Black History Month: Books for Kids, Tweens and Teens
Black History Month, annually celebrated in February, aims to recognize and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and their central role in U.S. History. The theme for Black History Month this year is “African Americans and the Vote” honoring the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), granting women’s right to vote, and the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870), granting black men the right to vote.
The Library honors Black History Month by celebrating black authors and their stories. Why are books by black authors and stories featuring black characters important? Books can either be mirrors, allowing the reader to see themselves reflected in society or windows, allowing the reader to see what life is like for someone with other experiences.
Try a quick search on Twitter or Instagram for #ownvoices and you’ll find a plethora of diverse works by authors and artists that shine light on stories and characters that share their own experiences. Check out this list of just a few titles for babies, kids, and teens, featuring stories by black authors and stories about black characters. Call or visit your local branch and ask a librarian to build a list of other books for you to enjoy during Black History Month and all year long.
Youth titles for Black History Month
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison. This beautifully illustrated board book edition of instant bestseller Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History showcases women who changed the world and is the perfect goodnight book to inspire big dreams.
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. A toddler’s antics keep her mother busy as she tries to feed her, watch her on the playground, give her a bath, and put her to bed.
I am Brave: A Little Book About Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Uses Martin Luther King’s life to teach young readers to be brave in the face of adversity.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Peter wakes up to the city covered in snow. He spends the day discovering the magic and beauty of snow. Written 50 years ago, Keats’ books are timeless classics that appeal to toddlers with their simple text and fresh collage illustrations.
This Little Trailblazer by Joan Holub and Daniel Roode. Rhyming text presents the contributions of such trailblazing women as Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Sonia Sotomayor, and Malala Yousafzai.
Easy picture books
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison. A little girl’s daddy steps in to help her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.
Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, illustrated by Federico Fabiani. Tallulah the Tooth Fairy, a black businesswoman who runs one of the most successful tooth collecting organizations in the world, finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six-year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow.
The Double Bass Blues by Andrea Loney, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez. After school orchestra practice, young Nic carries his double bass through rough neighborhoods to his grandfather’s home, where he and Grandaddy Nic play jazz music with friends, delighting the neighbors.
Octopus Stew, written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Ramsey dons his superhero cape to rescue Grandma from the huge octopus she is trying to cook–or is he simply telling a story? Includes author’s note on the story’s origin and a recipe for Octopus stew.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. A young boy rides the bus across town with his grandmother and learns to appreciate the beauty in everyday things. Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal.
New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel). Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds–and not really fitting into either one.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender. Born on Water Island in the Virgin Islands during a hurricane, which is considered bad luck, twelve-year-old Caroline falls in love with another girl–and together they set out in a hurricane to find Caroline’s missing mother.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi. Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction–especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem. Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in, but a creature comes to steal it. While trying to get the journal back, Tristan accidentally opens a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters. Can Tristan save this new world before he loses more of the things he loves?
My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver. It is 1970 in Red Grove, Alabama, and at Lu Olivera’s school the white kids and black kids sit on different sides of the classroom. Six-grader Lu just wants to get along with everyone, but growing racial tensions will not let Lu stay neutral about the racial divide in school. Her old friends have been changing lately–acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but blacks and whites don’t mix. Will Lu find the gumption to stand up for what’s right? And find friends who will stand with her?
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett. An illustrated version of the classic African-American national anthem helps children better understand the African-American heritage.
Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound by Kathleen Cornell Berman, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown. Explores the childhood and early career of the noted jazz trumpeter who gained fame performing at the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1955.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison. Features female figures of black history, including abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.
The exceptional men featured include artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, musician Prince, photographer Gordon Parks, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, and writer James Baldwin.
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride, 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner. Documents the heroic 1961 campaign of the civil rights activists known as the “Freedom Riders,” describing their peaceful protests to raise awareness about unconstitutional segregation and the increasing violence they endured as they traveled south.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. When Xiomara Batista, who pours all her frustrations and passion into poetry, is invited to join the school slam poetry club, she struggles with her mother’s expectations and her need to be heard.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Seventeen-year-old Zélie, her older brother Tzain, and rogue princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are ruthlessly pursued by the crown prince, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, will be published on December 3.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel takes place in sixty potent seconds, as Will, fifteen, sets out to avenge his brother Shawn’s fatal shooting, seven ghosts who knew Shawn board the elevator and reveal truths Will needs to know.
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi. A collection of short stories explore what it is like to be young and black, centering on the experiences of black teenagers and emphasizing that one person’s experiences, reality, and personal identity are different than someone else.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. In a near-future society that claims to have gotten rid of all monstrous people, a creature emerges from a painting seventeen-year-old Jam’s mother created, a hunter from another world seeking a real-life monster. This title was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.
Nonfiction for teens
March Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell (graphic novel). A first-hand account of the author’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights spans his youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement. The true story continues in books two and three.
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden. From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Presents an account of the 1944 civil rights protest involving hundreds of African-American Navy servicemen who were unjustly charged with mutiny for refusing to work in unsafe conditions after the deadly Port Chicago explosion.
Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach. An account of the lesser-known contributions of African-American women during World War II reveals how they helped lay the foundations for the Civil Rights Movement by challenging racial and gender barriers at home and abroad.
A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield. On a hot day in July 1919, five black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the “white” beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture.