Though we should acknowledge, learn, and appreciate accomplishments and history from African Americans all year 'round, Black History Month is a perfect time to read up on black history — and that goes for our kids, too. These popular children's books for Black History Month from Goodreads are a must for discussing the joy, the triumphs, and the stories of African Americans.
The Black History Month 2020 theme is "African Americans and the Vote" — certainly a timely topic right now. This list of children's books comprises authors who were crucial to the civil rights movement, books that tell true stories about trailblazing black women and men, and books by authors telling stories about their childhoods growing up in the '60s and '70s as a black person. Even President Barack Obama has a book on this list. These fantastically written and beautifully illustrated books are sure to educate and inspire kids, whether that inspiration comes in the form of wanting to go out and volunteer and stand up for civil rights, or wanting to become a trailblazer themselves one day.
1. 'Brown Girl Dreaming' by Jacqueline Woodson
Brown Girl Dreaming is a book of "emotionally charged" poems chronicling what it was like to be an African American child growing up in the '60s and '70s, when Jim Crow and the civil rights movement were happening in real time. "Each line is a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world," the Goodreads description reads in part.
2. 'March: Book One' by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell (Artist)
Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis is the author of the graphic novel March: Book One, and it's a "vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights," according to Goodreads. This volume is probably best suited for an older child. It talks about Lewis' childhood in rural Alabama, and how his life was forever changed after meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. It also tackles the Nashville student movement and the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, with this story ending on the steps of City Hall.
Interestingly, the book's back flap reads, "Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations." You can also purchase the graphic novel volumes 2 and 3 on Amazon.
3. 'This Is the Rope' by Jacqueline Woodson & James E. Ransome (Illustrator)
This Is The Rope is the story of a little girl and her family's journey north during the Great Migration — the event where more than 6 million African Americans journeyed to the Northeast, Midwest, and West, away from slavery.
In this particular story about the Great Migration, this family from South Carolina passes down a rope that was found under a tree one summer by the little girl, a rope that weaves through her family's history for three generations, ending with the little girl as a grandmother living in New York.
"With grace and poignancy, Woodson’s lilting storytelling and Ransome’s masterful oil paintings of country and city life tell a rich story of a family adapting to change as they hold on to the past and embrace the future," the description reads.
4. 'The Youngest Marcher' by Cynthia Levinson & Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Illustrator)
Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest civil rights marcher to be arrested, and this picture book tells her story and depicts what is was like for her to be in jail for seven days for fighting for something she believed in. She was 9 years old when she attended a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, and she proves "you're never too little to make a difference."
5. 'Let the Children March' by Monica Clark-Robinson & Frank Morrison (Contributor)
Let the Children March is about the thousands of African American children who volunteered to march for their civil rights, and it is told from their point of view.
6. 'Hidden Figures' by Margot Lee Shetterly, Winifred Conkling, & Laura Freeman (Illustrator)
Hidden Figures is the true story of African American trailblazers Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and how they provided calculations for America's first journey into space.
7. 'I Have a Dream' by Martin Luther King Jr. & Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s biography is beautifully illustrated and told in a way young children can understand in the picture book I Have a Dream. The Goodreads description explains that it was written soon after King's tragic death and it comes with an audio CD of his "I Have a Dream" speech. His speech is also included in the book and is split onto different pages to help students follow and truly understand his words.
8. 'One Crazy Summer' by Rita Williams-Garcia
"One Crazy Summer is "the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers," according to Goodreads. It's told from the viewpoint of 11-year-old Delphine, and recounts how she and her two younger sisters wind up spending a month in a Black Panther summer camp.
9. 'March On!' by Christine King Farris & London Ladd (Illustrator)
This picture book is written by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sister Christine and it centers on the March on Washington. March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World pays tribute to "the man, the march, and the speech that changed a nation."
10. 'Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History' by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features 40 trailblazing black women in American history and tells the very true and very inspiring stories of their contributions and endlessly interesting lives.
11. 'One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance' by Nikki Grimes
One Last Word is a collection of poetry that combines author Nikki Grimes' words with the words of Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and more. It also includes an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, an author's note, and poet biographies for teens to devour. Additionally, this book includes artwork that was created based on Grimes' poetry and features some incredible African American illustrators.
12. 'Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters' by Barack Obama & Loren Long (Illustrator)
President Barack Obama's picture book is literally a beautiful letter written to his daughters, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. In this letter, he pays tribute to "the artistry of Georgia O'Keefe, the courage of Jackie Robinson, the patriotism of George Washington," and more.
I can guarantee that both you and your children will feel inspired and hopeful after reading Of Thee I Sing. In fact, one Goodreads reviewer noted, "This was so good it almost made me cry. Barack is talking to his children, telling them how much potential they have and relating it to influential people in history like MLK and Einstein and Lincoln and Washington. I love the artwork in this book and it is so inspiring. It has lifted me up ... I have to say how much I miss this man."