We invite you to celebrate Black History Month for kids — yours or any others! — with our picks for the top books for kids that showcase the diverse and inspiring stories of African American heroes and leaders.
Black history has never been a topic we discuss just one month out of the year; but it’s been a tradition for us to honor Black History Month for kids each February in part by sharing some of our favorite new Black History books for kids that bring Black history to life. These are the books that deserve to be read by children of all races and backgrounds. As a library assistant, I’m honored to pull this year’s list together this year, to help you stock your classroom shelves or add to your library at home.
Above: Illustration from There was a Party for Langston
Black History Month for Kids: Notable new picture books of the past year
Celebrating Black History Month just wouldn’t be the same without these wonderful authors and illustrators who help guide us and keep important stories alive.
I’ve focused on picture books for Black History Month here, all released in 2023 in case your favorite is missing! You’ll find a range that celebrates Black achievement in the United States, introduces young people to new historical heroes, and shares new perspectives on difficult topics that still impact our country today, like slavery or the divisions around the Confederate flag.
We know that even the youngest kids can (and should) be introduced to difficult topics that are essential to understanding United States history, from segregation to the Tulsa Race Massacre, and as a parent, you don’t have to be a historian to talk about Black History figures and issues; we can start just by reading along with our kids, answering their incredible questions (or looking them up), and just being there to provide loving support.
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A Joyous Children’s Introduction to Langston Hughes
There was a Party for Langston
by Jason Reynolds, illus. Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey
2024’s Black History Month theme is African Americans and the Arts and there’s such a wonderful array of new books for children to bring iconic Black Americans to life.
We’ll start out with the acclaimed American poet Langston Hughes, whose words children may recognize if not his story. This lively and colorful book is the first picture book by Jayson Reynolds, author of popular books like Stamped for Kids. It’s uplifting and full of joy, a wonderful introduction to one of leading voices of the Harlem Renaissance. It’s also a Caldecott Honor Book, and you’ll adore the buoyant illustrations, which earned the Pumphrey brothers a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. (ages 4-8)
PS If your children love poetry or books written in verse, we highly recommend checking out The Poetry Foundation’s collections of poems, articles, and resources exploring African history this month.
A Picture Book About Coretta Scott King
Coretta’s Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King
by Alice Faye Duncan, illus. R. Gregory Christier
Each year on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Bernice A. King urges us to acknowledge both of her parents. Her mother, Coretta Scott King was an essential force in the civil rights movement and an important part of Black history in her own right, and Coretta’s Journey helps bring her journey to life, from reluctant activist to the strong voice preserving her husband’s legacy. Beautifully told in poetry and prose, the book has earned a spot on plenty of best-of-the-year lists, plus a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. (ages 7-10)
The Fascinating Story of Spelling Champion MacNolia Cox
How Do You Spell Unfair?
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Frank Morrison
While we’ve covered biographies for children in the past to recognize leaders of the Civil Rights Movement like Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Frederick Douglass, there are plenty of lesser-known names in Black history children will love learning about. One of them is MacNolia Cox, the first African American to win the spelling bee in Akron, Ohio back in the 1930s. She was a celebrity — until she crossed the southern state line into Maryland. It’s written and illustrated by the same pair that won the 2021 Coretta Scott King Illustration Award for RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. (ages 7-10)
6 New Children’s Books About Iconic Black Artists
Holding Her Own
by Traci N. Todd, illus. Shannon Wright
Keeping with the theme of African Americans in the arts comes another Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, this one telling the story of Jackie Ormes, the first Black woman to become a nationally syndicated cartoonist in the United States. While historians often overlook her contributions to media, she’s also notable for being among the first cartoonists to include Black women in her work, and we’re pleased the author of Nina: A Story of Nina Simone has introduced her to us.(ages 7-10)
To Boldly Go
by Angela Dalton, illus. Lauren Semmer
Whether you’re a family of Trekkies or not, kids will love the true story of Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura, the first Black female astronaut on screen. Her story is captured in full color, making it a treat for young readers (and some older ones!) to learn more about the impact she had on so many people who wanted a career in space and science.
