31 Children’s Books Starring Black Characters Your Kids Will Love
Of course it's always important for our children to read about seminal moments in history, from the civil rights movement to the election of the first Black president, but it's also important to just show them beautiful children's books featuring Black characters. Yes, we all need to talk about racism, and yes, white parents need to read books with our kids about how to be anti-racist. But it's just as important that, as a regular daily experience, all children read about Black characters who love to jump in puddles, who love a snowy day, who argue with their siblings, and who have big hopes and dreams — just like all kids.
"While diversity in children’s literature is widely and rightly discussed, I think this particular moment calls for a more nuanced conversation on inclusion," author, creator, and storyteller Oge Mora tells Romper. "When I think of inclusion I think about making room," says Mora, whose children's books include The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read and Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World. "Room for more Black authors, more Black illustrators, more Black editors, art directors, and publishers, room for Black people to speak freely, without judgement, room for a seat at the table."
A kid's bookshelf should be full of adventure and wonder. It should encourage them to see the world bigger and brighter. It should tell stories that they can see themselves in — and stories that reflect the world around them. A child's bookshelf can model the equality you want your child to see and to foster in the world. When parents expose their non-Black kids to Black characters without making too big of a deal about it, they help them unlearn their own racial biases. And when Black children find themselves represented in books and other pop culture references as positive characters, it can directly affect how they see themselves. "Exposure to anti-Black bias is a risk for internalized racism and low self-esteem. However, pro-Black images can protect against that risk," Black Enterprise reported.
Each of the books below is linked to purchase from a Black-owned bookstore or diversity advocate publisher, so your purchase can directly support these business owners.
1. 'Tar Beach' by Faith Ringgold
"When I first read Tar Beach as a child, I knew there was room for me on the page, that stories like mine had value, that voices like mine mattered, that my voice, that I, mattered," Mora shares. "The world insisted I was marginalized, but in Tar Beach I was centered on the page. I had the right to not only live but to thrive. When I think of the Black creators of today, I see a group of people creating places for Black children, just like the one Faith Ringgold carved out for me. Black creators make room for Black children to laugh, breathe, reflect, weep, question, rage, and most importantly, hope."
Mora also recommends the following five books:
2. 'Black Is a Rainbow Color' by Angela Joy
3. 'Layla's Happiness' by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Layla's Happiness follows a young Black girl as she thinks of all of the things that help make her happy in her life. As Layla reflects on what happiness truly means to her, kids can start to develop their own ideas about how they feel happiness within their everyday lives.
4. 'Just Like Me' by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Every little girl wants to see herself reflected in the stories she reads, and that is exactly what Just Like Me calls attention to. Whether they have skinned up knees or wear flowers in their hair, whether they have a loving mom or wish they had a dad, whether they feel happy or sad, girls of every kind can see themselves in the pages of this book.
5. 'Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration' by Samara Cole Doyon
The young narrator in Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration explores the world around her and compares things in nature and life to different shades of brown skin to celebrate the beauty and wonder of it all within the pages of this breathtaking book.
6. 'Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut' by Derrick Barnes
The value of what it feels like to have a new haircut is relatable on so many levels and in Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, the magical, transformative barbershop experience is front and center.
7. 'Lola Plants a Garden' by Anna McQuinn
In this story, Lola and her mom travel to the library to learn about gardening before planning and planting their own garden. Kids can follow along as Lola digs, plants, and then waits for flowers to bloom in the gorgeously illustrated Lola Plants a Garden.
Lola Plants a Garden is featured on the website Black Baby Books, which helps families discover children's books with Black characters.
8. 'Saturday' by Oge Mora
When her day of fun, memorable outings doesn't go as planned, the mom in Saturday by Oge Mora feels the crushing weight of disappointment that many moms can relate to. Luckily, the story's main character Ava doesn't see things the same way and instead relishes in the simple act of spending the day with her mom.
