25 Must-Read Children’s Books for Black History Month

Updated: January 20, 2022
Read aloud our list of black history books with your kids to learn about important figures in black history.
Black History Month Books
Table of contents

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Black History Month is a great time to reflect on what it means to be African American. It's important to teach all children about the struggles of racism, slavery, and segregation in order to build a more equal world. Everyone must learn about the history of influential black people and characters, including both important black men and black women. These books are perfect to teach children and young teens about the lives of Black people in America and around the world. These stories tell the true experiences of slaves, people who lived during the Civil Rights Movement, and modern famous black figures and inventors.

More: 25 Children’s Books to Teach Kids About Race and Racism

1. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

By: Ellen Levine

Recommended ages: 6 and up

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
Product Price
$10.04

This is the incredible story of Henry "Box" Brown escaping slavery by shipping himself to the north in a wooden crate. We learn that as a boy, Henry doesn't know his age because nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. As an adult working in a warehouse, he decides to take a major risk and mail himself in a box — to a world where he can have a "birthday" (his first day of freedom).

Reviews

Nelson's powerful portraits add a majestic element to Levine's history-based tale of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who escaped by having himself mailed to freedom in a crate. Depicted as a solemn boy with an arresting gaze on the cover, Henry displays a riveting presence in every successive scene, as he grows from child to adult, marries, and is impelled to make his escape after seeing his beloved wife and children sold to slaveowners. Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton's Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993).

2. This Jazz Man

By Karen Ehrhardt

Recommended ages: 3 and up

This Jazz Man
The Jazz Man
Product Price
$17.99

Music and dance are great themes to explore with little kids during Black History Month. Preschoolers will love this toe-tapping, finger-snapping tribute to African-American jazz giants, set to the rhythm of the classic children's song "This Old Man." The lively illustrations invite kids to "Deedle-di-bop!" along with classic musicians Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bill "Bojangles" and more.

Reviews

The Jazz Man . . . is gentle and upbeat. Here the idea is that every great musician joins one big imaginary jazz band, and it’s a whole lot of fun.” -The New York Times Book Review

3. Whoever You Are

By: Mem Fox

Recommended ages: 4 and up

Whoever You Are (Reading Rainbow Books)
Whoever You Are
Product Price
$4.99

This book doesn't directly address Black History, but it offers a preschooler-friendly introduction to the related concepts of diversity and equality. Award-winning author Mem Fox tells little ones that wherever they are, whatever they look like, and no matter their customs, there are other kids like them all around the globe: "Joys are the same, and love is the same. Pain is the same, and blood is the same."

Reviews

"An essential book that acknowledges in the simplest of terms our common humanity."- Kirkus Reviews

4. Follow the Drinking Gourd

By Jeanette Winter

Recommended ages: 5 and up

Follow the Drinking Gourd
Follow the Drinking Gourd
Product Price
$5.99

This is a folktale about a white sailor named "Peg Leg Joe" teaching a group of slaves a song to "follow the drinking gourd" (the Big Dipper) north to escape slavery. The rhythmic story and colorful paintings help show children the importance of the Underground Railroad — the secret path to freedom for thousands of African-Americans.

Reviews

“An extraordinary and inspiring tribute to a unique part of African-American history.” –Boston Globe

5. The Other Side

By: Jacqueline Woodson

Recommended ages: 5 and up

The Other Side
The Other Side
Product Price
$13.49

The fence behind Clover's house marks the town line that separates black people from white people. Clover's mother warns her that it isn't safe to cross the fence, but Clover is curious to meet Anna, the white girl who lives on the other side. The two girls work around the rules of segregation and form an unlikely friendship by sitting together on top of the fence.

Reviews

"Pictures and words make strong partners here, convincingly communicating a timeless lesson."—Publishers Weekly

6. Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By: Doreen Rappaport

Recommended ages: 5 and up

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (A Big Words Book, 1)
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Product Price
$7.99

The author weaves immortal quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.'s writings and speeches into this award-winning biography for kids. The multimedia illustrations carry readers from King's youth — when he first noticed "Whites Only" signs — through his remarkable life as a leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. (Check out these additional resources for Martin Luther King Day.)

