30 Picture Books for Celebrating Black History Month

First, let's get something obvious out of the way. Black history is American history. It shouldn't be relegated to one month out of the year. It should be taught every day.

That said, that's just not happening in K-12 classrooms today. So until that happens, I feel Black History Month is not only worth celebrating, but necessary. Too many students enter my classroom with little awareness of Black history beyond Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. 

So here are 30 (not 28 or 29) children's books to help celebrate (Spoiler: You won't find any books about birthday cakes on here). This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling of true stories that have inspired me and my students. I tried to highlight books with great illustrations and books that highlighted women, artists and/or otherwise under-told stories. 

  • Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves - Did you know the story of the Lone Ranger was based on the amazing true story of Black Texas Ranger, Bass Reeves? A great story for adventure seeking kids.
  • A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson - Sports plus girl power in one story? What more could you ask for?
  • Alvin Ailey - The first of many arts-themed biographies on this list and of several books from duo Andrea Davis and Brian Pinkney.
  • Brick by Brick - If you're looking for a story about the impact of enslaved African Americans on our country's history that doesn't involve problematic birthday cake, this book's for you. 
  • Child of the Civil Rights - What I love about this story is the way it opens kids' eyes to some of the other leaders of the Civil Rights movement beyond Dr. King.
  • Clemente! - One thing I try to do in my classroom is expand the understanding of Blackness and Black history. As a big baseball fan myself, reading this story of a boy named after famous Afro-Latino baseball player Roberto Clemente is a fun way to do this.
  • Dear Benjamin Banneker - Another story that reminds us of slavery's inextricable link to our country's founding. This one is about the correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and free
    man Benjamin Banneker.
  • Firebird - This inspirational book's written by prima ballerina Misty Copeland. Need I say more?
  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip - I have a lot of biracial students in my class and a lot of students who love to cook, so this story of George Crum is a great "mirror" book for my classroom.
  • Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills  - You'll find a lot of Christian Robinson's illustrations on this list and for good reason! 
  • Henry's Freedom Box - It's important for me that my students understand many enslaved African Americans resisted against enslavement. This beautifully illustrated book tells one of my favorite stories of self-made liberation, Henry "Box" Brown. 
  • Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told - I really want my students to understand that the fight for racial justice didn't begin or end in the 1960s, Jr. Ida B. Wells' story is such an important part of that history.
  • Josephine - World-famous dancer, spy, pet cheetah owner. I was so happy to find this
    biography of larger-than-life heroine Josephine Baker.
  • Langston's Train Ride, a picture book that weaves in lines of Hughes' classic poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers".
  • Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters - Hillary Clinton is generating a lot of buzz among the young girls in my class, so I taught them about Shirley Chisholm using Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a wonderful anthology of biographies of Black women.
  • Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly - I can't get enough of Walter Dean Myers and this book is a great way to introduce kids to Malcolm X before they hear the over-simplified, villainous mainstream version of his story.
  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom - So we have had two movies about Steve Jobs in the past few years and still zero Harriet Tubman movies? At least we have this beautiful picture book for the woman who deserves 100 biopics!
  • Paul Robeson - I'm a big fan of Lee and Low Books and I've partnered with them for the past two years. This picture book by Eloise Greenfield does the eponymous talented freedom fighter justice.
  • Richard Wright and the Library Card - I love biographies that focus on childhood stories and I love the message of this book which celebrates the power of literacy.
  • Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down - A lot of my students know about the "why" of the Civil Rights Movement, but not much about the "how". I love the poetic writing in this sit-in story.
  • Sojourner's Step-Stomp Stride - Looking for a way to introduce intersectionality to your aspiring activists? Sojourner Truth's fight for abolition of slavery and women's rights is just the story to start the conversation.
  • Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood - A friend said to me the other day that history has to be about communities, not just heroic people. While this list is mostly dedicated to the latter, I included this book with her advice in mind.
  • Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman - I've always loved stories of adventurers and explorers. Kids will love Bessie Coleman's barrier-breaking story too.
  • The Great Migration -  This wonderful picture book was given to me as a gift by a student's family, and I cherish it. Jacob Lawrence's paintings are a powerful way to introduce students to the power of visual art to tell a story.
  • Through My Eyes -  This book stands apart on this list as a more informational non-fiction text, but as a book about a kid who made a difference, written by Ruby Bridges herself, it deserves a spot on this list.
  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer - Fannie Lou Hamer is one of my favorite heroes of the Civil Rights movement, and one I wish my teachers had taught me about when I was in third grade.
  • What Color is My World?: The Lost History of African American Inventors - Kids will love the story of the Black inventors who gave us the Super Soaker and the ice cream scoop. You
    probably will too!
  • When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Birth of Hip Hop  - This is a must read for all the little Drake fans in my classroom. 
  • Wilma Unlimited - You want to talk about grit with students? Stop telling them test-taking makes them tough. Instead tell them the true story of Wilma Rudolph who overcame polio to become an Olympic gold medalist!
  • You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! - Before I became a teacher or passionate about social justice education, I was a San Francisco Giants fan. If your kids don't know about Willie Mays you're doing them a disservice. There. I said it.

As I said, this is just a starting point. I also want to point out that our options as readers look for stories of true and fictional Black excellence are still deeply limited. I look forward to a day with a broader representation of Black life and Black history, including more stories of Black girls and LGBTQ heroes. In the meantime, I hope you find some books on here for you and your students or children to enjoy.

Do you have a favorite picture book that I overlooked? Share it in the comments!


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