February is Black History Month, which gives us a great opportunity to share some of our favorite new books about Black history for kids. But honestly, we are always looking for smart, educational, and enlightening children’s books about and by Black Americans for our kids to pull off their bookshelves any day of the year.
With so many incredible children’s books about Black history and key figures published just in this past couple of years alone (several of which are recent award winners), we’ve put together some of our favorites for your easy reference.
For your guidance, we’ve included the recommended age for each book, though we are believers that even the youngest kids can be introduced to difficult topics like slavery, the Holocaust, or the Tulsa Race Massacre — and there’s no reason that early readers can’t learn about the tougher parts of history along with more uplifting stories of the past.
Still, you know your child’s reading abilities and emotional capabilities best, and as a parent or caregiver, it is always a good idea to pre-read books (or at least recommendations and reviews) to identify areas that might require more discussion with your kids about these hard issues as you read together.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, in 2023, some of the books listed right here have been targeted for removal — or already removed — from school libraries and classrooms. I can safely speak for our entire team when I say we are deeply concerned with the increasing rash of censorship, book banning, and attacks on curricula that aim to educate students about our nation’s long, complex and painful history of racism, bigotry and discrimination.
Censorship is a wholly anti-democratic path toward authoritarianism and needs to be called out and challenged. In addition to buying or borrowing these books to support their authors, we urge you to visit the ALA website for actions you can take, and contact your elected leaders at every level of government, including the most local.
In the words of the scholar Hillel, “if not you then who? If not now, then when?” – Liz
14 excellent new books about Black history for children
Please note that the following links will take you to the book’s Amazon listing, and your purchase may generate a small commission that helps support our team at no additional cost to you. You may also consider shopping online through IndieBound or in person at your favorite local bookseller — and we always love our local libraries.
This post has been updated for 2023.
A History of Me
In a powerful 2019 commencement speech at Barnard College, Viola Davis declared, “we are our history,” and that statement is driven home in the uplifting debut storybook by Adrea Theodore, A History of Me.
Published in 2022, A History of Me begins with a young girl explaining “I was the only brown person in class,” then explaining why studying topics such as slavery and civil rights feel so personal and uncomfortable as the entire class sets their eyes on on you as the symbol of an entire race. Fortunately, her mother is able to turn this discomfort into empowerment by teaching her of all the people of color who stood up to racism and oppression. It’s a story that not only looks at the past for inspiration but also calls on today’s children to stand on the shoulders of their ancestors and keep moving up, up, up.
Teachers: This is an excellent book to add to your oral class reading. Provided you are still allowed to read books of your choosing — something we all need to be fighting for, whether we’re in Florida or not. (ages 4-8)
Even more children’s books for Black History Month and beyond:
5 must-read new children’s books about Black history in 2020, so you can keep learning all year long
9 outstanding Black History Month books for kids of all ages
5 fabulous new books about Black women leaders and activists, all written by Black women.
These 3 great children’s books help introduce your kids to Kamala Harris
What is Juneteenth? 4 great children’s books that explain this important holiday.
7 new must-read Black History Month book releases for kids and teens. Because Black history is American history.
6 exquisite children’s books about women African American singers and songwriters.
3 wonderful new picture books about African American heroes, all written by authors of color
The Bell Rang: An important children’s book about the realities of Black slavery and family separation.
Carter Reads the Newspaper
We’re kicking off this list with this important picture book about Carter G. Woodson, widely considered the father of Black History Month. In Carter Reads the Newspaper. Deborah Hopkinson tells the lesser-known story of Woodson, who was born to formerly enslaved parents only ten years after the Civil War ended. After teaching himself to read, Carter spent his life reading and sharing, interesting stories about his people as an educator and historian.
In addition to telling the story of Carter and his establishment of Negro History Week — which later expanded to Black History Month —this book also includes inspiring quotes and important historical figures to educate and influence elementary-school age kids to find out more about their own history.
It’s an important book that helps tell the history of Black History Month itself, while keeping the name Carter G. Woodson alive for yet another generation to remember. (6-9 years)
Black Boy, Black Boy
Published later in 2022, we love the beautifully illustrated new book, Black Boy, Black Boy, which takes a young boy on a symbolic path to show him influential Black men in American history. Written in easy-to-read, short sentences by filmmaker and social entrepreneur Ali Kamanda and Assistant District Attorney-turned writer Jorge Redmond, Black Boy, Black Boy’s historical figures includes Black inventors, musicians, aviators, and writers along with well-known names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama.
With the rainbow of colors from artist Ken Daley’s illustrations, this book pops with brightness and optimism, as well as warmth, as an adult is shown walking with a young boy down this path of history.
Even more important than the Black Americans featured is the message that this book leaves with the reader: That they are part of this long tradition of great Black men and can draw strength and motivation from them as they go out into the world. What a wonderful message. (ages 3-9+)
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
A lot of school kids learn of Black American history starting from slavery on forward, but the beautifully written The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson goes back even further to a time when these were free people living in ancestral lands.
Written for elementary students and up, readers will follow generations from their free days in Africa through the horrors and injustice of enslavement, to the time of resistance and fight for justice that continues to this day.
