The Best Kids Books About Black History Month

We've got a great list of kids books about black history monthFebruary is Black History Month, and we’re proud to honor and celebrate the rich history of so many Americans.

And, because it’s important we share this culture and history with our children, we’ve got some fantastic books for kids about Black History Month.

Black History Month Origins

Since 1976, every United States President has officially deemed February as Black History Month. In other countries around the world, black history is also celebrated in a month-long celebration of achievements.
According to the History Channel, Black History Month began in 1915. This was 50 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September of 1915, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This organization was dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and those of other peoples of African descent. It’s now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and in 1926, the group sponsored a national Negro History week. The week they chose was the second week of February and was selected to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Schools and communities nationwide organized local celebrations, performances and recognitions.
As the years passed, mayors of cities across the nation began to yearly proclaim weeks in February as Negro History Week. Thanks in large part to the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, Negro History Week transformed into Black History Month among many college campuses, and then the country.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month for the nation and called for all Americans to honor the all-too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans throughout our rich history.
This year, in honor of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote, and the sesquicentennial anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, the 2020 Black History theme is “African Americans and the Vote.”

Why Black History Is American History

Though Black History Month allows us to take intentional time and effort to celebrate the contributions of black Americans, it’s something that we really need to focus on teaching throughout the year. For children of color, it’s a way to let them know they matter in a world where it seems like representation may be lacking. It’s important that we all remember that black history is really American history and the shared history of Americans.

Sure, your children probably know about the pilgrims arriving in Massachusetts in 1620 (or they’ll learn about it). But, do they know about the first slave ship arriving in Virginia in 1619? That’s right; odds are your child won’t necessarily read about the slave trader ship The White Lion bringing 20 African slaves to the Jamestown, Virginia colony to work. The Africans were seized from the Portuguese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista and were forced laborers. It was this forced labor brought to our country before the Mayflower ever even arrived that kept the economy of a group of colonists thriving and robust. It’s important for our children and their children to know that we share a connected history, but for many, it was especially difficult and unfair.

In many different ways and situations, the history of America isn’t exactly glamorous, or even pretty. The ugly truths about how many of our states came to be is a blemish on our past, but how we move forward with the recognition and the truth is what our children will watch and learn. If we guide them through the truths of our country—the good and the bad—we’re giving them tools to be better humans and to make the world a better place for all.

Ms. Rosa Parks: The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

We were lucky enough to talk with Dr. Angela Sadler Williamson. In 1998, she met Rosa Parks. It turns out her then-fiance was Rosa Parks’s first Cousin, and Dr. Williamson was privy to having the civil rights legend attend her bridal shower.

At the shower, Dr. Williamson received what she calls one of her most treasured gifts. It’s a book entitled Quiet Strength. Ms. Parks had autographed it and welcomed her into the Williamson family with warmth and love. Dr. Williamson remembers ‘Cousin Rosie’ playing bridal shower games, and she was inspired by the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

So inspired, Dr. Williamson created the incredible documentary, “My Life With Rosie.” This feature-length documentary’s two-year film festival run ended in August of 2019, winning many awards along the way. In it, Williamson discussed the relationship between her Aunt Carolyn Williamson Green and Cousin Rosie. Williamson Green was awarded the Humanitarian Award from Detroit’s Trinity International Film Festival as a result of the documentary.

The documentary’s length made it not as appealing for young children, and Dr. Williamson knew the future of humanity exists in our children. She was inspired by toymaker Mattel’s debut of the Rosa Parks Barbie, but felt that though beautiful, the doll didn’t really share with young children the magnitude of Rosa Parks’s contribution to history when she chose not to give her bus seat up on December 1, 1955.

Because Dr. Williamson knows that black history is important to all children as it reminds us all that people should be treated with respect and kindness regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity or group membership. Learning this from the inspirational Rosa Parks herself, Dr. Williamson embarked on a way to reach young children and to spread the word about Parks’s legacy.

Her children’s book, “My Life With Rosie: A Bond Between Cousins,” was born and will debut in April, which is Black Women’s History Month. Many people told Williamson that after watching her documentary, they wished they could learn more about Aunt Carolyn’s and Cousin Rosie’s relationship. Her children’s book lets this happen, encouraging young children to continue Cousin Rosie’s legacy of protecting human rights.
It’s an important book as it tells another side of the iconic Rosa Parks. For over four decades after her historic bus stand, the legacy Rosa Parks left lives on in this story and the work that continues as a result of her efforts.

Why Books About Black History Month Are Important

When we’re teaching our children about their place in humanity, we want to be sure they understand our connections. It’s important for us to teach our children about how life has been for those who may be different than they are, and particularly for those who’ve had traumatic struggles. And, it’s important that we use tools that our children can relate to when teaching them. We spoke with Dr. Afoma Umesi. Dr. Umesi is the chief editor of Oh So Spotless, and a black woman who is passionate about books, literacy and education.

Dr. Umesi believes that books are not only powerful tools for education, but also for bonding. And we couldn’t agree more! Dr. Umesi shared several books below great for Black History Month or any time of the year, telling us that her favorite books to read are children’s books by women of color.

And when it comes to sharing the diversity and beauty of different cultures, books are an amazing way to open the world up to our children. We spoke with artist and author Gary Golio. Golio tells us that children mean a great deal, as they’re our future, and inspiring them through books and art is his passion. Golio believes that reading is a ‘secret superpower,’ that gives children the opportunity to be ourselves and live other lives too. Saying that each book children read makes their minds shine a bit brighter, he firmly believes that reading is a type of Kryptonite to ignorance and that literacy is far more powerful for ignorance.
He’s written several powerful books about renowned black artists like Jimi Hendrix and Billie Holiday. He’s also chronicled the lives of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillepsie. His tales bring these incredible artists to life for our children, and can inspire us all.