Reviews

“Weaving in Dr. King’s own “big words,” this inspiring picture book biography celebrates this great leader as preacher and politician. Rappaport’s sparse narrative captures the essentials of the man, the Civil Rights movement he led, and his policy of non-violence. This is a great book to read aloud many times.”―Booklist

7. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

By: Carole Boston Weatherford

Recommended ages: 5 and up

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book)
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Product Price
$14.99

Introduce children to Harriet Tubman, the champion of the Underground Railroad who earned the nickname "Moses" for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom. Spirited text and paintings portray how Tubman's compassion, courage, and deep religious faith helped her lead 19 trips from the south to the north to help fellow African-Americans. This is a Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel.

Reviews

Here's what one reviewer had to say: "This book is so good! Wonderfully written account of Harriet Tubman and her role in the Underground Railroad. It brought me to tears the way it was written. Perfect for young kids and old alike."

8. Tar Beach

By: Faith Ringgold

Recommended ages: 5 and up

Tar Beach (Caldecott Honor Book)
Tar Beach
Product Price
$13.60

It's 1939, and young Cassie Louise Lightfoot is picnicking with her family and friends on "tar beach" — the hot, black rooftop of her family's Harlem apartment. Cassie lays down and dreams that she is soaring above New York City — finding beauty in the views of the George Washington Bridge (which her father helped build) while also noting the signs of social injustice in the crowded city below.

Reviews

"This allegorical tale sparkles with symbolic and historical references central to African-American culture... A practical and stunningly beautiful book."-Horn Book, starred review

9. Teammates

By: Peter Golenbock

Recommended ages: 6 and up

Teammates
Teammates
Product Price
$7.94

This book takes us back to 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. He was taunted and terrorized by baseball fans, opposing players, and even his teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Historical photos and watercolor illustrations transport us to the fateful game when Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers shortstop, embraced Robinson on the field as his teammate in front of a heckling crowd of spectators.

Reviews

Here's what one reviewer had to say: "This was a great story of friendship and camaraderie. The theme is one that everyone should learn, when times are tough, stand up for your friends. Loved it!"

10. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans

By: Kadir Nelson

Recommended ages: 8 and up

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Coretta Scott King Award - Author Winner Title(s))
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans
Product Price
$21.99

This richly illustrated 108-page book chronicles the immense challenges and important societal contributions of African-Americans throughout history. It's told from the unique perspective of a wise, old African-American "Everywoman" narrator whose ancestors arrived on slave ships and who lives to proudly cast a vote for the nation's first black president.

Reviews

As in WE ARE THE SHIP, Nelson knits together the nation’s proudest moments with its most shameful, taking on the whole of African-American history. He handles this vast subject with easy grace. [Nelson’s] jaw-dropping portraits radiate determination and strength. A tremendous achievement. -Publishers Weekly

11. Who Was Rosa Parks?

By: Yona Zeldis McDonough

Recommended ages: 8 and up

Who Was Rosa Parks?
What Was Rosa Parks?
Product Price
$3.99

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott will always have an important legacy in Black History. This 112-page biography from the kid-friendly "Who Was ..." series shares lesser-known facts about the black woman who bravely refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Alabama in 1955.

Reviews

Here's what one reviewer had to say: "This book did a good job introducing complex social issues and injustices on a level that my seven-year-old could understand. The book provided enough detail to serve as a springboard for further discussion without being so long that she lost interest in the subject."

12. What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors

By: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

Recommended ages: 8 and up

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors
Product Price
$17.99

Did you know that African-American inventors had a hand in everything from the ice cream scoop and the refrigerated food truck to cortisone cream and open-heart surgery? In this book co-authored by NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, kids can learn about the great minds behind important inventions, product improvements, and scientific and medical discoveries that we take for granted.