9. 'How to Write a Story' by Kate Messner
A representative for the independent publishing company Chronicle Books recommends this book. Your kids will love seeing the writing process laid out in an easy-to-understand way in the book How to Write a Story. Illustrated to include a young Black girl as the main character who goes through the process of writing a story, kids can use this book to ignite their own passion for storytelling, and feel confident in their voice.
10. 'Reading Beauty' by Deborah Underwood
11. 'Get Up, Stand Up' by Cedella Marley & Bob Marley
The last pick from Chronicle Books, this story is based on the lyrics of the Bob Marley song of the same name. Get Up, Stand Up tells the story of a young girl who sees injustices happening around her throughout the school day and shows how she is able to show love to others and help to make things right.
12. 'Hair Love' by Matthew A. Cherry
The highly-acclaimed book Hair Love and the short film made about it highlight not only the love between a father and his daughter, but the daughter and her hair.
Hair Love was an NAACP Image Award Nominee and Irma Black Award Nominee in 2020. The book earned praise from actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele who is widely quoted on multiple book review sites saying, "I love that Hair Love is highlighting the relationship between a Black father and daughter. Matthew leads the ranks of new creatives who are telling unique stories of the Black experience. We need this."
13. 'Ada Twist, Scientist' by Andrea Beaty
For budding scientists, reading about the inquisitive nature of other kids can help spark ideas that encourage them to learn more about the world around them. Ada Twist, Scientist seamlessly prompts kids to seek answers to their scientific questions as they read about Ada and her adventures.
Ada Twist, Scientist is featured on a curated list from Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery that highlights the experiences and perspectives of Black children.
14. 'The King of Kindergarten' by Derrick Barnes
If you have a soon-to-be kindergartener on your hands, they'll love reading about the little boy in The King of Kindergarten who is filled with confidence and excitement ahead of his first day of school. This book is also highlighted on the Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery list.
15. 'Rocket Says Look Up!' by Nathan Byron
16. 'Mary Had a Little Glam' By Tammi Sauer
Mary Had a Little Glam follows a little girl named Mary as she brings a touch of style and a whole lot of glamour to beloved nursery rhyme characters.
The Lit. Bar, an online platform to buy books from independent booksellers, features Mary Had a Little Glam on their list of Kiddie LIT'r: Top Picture Books.
17. 'MC Veggie Fresh Rocks the Mic' by Shanon Morris
In MC Veggie Fresh Rocks the Mic (another Lit. Bar selection), when Clementine is faced with writing a speech for the Healthy Hero Election, she discovers that her rapping skills can help set her apart from the crowd and defeat her nemesis Edgar and his Junk Food Friends.
18. 'Billy Bloo Is Stuck in Goo' by Jennifer Hamburg
Our last pick from Lit. Bar, this rhyming story is a delightful read that will have your kids laughing out loud. Billy Bloo Is Stuck in Goo is the perfect silly book to read together about a kid just being a kid, and getting into all sorts of sticky, messy fun.
19. 'Last Stop on Market Street' by Matt de la Pena
This book is an absolute classic for any home library shelf. The award-winning Last Stop on Market street follows a boy named CJ as he rides the bus across town with his grandma, asking her important questions about his observations of the world around them during their journey.
Last Stop on Market Street is the recipient of the 2016 Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and a Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book.
20. 'Thank You, Omu!' by Oge Mora
When Omu makes her famous stew, everyone in the neighborhood wants to have a taste. In the award-winning debut by Oge Mora, Thank You, Omu!, kids can read and learn all about generosity, selflessness, and community through Omu's grandmotherly, lovable character.
21. 'Princess Cupcake Jones & the Missing Tutu' by Yileya Fields
In Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu, when her tutu goes missing, Princess Cupcake Jones must learn how to tidy up her castle before she can find her beloved skirt.
You can read more about what inspired Fields to create the character of Princess Cupcake Jones for young Black girls to see themselves reflected in literature in this interview with Black Enterprise.
