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20 Children's Books Featuring Black Characters Every Child Should Read

During Black History Month and all year round, share these top books with African American characters with your child

Published on: February 06, 2019

mother daughter reading

During Black History Month there are many opportunities to learn about African Americans in historical contexts, but it's important to remember that we all have shared experiences every day as Americans.  All kids love puppies, are anxious about some aspect of school life, meet new babies for the first time and have best friends. Thousands of kids books confirm that. My son's growing library consists of lots of classics. He was an early reader and I was so busy buying the books on every must-read kids list that I failed to notice how absent his growing book collection was of reflections of himself.

The following are just a few of the books I found. They are picture books, history books and chapter book series that will expertly diversify every child's book collection.

5 essential black history books

1. "A Kid's Guide to African American History," by Nancy I. Sanders

In this activity book, children will have fun designing an African mask, making a medallion like those worn by early abolitionists, playing the rhyming game "Juba," inventing Brer Rabbit riddles, and creating a unity cup for Kwanzaa. Along the way they will learn about inspiring African American artists, inventors, and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few.

2. "What Color Is Our World?," by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

This is an awesome collection of African American inventors you probably haven't heard of shared in the context of a story about a handy man's conversations with a brother and sister as he works around their house.

3. "It Jes' Happened When Bill Traylor Began To Draw," by Don Tate

This is a children's biography of an ex-slave whose art continues to tell his story.

4. "Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves," Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson 

This is a book about a U.S. Marshal. Death and guns are depicted but in reasonable context. Just FYI. There are lots of cool anecdotes and a glossary in the back.

5. "Nelson Mandela," by Kadir Nelson

Yes, he's not American, but you can't talk about Black History Months or black history in America and not mention Nelson Mandela's influence. In this picture book biography, award-winning author and illustrator Kadir Nelson tells the story of Mandela, a global icon, in poignant free verse and glorious illustrations.

5 essential picture books featuring black children

1. "Please, Puppy, Please!," By Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

You're probably familiar with this super adorable book by Spike Lee, yes that Spike Lee and his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, about two kids' adventures with their new family dog. You're probably also familiar with their picture book Please, Baby, Please following every mom's favorite toddler-rangling moments. If you're not familiar with them, you totally should be.

2. "Flower Garden," by Eve Bunting

Follow the progress of a little girl and her father as they purchase "a garden," and board the bus to carry it home.

3. "Curlilocks and The Three Pink Pandas," by Yolanda King

This one is the age-old tale we all know with a cool and interesting twist! Want to know what happened when her parent's made Curlilocks go back to make amends with the Pink Panda family? The colorful language and creative spin on this story will keep your kids, especially the Curlilocks out there, entertained and will leave them enriched!

4. "These Hands," by Hope Lynne Price

This sweetly simple book follows a cute little girl and her hands through her day from morning until night.

5. "Whose Toes Are Those," by Jabari Asim

This book was given to me as a gift when I had my son. It's been six years now and I still gift this book to many of the new babies in my life. It's a perfect first book for kids.

10 essential chapter book series featuring black children

1. "Sugar Plum Ballerinas," series by Whoopi Goldberg

This six-book series penned by Whoopi Goldberg, yes, that Whoopi Goldberg, follows a different black girl on different journeys and each one is delightful.

2. "Ellray Jakes," series by Sally Warner

Ellray Jakes is not a chicken, is a rock star, walks the plank and more in this cool series for young readers.

3. "Willimena Rules," series by Valerie Wilson Wesley

Willimena is an elementary school student who lives by some very important rules. The books in this Scholastic Book series take young readers on Wilimena's adventures of a very unfortunate nature as she navigates life as a big kid.

4. "Miami Jackson," series by Patricia McKissak

This Stepping Stone book series follows the spirited Miami Jackson through his adventures in elementary school life and quest for a homework and sister-free summer.

5. "Julian," series by Ann Cameron

Julian tells tall tales that get him and his brother Huey into trouble. They have adventures together with Julian's best friend, Gloria and make this one awesome Stepping Stone book series.

6. "Clubhouse Mysteries," series by Sharon M. Draper

Ziggy and his neighborhood friends who nicknamed themselves after a black dinosaur are perpetually on the case--any case, including one that leads them to a mysterious set of stairs that lead to a hidden section of the famous Underground Railroad.

7. "Ruby and the Booker Boys," series by Derrick Barnes

Ruth is a sassy baby sister to three older brothers and she doesn't miss a beat in this Scholastic book series.

8. "Nikki and Deja," series by Keena Ford

Nikki and Deja are third-grade best friends growing up in an inner-city neighborhood. The books are centered around their schooldays, but give poignant, humorous looks into their lives at home.

9. "S.T.A.T. Standing Tall And Talented," series by Amare Stoudemire

This biographical fiction by a top NBA player is full of great stories with lots of basketball action. My son was 5 when we read this first title in the series and he remarked that the boys in this book are "cool" because they call each other "dude" and "man." I liked the way this series shows the dynamics of young male relationships, particularly when one friend in the group has a great, noticeable talent. Very good series.

10. "All Mixed Up Amy Hodgepodge," series by Kim Wayans

Amy Hodgepodge is biracial and was homeschooled until fourth grade. This series starts with her first time going to a real school and her journey begins being doubly different and sticking out like a sore thumb. How does she manage? This book is penned by Kim Wayans, yes, that Kim Wayans, and her husband, inspired by their own biracial child.

Bonus book

"The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby," by George Beard, Harold Hutchins and Dav Pilkey

Because it's just several kinds of awesome. 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Home Girl Blog. It was published on ParentMap in January 2016, and updated in February 2019.

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