Whether we’re taking the time to celebrate our own heritage or exploring those different cultures and backgrounds of our friends and neighbors that help make America what it is, books are always a favorite way for me to learn with my kids. And as Black History Month kicks off this week, I’m thrilled to discover so many exceptional new releases from the past month or so.
After all, Black history is American history.
We have shared so many books over the years that celebrate amazing musicians of color, honor African American heroes and Black pioneers of all kinds in our country’s past — and of course children’s books dedicated just to the incredible life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But today, I wanted to share some some brand new books for kids and teens released in time for Black History Month, which highlight wonderful Black heroes, both real and imagined, and stories that bring to life many aspects of the Black American experience., past and present.
If you’re looking for new titles for your classroom, your bookshelf, or your library check-out list, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
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New Illustrated Children’s Books for Black History Month
We recently reviewed James E. Ransome’s The Bell Rang, written and illustrated by James E. Ransome, which Liz called “one of the most powerful, important new children’s books I’ve read in a very long time.” It’s a captivating story of a runaway slave only with a surprising twist — it’s not told from his point of view, but entirely from the perspective of his enslaved sister who is left behind on the plantation, never knowing if he made it safely to freedom or not. So many children’s books wrap up tough stories neatly and positively, and there’s something incredibly honest and special about Ransome’s book, which leaves you to discuss together what might have happened next.
So Tall Within is a new biography of the remarkable slave-turned-abolitionist and women’s right advocate, Sojourner Truth. It’s gorgeously illustrated by award-winning painter and children’s book illustrator Daniel Minter and written by Newbery-winning author Gary D. Schmidt. It’s an exquisite book, poetically educating younger readers 4-8 on Truth’s life, from her painful childhood to her leadership in the fight for equal rights for women and the Black community. And it’s deserving of all the wonderful reviews it’s been getting.
If you loved the compassion and generosity presented in the Newbery award-winning Last Stop on Market Street (one of my own favorite children’s books ever), then you’ll definitely want to pick up the brand-new book, What is Given From the Heart by Patricia McKissack and April Harrison. In this story, James Otis and his Mama have had a rough month trying to make ends meet, but when a family in their church loses everything in a house fire, James Otis stretches himself to find a way to show them they are loved.
While it’s not non-fiction or specifically about Black history, the author herself, Patricia McKissack is an important Black children’s author in her own right, with over 100 titles to her name. She died in 2017, making this her final work, and it’s a lovely ending to cap an incredible career.
New YA Books for Black History Month
Ona Judge was the “favorite” slave of George and Martha Washington. But when she was told she’d be given as a wedding gift to their granddaughter, she made the daring decision to flee to freedom in New Hampshire. Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge tells this story of a little-known figure in history, who dared to defy the most powerful couple in America at the time. And we’d all recommend it a million times over the book about Washington’s happy “kitchen servant” who made him a great birthday cake. Just, skip that one.
(If your own interest is piqued by the way, the author has a full-length biography about Ona Judge for adults as well.)
If your kids like historical fiction, The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods tells the story of 12-year-old Gabriel and his unlikely friendship with Meriwether, a Black WWII veteran in his small Jim Crow-era town in the South. After Meriwether saves Gabriel’s life, Gabriel helps him get a job at his dad’s auto shop — but not everyone in the town is as happy to see him working alongside the other mechanics as Gabriel is. How this child decides to confront the racism in his hometown becomes the crux of the story, and it’s a tough reminder of how different Black and white vets were treated, even after serving their country the same way in wartime.
Genesis Begins Again is an exceptional new novel by Alicia D. Williams for tweens and early teens, in which the title character, Genesis, has to overcome the internalized racism that’s grown within her after years of living in a verbally abusive home. There’s so much she hates about herself, but a crisis in the family leads to a new school and a new teacher who actually believes in her. So maybe, it’s the start of a new outlook on life for Genesis too. it’s another smart, funny, important new book that totally deserves all the accolades it’s receiving, including the New York Times calling it “reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The The Bluest Eye.” High praise indeed.
The new anthology edited by American Street author Ibi Zob titled Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America is a must-read for YA readers of any background. She’s curated an outstanding array of short stories from some of the most prominent Black voices in YA literature today: Rita Williams-Garcia (The One Crazy Summer trilogy), Jason Reynolds (All American Boys), Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies), Nic Stone (Dear Martin) and so many more. The characters face dysfunctional families, social ostracism or worse, gender constraints, and peer pressure elevated by social media — all things that our teens can certain relate to. In fact, I’d recommend this for kids in high school, due to some of the more difficult issues the characters face, and the life experience a reader needs to be able to grasp the complexities and nuances.That said, the stories shed a necessary light on these issues, and best of all, it may help you find some incredible new authors to read.
Note: There are so many amazing children’s and teen books from excellent writers of color that are coming out right now, and too many for us to include them all here. But we highly encourage you to look at the “frequently bought together…” and “customers who bought this book also bought…” recommendations on Amazon on these books’ pages to see what else sparks your interest.
And of course, we’ll continue to share wonderful books as they come across our desks. Any new favorites you’re reading right now that you want to recommend, feel free to share in the comments!