22. 'The New Small Person' by Lauren Child
If your family is expecting a new baby anytime soon, The New Small Person can help explain the changes your child might encounter as they begin to share their life with a little brother or sister. Like the story's main character Elmore, your child might balk at a new sibling, but eventually they'll learn to adapt just like Elmore does.
The New Small Person was featured on the organization Helping Kids Rise's list, #BlackBoyJoy: Books Highlighting The Joys of Being A Black Boy.
23. 'The Word Collector' by Peter H. Reynolds
Other kids might collect coins or art, but Jerome collects words. In The Word Collector, Jerome discovers the magical power of the words in his collection as they inspire and empower him.
The Word Collector was also featured on Helping Kids Rise's list, #BlackBoyJoy: Books Highlighting The Joys of Being A Black Boy.
24. 'Sulwe' by Lupita Nyong'o
In her debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyongo'o tells the tale of Sulwe, a beautiful girl whose skin is darker than everyone in her family. Although she longs to be different, a journey into the night sky helps her discover how magnificent she truly is.
25. 'Dancing in the Wings' by Debbie Allen
In Dancing in the Wings, Sassy is a dancer who dreams of becoming a ballerina. Despite worries that she doesn't have the right feet or the right legs to achieve her dream, she works hard and shows persistence to impress a famous director who comes to her dance class.
Dancing in the Wings was named one of the top 150 African-American Children's Books by the African American Literature Book Club
26. 'Max and the Tag-Along Moon' by Floyd Cooper
After a visit with his grandpa, Max doesn't want to say goodbye, but his grandpa promises him that the same moon they see together will follow him home. In Max and the Tag-Along Moon, Max travels home, but loses sight of the moon in the sky, leading him to wonder about his grandpa's promise.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon was also named one of the top 150 African-American Children's Books by the African American Literature Book Club.
27. 'Parker Looks Up' by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry
One day Parker takes a trip to the museum with her mom and baby sister. She is stopped in her tracks by First Lady Michelle Obama's portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, mesmerized by her stunning grace as she sees a powerful woman who looks like her staring back. Inspired by a true story, Parker Looks Up is a story filled with hope that even on ordinary days, extraordinary moments can happen.
Parker Looks Up was #4 on the Mahogany Books March 2020 Children's Bestseller list. Read Romper's interview with 4-year-old author Parker Curry here!
28. 'How to Trick the Tooth Fairy' by Erin Danielle Russel
In How to Trick the Tooth Fairy, trickster-loving Kaylee starts a prank war with the Tooth Fairy when she leaves a fake frog out for the Tooth Fairy to find. The delightful tale finds Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy battling for the title of Princess of Pranks, only to find out that by working together they can share the title.
You can read more about How to Trick the Tooth Fairy in this review by The Black History Channel.
29. 'Firebird' by Misty Copeland
The debut picture book by famed ballerina Misty Copeland, Firebird follows a young girl with waning confidence who wonders if she can become as talented as Misty. Through dedication and hard work, Misty shows the girl how to achieve her dreams.
Firebird is the winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor, and was named Essence Magazine's Best Children's Book of 2014.
30. 'The Snowy Day' by Ezra Jack Keats
In the same artistic style you know and love from author Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day follows beloved Black character Peter as he explores his city during a snowfall.
The Snowy Day is the winner of the 1963 Caldecott Medal and was featured on The Huffington Post's list of "21 Children's Books Every Black Kid Should Read" by Shonitria Anthony.
31. 'I Got the Rhythm' by Connie Schofield-Morrison
Music-loving kids will just adore I Got the Rhythm. On a trip to the park, a mother and daughter experience the joys of music as they discover the sounds and beats coming alive all around them.
You can read more about the inspiration behind the characters in I Got the Rhythm in this interview from the International Literacy Association with author Connie Schofield-Morrison and illustrator Frank Morrison.