It's Black History Month. As you think about how you'll honor it, also consider carrying the lessons of equity, equality and diversity into the rest of your year. An easy way to do this? Learn more about the struggles faced by Black Americans in the United States by reading these books as a family.
The goal of this list is to provide Black children reminders of their history and non-Black children the opportunity to hear that history, perhaps for the first time.
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney
For Black children: "Shades of Black" provides comfort to young Black and mixed-race children who are faced with the challenge of color, hair texture and other appearance-related questions. This book reminds Black children that we come in a wide variety of packages, but we are all Black and beautiful and own a rich history.
For non-Black children: Non-Black American society often clings to a limiting visual of Blackness, one which doesn’t accurately depict the variety of our features. "Shades of Black" discusses the concept that Blackness is as a diverse a category as any other appearance-based classification.
The Princess and the Pea, retold by Rachel Isadora
For Black children: This delightfully illustrated book provides a light introduction to West African language and cultural customs. Although it may not depict present-day West African tradition, it serves as a reminder that Black American children hail from the rich land of Africa.
For non-Black children: Our nation often acts as if Black culture and history began during slavery. This isn’t true. Non-Black children can read “The Princess and the Pea” as a depiction of life before the African diaspora.
Last Stop on Market Street, words by Matt de la Peña
For Black children: I challenge you to not laugh as the sassy grandma of this story talks to her grandson CJ in a way only a Black grandma could. This book reminds Black Americans of the love and importance of the relationships many of us have with our grandmothers, evoking feelings of love and nostalgia.
For non-Black children: "Last Stop" offers a glimpse at the stern yet loving relationship that exists between the young Black protagonist and his grandmother. It reminds non-Black readers that Black characters don’t have to do anything special to be worthy of being in a story — we all deserve to be represented.
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
For Black children: Song and dance have been valuable to Black Americans as far back as we can journey in history. This book shows how slaves used music innovatively as a means to convey cultural information. As an example, many hymns tell the story of past trials and tribulations.
For non-Black children: "Follow the Drinking Gourd" provides an example of how to use privilege to help others who don’t have that same privilege. It reminds readers that we don’t have to stand by and watch others suffer.
Freedom's School by Lesa Cline-Ransome
For Black children: "Freedom's School" reminds Black youth of the struggles Black Americans have faced to get an education and an opportunity to learn in our country.
For non-Black children: This book informs others of the treatment Black children had to endure after slavery. It reminds non-Black readers that exclusion from opportunity based on skin color or customs wasn’t okay then and it isn’t okay now.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
For Black children: Everyone has an opinion on how Black people must act to be considered “Black enough.” This book is great for Black children who need humor-based relief from the world that tells us how to perform Blackness.
For non-Black children: Blackness isn’t something that can be given or taken away. Reading "How to Be Black" will hopefully cause non-Black children to think about the comments and perspectives they have heard that limit the expression of Black children.
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
For Black children: This book discusses Apartheid in South Africa with a focus on the famous leader Nelson Mandela. It educates Black youth on this element of world history and reminds them that we have more in common with our African brothers and sisters than we may realize.
For non-Black children: Similarly, Nelson Mandela conveys to non-Black children that racism isn’t just an American issue. It’s pervasive, systemic and a worldwide reality.
Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
For Black children: "Something Beautiful" reminds young Black children that though circumstances are less than beautiful, there is always something beautiful to witness.
For non-Black children: This book communicates to readers the resilience of many Black Americans in the face of less than beautiful situations.
Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges
For all children: "Ruby Bridges Goes to School" discusses the integration of an American public school in 1961. Many of us, myself included, are too young to imagine a world where the color of our skin dictated an ability to attend school. This book explores that painful experience and celebrates the strength of a little girl who challenged the status quo.
As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck
For all children: This book provides a more in-depth and detailed explanation of the challenges faced by the children who pioneered integration. It shows the strength and resilience of Black youth who continued to attend newly integrated schools, despite facing threats and mistreatment.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2018, and updated in January 2021.