Reviews

Get ready to have your mind blown with this fun book. It tells the story of twins who discover the amazing stories of African American inventors whose creations changed your world...The book has lift flaps and fast facts that makes learning so quick and easy. —Washington Post

13. The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963

By: Christopher Paul Curtis

Recommended ages: 8 and up

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963
Product Price
$7.99

This middle-grade novel is narrated by 9-year-old Kenny — the younger brother in a middle-class African-American family from Michigan. Kenny's older brother, Byron, is a juvenile delinquent who could use some stern discipline from their no-nonsense grandmother, who lives in Alabama. When the family heads south to bring Byron to Grandma's house, unthinkable events happen and shape the family's life forever.

Reviews

Here's what one reviewer had to say: "Perfect story for my sixth-grade students. This book covers a period in the 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. The story is told from the perspective of the youngest son, who sees life in a very funny way. Very real events are covered in ways that make you stop and ask questions about what was happening when the story takes place and how those events are affecting the lives of the characters."

14. The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano

Adapted by Ann Cameron

Recommended ages: 9 and up

The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano
Product Price
$6.99

This is the true biography of Olaudah Equiano, an African prince who was kidnapped at age 11 and sold into slavery in England, the U.S., and the West Indies until he was able to buy his freedom more than a decade later. His best-selling autobiography was first published in 1789 and has been shortened and modernized in Cameron's version, which remains true to the gripping original script.

Reviews

"The inspired simplicity of Cameron's adaptation quickly allows Equiano's gifted voice to establish a compelling relationship between himself and young readers. Well-sculpted with detail . . . his story is a must for multicultural or history collections."-School Library Journal

15. Nightjohn

By: Gary Paulsen

Recommended ages: 12 and up

Nightjohn (Sarny)
Nightjohn
Product Price
$6.29

This brutally accurate account of slavery in the 1850s centers around an unforgettable character named Nightjohn. He is a former slave who escapes to freedom in the north but returns to the south to teach others how to read. At the Waller plantation, the punishment for slaves who read is dismemberment, but Nightjohn and his brave 12-year-old student named Sarny take enormous risks to expand their minds.

Reviews

"Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works, this impeccably researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850s." -Publishers Weekly

16. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

By: Vashti Harrison

Recommended ages: 8 and up

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (Vashti Harrison)
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Product Price
$11.48

This New York Times bestselling book highlights 40 black women who made amazing strides in American history. It includes Sojourner Truth, Bessie Colman, and Maya Angelou to name a few. These biographies tell the stories of these women and are accompanied by bold illustrations.

Reviews

"Vashti Harrison's adorable, idiosyncratic drawings...are poster-worthy." ―O, the Oprah Magazine

17. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

By: Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

Recommended ages: 4 and up

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Product Price
$10.89

If you thought you knew all there was to know about America's journey to space, take a look further. This New York Times bestselling book tells young readers all about four black women whose work was responsible for NASA being able to launch men to space.

Reviews

“In Shetterly and Conkling’s approachable text, the reader is introduced to four hidden figures and given a broad look at the United States’ history of segregation and fight for civil rights. Freeman’s illustrations are striking, featuring bold, fully saturated colors. Feels as fresh as the original. Delightful and informative.” -- Shelf Awareness

18. I Am Martin Luther King Jr (Ordinary People Can Change the World)

By: Brad Meltzer

Recommended ages: 5 and up

I am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ordinary People Change the World)
I Am Martin Luther King Jr (Ordinary People Can Change the World)
Product Price
$9.99

This retelling of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. is done in a wonderful way for young children to understand. Through peaceful protests, marches, and his dream of equal rights, Brad Meltzer's book can teach little ones the significance of King's bravery during the civil rights movement.

Reviews

Here's what one reviewer had to say: "This series is wonderful! My girls, 5 and 2, love these books. We started with I Am Rosa Parks after my kindergartener learned about Civil Rights at school. We've since bought 2 more, including this one. The books do a great job of explaining difficult subject matter in a way that kids can understand and the illustrations interest them. We read these books over and over and over. I can't recommend them highly enough."

19. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

By: Carole Boston Weatherford

Recommended ages: 10 and up

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Product Price
$10.59

Fannie Lou Hamer was a pioneer during the civil rights movement in the 1950s. Her contribution was key in securing voting rights for African Americans. Weatherford's poems and illustrations are a vibrant celebration of Hamer's hard work.

