from discrimination. Yet right here at home, people with white skin have rights that people with black skin do not.
What is courage? What is strength? Perhaps it is being ready to fight for your nation even when your nation isn’t ready to fight for you.
Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Lasky
Born just after slavery ended and orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah Breedlove nevertheless had a vision of confidence and pride in herself and for all women of her race. This illustrated text tells the rags-to-riches story of one of the most celebrated black women in US history.
"We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful" is the motto of Deza Malone's family. Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But it's 1936 and the Great Depression has hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother, Jimmie, go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie's beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father. The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.
Sarah Rector was once famously hailed as “the richest black girl in America.” Set against the backdrop of American history, her tale encompasses the creation of Indian Territory, the making of Oklahoma, and the establishment of black towns and oil-rich boomtowns.
Rector acquired her fortune at the age of eleven. This is both her story and that of children just like her: one filled with ups and downs amid bizarre goings-on and crimes perpetrated by greedy and corrupt adults. From a trove of primary documents, including court and census records and interviews with family members, author Tonya Bolden painstakingly pieces together the events of Sarah’s life and the lives of those around her.
On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Zora!: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Dennis Brindell Fradin
Zora Neale Hurston was confident, charismatic, and determined to be extraordinary. As a young woman, Hurston lived and wrote alongside such prominent authors as Langston Hughes and Alain Locke during the Harlem Renaissance. But unfortunately, despite writing the luminary work Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was always short of money. Though she took odd jobs as a housemaid and as the personal assistant to an actress, Zora often found herself in abject poverty. Through it all, Zora kept writing. And though none of her books sold more than a thousand copies while she was alive, she was rediscovered a decade later by a new generation of readers, who knew they had found an important voice of American Literature.
13 to 16-years-old
Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beales
In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock's Central High School.
Throughout her harrowing ordeal, Melba was taunted by her schoolmates and their parents, threatened by a lynch mob's rope, attacked with lighted sticks of dynamite, and injured by acid sprayed in her eyes. But through it all, she acted with dignity and courage, and refused to back down.
12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup
Here is the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York. He was kidnapped by unscrupulous slave hunters and sold into slavery where he endured and eventually escaped unimaginable horrors.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster