It was a Monday and my tummy rumbled against the cool “Miami winter” breeze. Tires screeched to a halt at the top of the driveway. “Pizza’s here!” I shouted. Opening the door, I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. coming from the tin can speakers of a red Trans Am.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain.” How did I not know that the local radio station played Dr. King’s speech? How could I have been so focused on filling my gullet that I had forgotten to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day? I was moved and also a bit ashamed as I took my first bite of cheese pizza that day.
Considering it was the 1980s, I went to a fairly progressive school.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day marked the beginning of a month-long study of civil rights leaders. I poured over profiles of Rosa Parks, W.E.B Du Bois, and Nelson Mandela.
Moved by their stories of struggle and triumph, I thought maybe one day I could make a difference, too. Later, this led to sincere writing campaigns to the United Nations and marches with the Ladies In White. As Dr. King said, “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Looking back on that time now, two things strike me. First, how were two Cuban immigrant parents supposed to adequately honor American Black History Month? (In my estimation, they did an adequate job, all things considered). And secondly, why was my elementary school, progressive as it was, solely focused on Black civil rights, instead of also including systemic racism, black liberation, and black excellence?
What follows is my ‘drop in the ocean’ of work that is still left to be done. And with that, I humbly present a list of children’s books for Black History Month broken down by age group.
Newborn to Age 3
This board book edition of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features eighteen trailblazing women in Black history. From heroes to ordinary women reaching for extraordinary dreams, this book celebrates Black History Month by sharing with children the stories of women who moved past the barriers intended to block their progress.
Little ones will be introduced to one of the most beloved speakers and writers of our time – Maya Angelou. From her traumatic upbringing in Arkansas to finding her voice and becoming a voice for us all, the story of Maya Angelou’s life shows even the youngest child that they are powerful beyond measure.
Ages 3 to 6
Following the school day of a young boy, readers are introduced to the forgotten contributions of Black inventors. The book includes brief biographies of each inventor and engaging activities to bring the story to life.
Little Mae dreams about being an astronaut one day and she has all she needs to make it – a supportive family, huge dreams, and the passion to reach the stars. With dreamy illustrations, it tells the real-life story of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space.
Ages 7 to 10
As the illustrated sister edition to the adult book and New York Times Magazine series by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, this picture book written in verse introduces children to the consequences of slavery and the legacy of Black resistance in the United States. This book follows a young student as she discovers that her ancestors were stolen and brought to America. Through lyrical prose and illustrations by Nikkolas Smith, young readers learn together with the narrator how people “born on the water” survived.
Through an activist’s lens, this book looks back at Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech and how he came to write it with the help of advisors and speechwriters. Readers sit with Dr. King and his trusted team in the Willard Hotel the night before the March on Washington as they find “a place to land” knowing that the words they decide upon are meant to galvanize a nation.
This edition of the acclaimed book and movie by the same name tells the story of four Black female mathematicians at NASA whose work helped propel our nation forward during the great “space race” of the 1960s. The lives of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden come to life for young readers as they experience the struggles and triumphs of these women who shot for the moon.
The life of legendary ballerina Misty Copeland comes to life in this first-person account. Through challenges and adversaries, Copeland defies the odds thanks to her steadfast determination to become the first Black principal ballerina of the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
This Black History Month children’s book list is in no way comprehensive, but I hope you will use it as a starting point to bring Black History Month to life in your home through the lives and works of Black Americans during this month and well beyond.
If you do choose to purchase children’s books from this list, consider buying them from a Black-owned bookshop, so we can boost Black futures during Black History Month. Click here for a list of book purveyors across the country by LitHub.
What are your favorite books by or about Black Americans? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments.