It’s Black History month, which means it’s an excellent month for parents to introduce children’s books about significant Black figures in history, current Black heroes, important historical events and even touch on the implications of slavery, especially as it pertains to the current racial climate in America. If that sounds too heavy, don’t worry. There are plenty of books out there that do a great job at introducing these concepts in an age appropriate way.
Personally, I have always filled my kids’ bookshelves with books about Black leaders and examples of racial injustice, but this February, I made a point of taking them all out and stacking them on our coffee table where my kids would be more likely to pick them up and read them.
I believe it’s our parental duty (white parents especially) to show our kids what a huge impact Black people have had on American History and culture. Politics, academics, science, music, dance, sports— there is not one American industry that has not been influenced by Black people. After all, Black history is American History.
Let’s use this month, and every month, as an opportunity to teach our kids about Black trailblazers and inventors who are often overlooked at school.
FYI, I linked all books listed to both Amazon and Bookshop.org. On Bookshop, they give a percentage of sales to independent bookstores. You can also search for a specific independent store to purchase from. I have found many Black owned bookshops on the platform like Semicolon and The Lit Bar.
23 Books to Teach Your Kids More About Black History
1) She Was The First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm
This inspiring picture book biography is about educator, activist, and politician Shirley Chisholm, a woman of many firsts. In 1972, Shirley became the first Black candidate and the first female candidate running for the Democratic nomination to be the President of the United States. Although she did not win, she was a catalyst of change who opened the door for women in the political arena and for the first Black president of the United States.
2) The Story of Ruby Bridges
By Robert Coles, Illustrated by George Ford
This book tells the true story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges, whose family moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life in the year 1960. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. The book shows with great clarity the courage and strength that Ruby must have possessed just to go to school each day. It also shows allyship in the white teacher who taught her, even when she was the only one in the class.
3) Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
By Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate
A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.
4) I am Rosa Parks : Ordinary People Change the World
By Brad Meltzer, Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Each book in this series focuses on a particular character trait that made that role model heroic. For example, Rosa Parks dared to stand up for herself and other African Americans by staying seated, and as a result she helped end public bus segregation and launch the country’s Civil Rights Movement. This series is told in part comic book format and from a child’s perspective that helps kids process big concepts and injustices.
5) Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas
By Gwendolyn Hooks, Illustrated by Colin Bootman
The life story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children. Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine–children’s heart surgery. Tiny Stitches is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.
6) Mae Among the Stars
By Roda Ahmed, Illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Little Mae’s curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents’ encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA as the first African American woman to travel in space. This book will inspire other young girls to reach for the stars, to aspire for the impossible, and to persist with childlike imagination.
7) Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Doreen Rappaport, Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential and gifted speakers of all time. Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. Bryan Collier’s stunning collage art combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures. A timeline and a list of additional books and web sites help make this a standout biography of Dr. King.
8) Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
By Margot Lee Shetterly, Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.
8) Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13
By Helaine Becker, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
While Hidden Figures tracks the lives of three women, this book focuses solely on Katherine Johnson’s early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA. Counting on Katherine is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.
9) Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
10) Have You Thanked an Inventor Today?
By Patrice McLaurin, Illustrated by Dian Wang
This book chronicles the school day of a little boy, highlighting different inventions he uses throughout his day, all of which were invented by African-Americans. It comes complete with brief biographies about each inventor as well as fun activities that promote and encourage reading comprehension.
11) Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment
By Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, Illustrated by Brittany Jackson
When Parker Curry came face-to-face with Amy Sherald’s transcendent portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery, she didn’t just see the First Lady of the United States. She saw a queen–one with dynamic self-assurance, regality, beauty, and truth who captured this young girl’s imagination. When a nearby museum-goer snapped a photo of a mesmerized Parker, it became an internet sensation. Inspired by this visit, Parker, and her mother, Jessica Curry, tell the story of a young girl and her family, whose trip to a museum becomes an extraordinary moment.
12) A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver
Written and Illustrated by Aliki
Discover how George Washington Carver went from enslaved man to an innovator of agricultural science in this luminously illustrated picture book. Carver is considered one of the most prominent Black scientists of the early twentieth century.
13) A Black Woman Did That
By Malaika Adero, Illustrated by Chanté Timothy
A Black Woman Did That! is a celebration of strong, resilient, innovative, and inspiring women of color. With a vibrant mixture of photography, illustration, biography, and storytelling, author Malaika Adero spotlights well-known historical figures and women who are pushing boundaries today–including Ida B. Wells, Madam CJ Walker, Shirley Chisholm, Serena Williams, Mae Jamison, Stacey Abrams, Jesmyn Ward, Ava DuVernay, and Amy Sherald.
By Misty Copeland, Illustrated by Christopher Myers
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in American Ballet Theater’s 75-year history. In her debut picture book, Misty tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached in American ballet. She encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
15) Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.
16) Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream
By Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The mere mention of the name conjures up visions of basketball played at its absolute best. But as a child, Michael almost gave up on his hoop dreams, all because he feared he’d never grow tall enough to play the game that would one day make him famous. That’s when his mother and father stepped in and shared the invaluable lesson of what really goes into the making of a champion — patience, determination, and hard work.
17) Oprah Winfrey: Run the Show Like a CEO
By Caroline Moss, Art by Sinem Erkas
Work It, Girl is an empowering series of biographies featuring modern women in the world of work, from designers and musicians to CEOs and scientists. Each book is told in 10 chapters, focused solely on one trailblazer, making it a perfect series for older kids who want to dig deeper into a biography. In this true story about Oprah’s life, you will follow her ups and downs on the road to success and read about the transformative moments that helped Oprah become the billionaire CEO and media mogul that she is today. At the end, the book lists 10 key lessons from her story that you can apply to your own life.
18) Little People Big Dreams: Maya Angelou
By Lisbeth Kaiser, Illustrated by Leire Salaberria
Maya Angelou spent much of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas. After a traumatic event at age eight, she stopped speaking for five years. However, Maya rediscovered her voice through wonderful books, and went on to become one of the world’s most beloved writers and speakers. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of Maya Angelou’s life.
18) Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles
By Michelle Meadows, Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Before she was a record-breaking gymnast competing on the world stage, Simone Biles spent time in foster care as a young child. Nimble and boundlessly energetic, she cherished every playground and each new backyard. From her athletic early childhood to the height of her success as an Olympic champion, Flying High is the story of the world’s greatest gymnast.
20) Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
By Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at a slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.
21) Freedom in Congo Square
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by R Gregory Christie
This poetic, nonfiction story about a little-known piece of African American history captures a human’s capacity to find hope and joy in difficult circumstances and demonstrates how New Orleans’ Congo Square was truly freedom’s heart.
23) Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
By Vashti Harrison
This book features 18 trailblazing black women in American history— heroes, role models, and everyday women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come.
What books did I miss from the list?
Ooh! I just ordered the Lonnie Johnson book for my engineering-obsessed almost six-year-old. He saw Johnson on Mark Rober’s YouTube channel, so I know he will enjoy the book.