Last year I started a little challenge with my kids to read 365 books together. Partway through the year my daughter and I got sucked into some chapter book series that took us longer to finish, so our progress slowed down. But in February we checked out a couple dozen books related to African American history and plowed through them during Black History Month.
People frequently ask me what books we read to our kids about Black History, specifically slavery and Civil Rights. I’ve been meaning to compile a list for some time and I’ve finally done it! Here are twenty of them that we’ve loved that you can either find at your own library or order for your own collection online. If you do through our links we get a little kickback at no extra cost to you.
Not all of these are specifically related to Black History, but all are great children’s books that show diversity and many do dive into civil rights or slavery in ways that’s gentle enough for young children. I’ll point out our top favorites with an asterisk!
1. Little Melba and Her big Trombone*: The story of Melba Doretta Liston from daydreaming about music to to learning about her extraordinary gift. We loved this book about a trailblazing musician who followed her passion.
2. An American Girl: Meet Addy: The story of one girl’s family’s dangerous escape from slavery. Based in 1864 this is a great story of love, hope and freedom.
3. Make Way for Dyamonde: Not a story of black history but one hilarious book that’ll teach your kids a thing or two about being the new kid in town and trying to make a friend. Dyamonde has an upbeat and spunky attitude that has you rooting for her from the start.
4. Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird: The title says it all. Gorgeous illustrations and a sweet story of a girl learning to believe in herself.
5. This Is the Dream: A touching yet simple story written as a poem in rhyme that takes you through the Civil Rights Era and the people who were fighting for equality.
6. Goin’ Someplace Special*: This was one of our favorite stories. Based in a 1950s segregated south, a little girl is on her way someplace special, where all are welcome no matter the color of their skin. We loved the mystery of wondering where she was going then the grand reveal.
7. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth*: We tend to hear a lot of stories about Harriet Tubman but this is a beautifully-told story of another inspiring abolitionist: Sojourner Truth and how she came by her name.
8. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin: Last year in our homeschool co-op we did a unit on Horace Pippin. This book tells the story of this self-taught painter who’s love of art and perseverance still inspires us today.
9. The Piano*: The story of a little black girl growing up in the early 1900s who loves music and learns to play piano from her employer. The older woman’s hands are to stiff to play the keys but together they learn to make music.
10. Of Thee I Sing: One of our favorite books that has a fun take on famous, strong individuals throughout history.
11. When God Made You*: I don’t know what I love more about this book. The gorgeous illustrations or the beautiful words. This book helps start a discussion about how God has a plan for their life, and they have a special reason for being here. At the end of the book the author drives the point home to love one another as sisters and brothers. Not a history book but definitely one worth reading to remind our children how they are unique, and how we’re all connected.
12. Grace for President: A fun story about a little girl running for class president. A great way to teach kids about the electoral college.
13. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.*: This is a book we go back to time and time again. We read it every MLK Day and usually again and again through the year. The inspiring words remind us the importance of making change through light and love.
14. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage*: Another book we like to read time and time again. A short story sharing the story of the Lovings, an interracial couple who took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually overturning laws against interracial marriage. Crazy to believe this was only a generation ago.
15. Early Sunday Morning: June has a big solo coming up at church. She’s nervous but as the weekend goes on she gets love and encouragement from her family and friends.
16. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt*: A great children’s book about the underground railroad. A little girl is learning how to sew and she designs a quilt that doubles as a map to freedom.
17. Dancing in the Wings*: A sassy young lady who doesn’t let her physical challenges hold her back, but makes them work for her. From the illustrations to the captivating story we love this book!
18. Follow the Drinking Gourd: My daughter first heard this book in Kindergarten. Pretty pictures and an easy introduction to the Underground Railroad.
19. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans: A story over a hundred years of African-American history told from a 100-year-old narrator’s perspective. Take it slow, but the illustrations are absolutely breathtaking.
20. What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors: A fascinating book about Black inventors you may or may not know about. From who invented the ice cream scoop to open heart surgeons. It may not be as interesting for younger kids but definitely kids in the upper-elementary grades and beyond.
Those are some of our favorites we’ve come across so far. We’ll be sure to update this list as we add more. What have been some of your favorites? Have you read any of these? Share in the comments!
*Denotes our favorites!