This February, I wanted to compile a list of picture books that would be appropriate for ALL children to read throughout Black History Month. These books feature heroes, hidden figures, and special moments that deserve to be highlighted. February 1 is also #NationalReadAloudDay, so we hope you choose a book today that celebrates the rich history African Americans have helped to create in the United States.
1. The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Bryan Collier
We are huge fans of Trombone Shorty’s music and his first book, so The 5 O’Clock Band is on our reading list for this month. Shorty shows love to his hometown of New Orleans as he gains wisdom from street musicians, restaurant owners, and the Mardi Gras Indians on what it means to be an artist and a leader. Recommended for ages 4-8.
2. Before She Was Harriett by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome
With moving poetry and stunning illustrations, Before She Was Harriet provides a reversed chronological look at the life of Harriet Tubman and the many names she was known by throughout her lifetime. Recommended for ages 4-8.
3. Bessie, Queen of the Sky by Andrea Doshi, Jimena Duran, and Chiara Fabbri
Bessie, Queen of the Sky is a fairy tale based on Bessie Coleman’s life. Coleman was the first Black woman to obtain a pilot’s license in the world, inspiring girls all over to follow their biggest dreams. Recommended for ages 4-8.
4. Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson
Readers learn more about the childhood of Dr. Betty Shabazz, as told by her daughter. Although she struggled with self-acceptance and a sense of belonging, Betty overcame to become a civil rights leader. Recommended for ages 10-14.
5. Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went From the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace and Bryan Collier
While I’d heard of Ernie Barnes the football player, I never knew of his love for art. Between the Lines is the story of Barnes’ childhood in the segregated South and how his talent on the football field led to college where a professor encouraged him to paint what was in his surroundings. Recommended for ages 4-8.
6. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie
This is another “hidden figure” I’d never heard of. Lewis Michaux Sr. started a bookstore in 1930s Harlem that became a place where people from all over, and even some famous ones such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, came to discuss how they could help the country change for the better. Recommended for ages 7-10.
7. Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn
I’ve feel like I’ve been waiting so long for this book to be released! Brave Ballerina chronicles the life of Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera. Recommended for ages 4-8.
8. Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley
Way before farm-to-table restaurants became a fad, Edna Lewis, a famous chef, knew the importance of growing and preparing foods that came straight from her family’s garden. The book includes a bit about Edna’s childhood, as well as several recipes. Recommended for ages 4-7.
9. Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson and Don Tate
This book was just released today, 2/1/19, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Of course we all need to read the story of how the Father of Black History Month came to be so interested in the history of his people and disseminating it to others. Recommended for ages 6-10.
10. Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf by Nancy Churnin and John Joven
I don’t know much about golf, so I was very intrigued when I came across Charlie Takes His Shot. Not only did Charlie Sifford break the color barrier, he was the first Black golfer to win a PGA tournament. Recommended for ages 5-7.
11. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier
Despite being a slave in South Carolina in the 1800s, Dave had talents that could not be suppressed. While little was known about him, Dave was a poet, artist, and potter. Recommended for ages 5-8.
12. The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley
I love the Amazing Scientists series because it introduces even the youngest readers to awesome innovators through rhyming texts. When Dr. Bath received a toy chemistry set from her mother, it sparked a lifelong inquisitiveness. She was the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency and the first African American female to receive a medical patent. Recommended for ages 5-10.
13. Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter
During slavery, it was illegal for Ellen’s parents to be married, so they jumped a broom to signify their commitment. Once former slaves could marry legally, Ellen’s parents decided to jump the broom once again. This book perfectly describes the longstanding African tradition of jumping the broom at weddings and why some traditions are worth holding on to. Recommended for ages 5-8.
14. Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie
I’d never heard of Congo Square until I came across this book last year. On Sundays, slaves in New Orleans were able to freely congregate by setting up an open market in Congo Square where they could sing, dance, and play music. This was such an enlightening read. Recommended for ages 4-8.
15. Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H. Shapiro and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
With the encouragement of his Grandpa Sam, Tyree began “painting the world”. From the 1950s-1980s, Tyree transformed crumbling communities in Detroit through his art. Recommended for ages 5-8.
16. Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bidner and John Parra
Marvelous Cornelius was known for his dancing as he cleaned the New Orleans streets. After so much devastation was left behind due to Hurricane Katrina, Cornelius helped the reengage the spirit of the community as clean up efforts began. Recommended for ages 3-5.
17. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie
The story of the Memphis sanitation strike is told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Lorraine, whose father participated in the protest. This book focuses not only on Martin Luther King Jr., but also the role of the larger community who helped to sustain the strike. Recommended for ages 9-12.
18. Molly, By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, American’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree and Kathleen Kemly
The legend of Molly Williams is another one I wasn’t familiar with. Back in the winter of 1818, many of the volunteer firefighters were sick with the flu when a wooden house caught on fire. Molly took action and volunteered, becoming the first known female firefighter in U.S. history. Recommended for ages 5-8.
19. Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament by Anne Renaud and Felicita Sala
While I knew a Black man invented the potato chip, I did not know the full story. After a customer complained that the fried potatoes were too thick, George Crum created, by accident, what we now know as the potato chip. Recommended for ages 4-8.
20. No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden and Don Tate
Junius G. Groves is known as the Potato King of the World after renting a potato farm post-slavery. He persevered and overtime, his empire grew so large, he owned five hundred acres! Recommended for ages 4-8.
21. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
We’re huge fans of Nikki Grimes’ poetry, so I can’t wait to read this book that focuses on influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance. All of the poems are paired with complementary artwork from some of today’s most widely know African American illustrators. Recommended for ages 10-14.
22. Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito and Laura Freeman
I had to read this book based on the title alone! Georgia Gilmore, a cook from the National Lunch Company, organized many women to cook and bake foods that could be used to raise funds for gas and to maintain cars. The money raised by the “Club from Nowhere” helped to sustain the Montgomery bus boycott. Recommended for ages 5-9.
23. Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss
I’ve always heard of the Green Book that was used during segregation as a list of places that welcomed African American travelers. Ruth and her family used the Green Book to make it safely from Chicago to her grandmother’s house in Alabama. Recommended for ages 7-11.
24. She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick and Don Tate
Talk about a hidden figure, Effa Manley not only owned a baseball team, she was also the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! Recommended for ages 4-8.
25. Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo and Bryan Collier
Visiting Langston introduces the world-renowned poet to young children through a girl who gets the opportunity to visit Hughes’ home. As a poet herself, this is a once in a lifetime experience she’ll always cherish. Recommended for ages 4-8.
26. We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
While many know the words to We Shall Overcome, few know the history behind the song. We Shall Overcome chronicles the song’s importance through slavery, segregation and how it became the theme of many protests during the civil rights movement. Recommended for ages 5-9.
27. When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill and Theodore Taylor III
This is the perfect story for kids (and parents) who are fans of hip hop. Back in the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc changed the game by making the musical interludes between verses longer using two turntables. Recommended for ages 6-10.
28. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton and Don Tate
Raise your hand if you remember (or still love) playing with a Super Soaker on a hot, summer day! While I knew the Super Soaker was invented by a Black man, I had no idea Lonnie Johnson was an engineer and worked for NASA. Recommended for ages 7-10.
We hope you’ll check out a few (or all) of these books at some point during Black History Month or over the year. There are so many more books we wanted to share, so stay tuned to our social media pages for additional recommendations.