Children’s books to celebrate Black History

For intentional caregivers who desire to instill values like diversity, courage, self-worth and compassion, books can open the door to important discussions and questions.

Children’s literature can be an excellent tool for parents and role models to teach kids about Black history and the Black experience. For intentional caregivers who desire to instill values like diversity, courage, self-worth and compassion, books can open the door to important discussions and questions.

February is Black History Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of Black trailblazers and pioneers. The books on this list would be perfect additions to your reading rotation during this time. However, the African American experience is something that can be celebrated and focused on throughout the year. These are books you can read now and in the coming days and months and years.

Additionally, while it is important to share the history of slavery and racism in America, centering the Black experience can go beyond these topics, highlighting stories of Black characters existing in their normal lives. Our curated list includes books focused on history as well as stories of joy and community. We recommend adding any of these books to your bookshelf.

Susie Clark: The Bravest Girl You’ve Ever Seen
Joshalyn Hickey-Johnson, Hayle Calvin, illustrator
Book Baby, ages 3-10
Published October 23, 2023

It was 1868 when the Iowa Supreme Court desegregated public schools. Yes, that’s 1868! Susan Clark, the first Black child in her state to attend a public high school, graduated with honors in 1871. This is her story, and the story of her family, as they mustered the courage to claim their rightful place in the Muscatine schools.

Susie’s story is told through simple rhymes and colorful illustrations, with language that is appropriate for the youngest children. Hickey-Johnson centers Susie and her family, as the adults encourage Susie in different ways, reminding her of her proud heritage, the courage of her ancestors, and her essential human rights. There’s a brief mention of a cruel teacher who previously told the Clarks they were unwelcome at school — just enough to spark conversation with little ones who can imagine Susie’s experience and who would be inspired to ensure that they, or others, never experience that again.

The Story of Ruby Bridges
Robert Coles, George Ford, illustrator
Scholastic Paperbacks, ages 6-8
September 1, 2010

It was not until 1960, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to integrate public schools was enforced in New Orleans. Robert Coles’ picture book depicts Ruby Bridges, a first grader who was escorted to school by federal agents as angry mobs of White people shouted and spit. Coles’ book is not new, yet it is still an excellent resource for parents and educators looking to share Ruby’s story with elementary-age children.

Just as the Clark family is shown praying the Lord’s Prayer before Susie started school, Coles shares that Ruby prayed every day for the angry protestors, saying, “Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.” Ruby’s faith and courage in the face of ugliness and terror make for an inspiring story that children can grasp, as well as a powerful lesson for Christian educators looking to remind the next generation of Christians that our faith compels us to work toward God’s vision of justice.

Dear Ruby: Hear our Hearts
Ruby Bridges, John Jay Cabuay, illustrator
Orchard Books, ages 5-10
Published January 2, 2024

That brave six-year-old is now an activist and public speaker, inspiring the next generation, and Dear Ruby: Hear our Hearts is evidence that her story still resonates. Bridges shares letters that she has received from children who, inspired by her courage, feel called to act against today’s injustices. Children write to Bridges to express anger or worries about bullying, sexism, climate change, “Asian hate” and more. Bridges’ warm and encouraging responses, accompanied by inclusive illustrations, encourage the writers and provide terrific discussion starters for children to share their own worries and passions with adults.

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit
Esau McCaulley, Illustrations by LaTonya Jackson
InterVarsity Press, ages 3-8
Published May 10, 2022

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” Josey’s dad reminds her, as she has her hair braided just in time for Pentecost worship. She is “special and worthy of honor,” something that Josey sometimes forgets when she doesn’t see girls who look like her on TV or at school. The exuberant story, with illustrations to match, manages to explain Pentecost, affirm Josey’s Blackness as “God’s work of art” and celebrate human difference as evidence of God’s plan for creation at the same time. That’s a lot for a picture book, but it works!

The Year We Learned to Fly
Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 3-8
Published January 4, 2022

Gifted YA writer Jacqueline Woodson uses the classic children’s book dilemma of a boring, rainy day as a jumping off point for celebrating imagination, creativity and resilience in The Year We Learned to Fly. Whether the children are bored, lonely or contentious, their grandmother offers a solution: “Use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours,” and she invites them to imagine their “flight” over their city in which its color and beauty are revealed. Rafael Lopez’ gorgeously illustrated flights of fancy offer an age-appropriate way to address a more serious issue — how, during horrific times, a people can not only survive but thrive.

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem
Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
Viking Books for Young Readers, ages 3-5
Published September 21, 2021

“I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song. I don’t fear change coming,/ And so I sing along,” poet Amanda Gorman “sings” in Change Sings. Loren Long’s photos depict different kinds of children pitching in to serve others, clean up parks or simply playing together. This open-hearted picture book invites everyone to join in the song, making it clear that the changes underway in our country are not to be feared but embraced. Gorman’s message is clear, yet gentle, making this an ideal book to be read aloud in Sunday School or to accompany a church activity. “Change sings where? There! Inside me. Because I’m the change I want to see.” May Gorman’s words inspire this next generation to be the peacemakers and change agents our country so desperately needs.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
Kokila, ages 6-8
Published November 16, 2021

The story of Black Americans, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson write, begins not with enslavement but when they “had a home, a place, a land.” With warm prose, the grandmother paints a picture of long-ago life in Africa and a “people of great strength.” She reminds the modern children in the story that their history is reason to be proud.

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