Our Favorite Kids Books About Black History

The following are some of Dr. Umesi’s favorite picks.

For teaching about black historical figures, consider:

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders highlights the lives of forty black women who set the pace in various spheres from science to politics to entertainment. The illustrations are breathtaking and your kids won’t be forgetting these stories anytime soon.

Mae Among The Stars

Mae Among The stars is a great book about kids for black history month

Mae Among the Stars is the story of the first African-American woman in space and makes for a perfect bedtime story. It’s a great book that encourages and inspires.

For helping children of color appreciate their skin and hair, consider: 

Sulwe

Sulwe is Lupita Nyong’ o’s love letter to her dark skin and will show any black child that the color of their skin is beautiful — no matter what anyone else says.

Hair Love

Hair Love is a great kids book about black history month

In Hair Love, a father and daughter bond over her curly mane. This story reassures black girls that their natural hair doesn’t have to only be “difficult,” but beautiful too!

To show children they can do anything, consider: 

 Jabari Jumps 

Jabari Jumps is an educational book about black history month

Jabari Jumps is a sweet picture book about a black boy braving his fears for his first pool dive. It’s absolutely heartwarming.

I Am Enough

In I Am Enough, a young girl finds her voice and self-worth in who she is, not who she isn’t.
For middle-school picks, Dr. Umesi suggests you consider:
These three kids books about black history month are great for middle schoolers
She says these three books are perfect for that middle-grade range (anywhere from 8-14 years old depending on your child’s reading ability). Genesis tackles colorism. New Kid is an award-winning graphic novel that follows a black kid’s experience at a boarding school where he’s one of the few kids of color. Finally, Zoe is the story of a spunky black girl trying to overturn her father’s wrongful conviction.

More Kids Books About Black History Month

We’ve found a few more books that we love and believe are amazing books to include in your library.
This little-known story by Gloria Respress-Churchwell is a winner! It’s about a young boy named Chester Pierce. He played football for Harvard College in 1947, and was the only black player on the team. In those days, the ‘northern’ teams left their black players behind when they traveled to play ‘southern’ schools because Jim Crow laws were in effect.

But when Harvard was scheduled to play the University of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia, the coach told Chester he was going to play! On the long bus ride to Virginia, Chester and his teammates dealt with segregation first-hand. Any time they took bathroom breaks or ate, Chester was expected to use separate entrances and couldn’t eat at the counter with his teammates. The inspirational part is that Chester’s team followed Chester wherever he went, no matter what. They protected him and were proud to be his team. When they began playing and the Virginia crowd booed, they bravely stood with their friend and teammate.In the end, Harvard lost, but Chester’s team won so much more. The Harvard Crimson team of 1947 put the concept of being an ‘ally’ to action in 1947 and football was never the same.

Related: Why Black Breastfeeding Week? Because We Need It

Author Ellen Levine shares this amazing story of Henry “Box” Brown who escaped the chains of slavery by bravely slipping himself into a shipping box that is bound for the free states in the north.

Levine shares Henry’s harrowing tale, bringing readers some hard truths to children in a way that they can understand. Henry was separated from his mother when he was just a boy. On his master’s tobacco farm, he grew, met another slave he married and had three children. The heartache Henry feels as the book shares his family being sold in the slave market is evident and children will root for Henry as he turns to an abolitionist doctor to help him get to a place where there are no slaves. He does this in an incredibly brave and ingenious way: mailing himself in a shipping box to a friend of the doctor’s in Philadelphia. It’s the true retelling of a young man who finally experiences a birthday–his first day of freedom.


Follow The Drinking Gourd

Author Jeanette Winter shares the story of Peg Leg Joe, a peg-leg sailor who helps slaves as they’re escaping with the Underground Railroad. The story tells how Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd while he’s working for plantation owners. The drinking gourd is representative of the Big Dipper, and what slaves use to guide them to safety. Following the song’s directions, a couple and their son, as well as two others, escape. Children can’t help but be mesmerized by the rhythmic writing and the cold, primitive style colors.


Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar collaborates with Raymond Obstfeld to tell us about the amazing contributions of little-known African-American inventors. In a fun and family-friendly way, your children will learn that James West invented the microphone in cell phones. They’ll find out about Fred Jones and the refrigerated trucks we rely on for our groceries. They’ll learn fast facts on flaps that feature different profiles of inventors who are responsible for so much ingenuity and determination we rely on today.

If you’re interested in a taste of Dr. Williamson’s My Life With Rosie: A Bond Between Cousins, enjoy the following excerpt and then be sure to pick it up when it debuts in April! In the meantime, you can go to  Dr. Williamson’s site for a free gift and to learn how Carolyn Williamson Green and four generations of Rosa Parks’s family continue a life of activism in honor of their Cousin. 
Cousin Rosie looked up from her sewing machine with a smile because she knew what Carolyn wanted. She wanted a skirt just like her Cousin Rosie.
 
“Stand over there,” she told young Carolyn.  Carolyn immediately went to stand close to the sewing machine and Cousin Rosie started to measure her. “Yep, you’re an Edwards, alright!” said Cousin Rosie.
 
Carolyn looked at Cousin Rosie because she didn’t understand what she meant. Cousin Rosie just smiled at young Carolyn and explained that being an Edwards means that you come from a long line of activists.
 
“What’s an activist? Is that what you did in Alabama before you moved to Detroit?” asked young Carolyn.
 
“Yes and I organized the NAACP Youth Council for little activists like you,” said Cousin Rosie.
 
Young Carolyn looked confused so Cousin Rosa explained, “When you’re an activist, you feel that everyone should be treated with respect and it doesn’t matter what color they are.  So you work hard to make sure they’re always treated fairly.”

Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock


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