I love how the text and illustrations by Nikkolas Smith capture the pride, joy, and resilience of people who lost so much and the hope they have for better days. (ages 7-10)
Related: You believe that Black Lives Matter. You are non-Black. You don’t know what to say or do. So start here.
Black Boy Joy
A little different from what you’d might expect from the title (and different from Black Boy, Black Boy at top), Black Boy Joy by Kwame Mbalia focuses not on famous Black men, but instead is an anthology packed with stories, comics, and poems about the joys of growing up as a Black boy.
With contributions by 17 critically acclaimed Black authors, it’s a celebration of what it means to be young and Black. Such a great read for all young people, but especially middle-school boys, to remind them of what is good in them so they can see it in themselves.
And that cover from illustrator Kadir Nelson just oozes….joy (ages 9-12)
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls:
100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic
Their original collection of Rebel Girls bedtime stories has been a favorite of ours for nearly six years, and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic is about to become another one for the bedside table.
Featuring stories of 100 exceptional Black women and girls, I love that the list includes well-known trailblazers as well as lesser-known women with big talents. A great read for all girls (and boys), but especially for Black girls who may not realize the contributions by others that look like them. Sweet dreams. (ages 6+)
Related: Why it’s important for kids to read diverse books, with author Meena Harris
Stamped (For Kids):
Racism, Anti-Racism and You
Adapted from the National Book Award winning adult title Stamped from the Beginning by Sonja Cherry-Paul, then turned into a National Book Award winning YA Book, Stamped, in 2020, this past year, Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi brought us Stamped for Kids.
It’s is an age-appropriate guide for helping early and mid-elementary readers understand racism in the United States. This is a book that continues to be targeted by some school districts and pulled from school book shelves, and we think that’s all the more reason to get your hands on a copy of this important, honest book to read with the kids. (ages 6-10+)
The Story of Katherine Johnson
The Story of Ruby Bridges
The new “A Biography Book for New Readers” series includes dozens of books that profile notable people in history, and have included such Black VIPs as Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Simone Biles.
In 2021, several Black Americans stories were added to their list of titles, including The Story of Katherine Johnson by Andrea Thorpe and The Story of Ruby Bridges by historian Dr. Arlisha Norwood Alston, shown above. Filled with colorful illustrations and easy-to-read text, this is a great way to get our youngest readers familiar with some key groundbreakers and thought leaders in Black history, as well as those who are continuing to make history right now.
You can also grab new titles featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Misty Copeland, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and John Lewis if you’d like to stock up your library. And if you’d prefer collections, there are two new for 2022: The Story of Strong Black Men five-book bundle and The Story of Strong Black Women five-book bundle. (ages 6-9)
Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free
We’ve shared a number of books to introduce children to Juneteenth and now here’s an exciting new one. Just released in January 2022, Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan follows the true story of Opal Lee’s childhood in her turbulent Texas town, through her fight to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday.
Spoiler: She succeeds!
Kids will also be fascinated to know that Opal Lee remains a living legend in Black American history, at 95 years old today. (ages 4-8)
Related: Elected leaders need to do more than just “recognize” Juneteenth. Tell them to act on these 5 issues.
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words
On the lighter side, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words by Stacey Abrams herself and illustrated by Kitt Thomas, tells the story of a young, word-loving student who has to face her fears — and the class bully — to participate in her school’s spelling bee. I love how little Stacey works hard and stays true to herself throughout; and how Abrams ties her story Into a bigger lesson of perseverance and the importance of setting goals, even if they take a long time to achieve.
This is a great way to introduce young children to an important contemporary voting rights advocate and bestselling author and talk to them about Fair Fight Action which Ms. Abrams founded to make elections in Georgia and the rest of the U.S. more equitable. (ages 4-8)
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and illustrated by Christian Robinson is a wonderfully told story about using your voice for good. I absolutely love the illustrations that capture so much expression as the story follows young Nina Simone from her early years through adulthood.
It’s not just a story about Nina’s work as a singer and performer, as you might think; in fact, the book also delves into how Ms. Simone used her voice to advocate for the Civil Rights movement and against racial inequality and discrimination. This is a great way to talk to kids about speaking up against racial injustice no matter how big or loud they may think their voice is. (ages 4-8)
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper’s Unspeakable:The Tulsa Race Massacre is a powerful and devastating picture book telling the true story of one of the most horrifying and shameful moments on American soil.
Named a New York Times Best Children’s Book of 2021 and the 2022 winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for Author and Illustrator, Unspeakable presents the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre n a way that is appropriate for older elementary and middle school students and should be a must-read.
Even among adults who likely never learned about this tragic event in school. (ages 8-12+)
Related: What was the Tulsa Race Massacre? Resources to help teach kids (and adults) of all ages
Closing with a note of hope, Change Sings by 2021 Presidential Inauguration poet Amanda Gorman may not tackle the issues of racism or pivotal moments in Black history head-on, but it is still such an important and wonderful addition to any home library.
Lovingly illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long, Change Sings empowers kids to bring about the change they want to see in their communities. Especially since so many kids today really see themselves as changemakers who care about the world beyond themselves.
This is more than a great Black History Month book for children — it’s a book that can open the door to more meaningful conversations with young children to remind them of how their own voices can influence their future. (ages 4-8)