Reviews

In a series of poems in this biography, Weatherford traces the life of Fannie Lou Hamer from her childhood as the youngest of 20 children of sharecroppers in Mississippi to her social and political activism...The poems feature particular events in Hamer’s life and their implications, which provide readers with memorable, heart-wrenching details. —Literacy Daily

20. Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

By: Jabari Asim

Recommended ages: 4 and up

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington
Product Price
$10.99

This is a wonderful retelling of Booker T. Washington's hardship of wanting to learn to read and write as a child and him finally achieving that as an adult. It's a great story for young readers to learn more about slavery and emancipation but through the eyes of someone who lived through the experience.

Reviews

"Asim's lyrical text transforms the journey into a spiritual awakening for a young man who had a dream in his soul.' Collier is in brilliant Caldecott Honor style, using his signature watercolor paintings and cut-paper collage to incorporate elements from Booker's life and visions into each illustration...An outstanding achievement and a life worthy of note."―Kirkus

21. Mae Among the Stars

By: Roda Ahmed

Recommended ages: 3 and up

Mae Among the Stars
Mae Among the Stars
Product Price
$14.39

This inspiring story of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to go to space, is perfect for young children and girls especially. It speaks of Jemison's childhood dreams to be an astronaut and how she paved the way for herself to be able to achieve her goal when she grew up.

Reviews

"Ahmed’s first children’s book presents a fictional portrait of a young Mae Jemison, whose parents support her dream of becoming an astronaut; their advice (“If you can dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible”) becomes the book’s refrain." -Publishers Weekly

22. Life Doesn't Frighten Me

By: Maya Angelou

Recommended ages: 3 and up

Life Doesn't Frighten Me (25th Anniversary Edition)
Life Doesn't Frighten Me
Product Price
$15.79

Poet Maya Angelou joined forces with illustrator Jean-Michel Basquiat to create a powerful book about courage for children. The drawings catch a child's eye and the poems share powerful and thought-provoking messages for little ones to help them realize their strength and faith.

Reviews

"A unique book that combines the words of a renowned African-American poet laureate and the primitive, modern paintings of a young Haitian-American artist. . . A powerful exploration of emotion and its expression through the careful blend of words and art."―School Library Journal

23. The Story of Ruby Bridges

By: Robert Coles

Recommended ages: 4 and up

The Story of Ruby Bridges
The Story of Ruby Bridges
Product Price
$6.99

This powerful story of 6 year old Ruby Bridges speaks of her struggles as a young African American girl attending an all white elementary school. It's an inspirational story that teaches children about segregation, racism, and overcoming those challenges.

Reviews

"Ford's moving watercolour paintings... capture the physical warmth of Ruby's family and community, the immense powers against her, and her shining inner strength." - Booklist

24. We March

By: Shane W. Evans

Recommended ages: 4 and up

We March
We March
Product Price
$7.99

In the 1960s a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement was the march that took place in Washington, D.C. This powerful story was retold and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. From Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, to the actual march of many people, this historic event will always be remembered as an important step in equal rights for all.

Reviews

“Many young children know there was a march on Washington a long time ago and that Martin Luther King Jr. gave a famous speech that day. Some know why the march took place; fewer still know how it happened. Using a minimalist text (no more than ten words per page) as he employed in Underground, Evans covers the last two points.” ―Horn Book Magazine

25. The Nutcracker in Harlem

By: T.E. McMorrow and James Ransome

Recommended ages: 4 and up

The Nutcracker in Harlem
The Nutcracker in Harlem
Product Price
$16.31

This is a wonderful Christmas story that can be read any time of year. It is a jazz-inspired retelling of the Nutcracker that takes place during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. It's centered around a little girl who becomes a musician. It's also a Coretta Scott King award winner.

Reviews

“This inventive book embeds the classic holiday ballet in the elegant Harlem Renaissance world of the 1920s...[Ransome’s] rich jewel-toned art makes both indoor scenes and the New York City night vibrate with life and holiday wonder.” -New York Times Book Review