Also New in the Past Year:
Stevie Wonder: A Kid’s Book About Having Vision by Mary Nhin
Ella Fitzgerald: A Kids’ Book About Not Giving Up on Your Passion by Mary Nhin
Oprah Winfrey: A Little Golden Book Biography by Alliah L. Agostini, Tara Nicole Whitaker
Lift Every Voice And Change: A Celebration of Black Leaders and the Words that Inspire Generations by Charnaie Gordon, Aeron Cargill
3 New Children’s Books About Our Newest Supreme Court Justice
Ketanji: Justice Jackson’s Journey to the Supreme Court
by Kekla Magoon, illus. Laura Freeman
It’s great to find Black History Month books for kids that remind them that Black history is still being made all the time. Case in point (no pun intended): This new biography of Ketanji Brown Jackson, from two Coretta Scott King Honor winners. Uplifting, inspiring, yet relatable, readers will trace her journey from a public school student who was warned that she’d never get Harvard (she did…twice) to her work as a public defender, to the first Black woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. (ages 4-8)
A Book About the First-Graders Who Came Before Ruby Bridges… by 10 Minutes
Small Shoes, Great Strides: How Three Brave Girls Opened Doors to School Equality
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus.Alex Bostic
Kids may know about Ruby Bridges and her role in desegregating schools, but they likely don’t know the names Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost. When they were just first-graders, these three extremely courageous Black girls were the first to integrate their all-white New Orleans public school in 1960 — en minutes before Ruby Bridges walked into her own school in the same city. Their story comes to life thanks to extensive interviews conducted by award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, and beautiful images from the illustrator of Free At Last, and . (ages 7-11)
A Poignant Reflection on American Slavery Told in Verse for Children
An American Story
by Kwame Alexander, illus. Dare Coulter
The ugly story of American slavery is told in a powerful, poetic, and age-appropriate way by the prolific Kwame Alexander. His newest picture book for kids is as much a history lesson as it is a paean to the teachers and truth-tellers who speak candidly about injustices and shine a light on better paths forward. Even our teens would enjoy this testament to resilience and hope, and the beautifully evocative mixed-media art from Dale Coulter that earned him the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.
A Picture Book About Modern Friendship Across the Racial Divide
by Tameka Fryer Brown, illus. Nikkolas Smith
That Flag is such a timely and important book, bringing today’s tense political climate to life in a way that’s so personal and relatable for kids. Two best friends, one Black and one white, grapple with their friendship when the white girl’s family starts flying a Confederate flag at home. Each family explains its meaning and symbolism differently — until a tragedy creates the need for some new understanding. Beautifully illustrated by the artist behind the stunning books The 1619 Project: Born on the Water and most recently The Artivist, this is another picture book sure to inspire important discussions at home and in the classroom.
A Picture Book Inspired by African Folklore and the Importance of Shared Cultural Memory
We Could Fly
by Rhiannon Gibbons, illus. Briana Mukodiri Uchendu
While not a biography, this lovely book merits inclusion in a list of the best new Black History Month books for kids. Based on the song of the same name by Rhiannon Gibbons and Dirk Powell, We Could Fly has an almost spiritual essence to it, as a mother tells her young daughter how her ancestors would “fly” to escape the realities of suffering. I adore the beautiful illustrations by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, which earned this book a Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award. It’s a celebration of the “old-time ways,” which sometimes are just what we need to move forward…and fly. (ages 6-9)
2 New Board Books for Our Youngest Children Featuring Black Heroes
While not specifically about Black history, we always seek out new books for children that feature Black protagonists, with the hopes that more children will grow up seeing themselve reflected in the books that informed their earliest childhood years.
by Vashti Harrison
A beautiful story of self-acceptance at any size, Big has won just about every award for picture books since its release: the 2024 Caldecott Medal, a Coretta Scott King Award Author and Illustrator Honor book, a National Book Award finalist, and more. Author/illustrator Vashti Harrison frequently appears on our pages, and we were privileged to interview back in 2021 for our Spawned podcast. This is an absolute must-add to any child’s home library. (ages 4-11)
by Amanda Gorman, illus. Christian Robinson
Also one of our picks for great affordable gifts for kids, Amanda Gorman has teamed up with the Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Christian Robinson to create a sweet story for kids about how little changes can make big differences. Themes of unity, nurturing, and care, and the celebration of our differences reflect the society we should all hope to leave to our kids.
If your child finds a topic they’re interested in, check out the list of Black History online resources from the National Archives. It’s a great way to keep important conversations going.