Black History Month is the perfect time to teach our children that American history belongs to all of us. Here are our picks of excellent illustrated books that highlight African-American lives.
As Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Lee & Low Books, 2013)
Based on a true story, this book features a 14-year-old boy who supports the civil rights movement by typing his father’s letters of protest against racial injustice. His skill places him in a pivotal role in desegregating a North Carolina high school.
Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story, by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial Books, 1998)
One out of three cowboys was a man of color, and this story is based on the life of a real black cowboy herding wild mustangs on the western plains.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement, by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raúl Colón (Dragonfly Books, 2013)
The daughter of activist Andrew Young draws an intimate portrait of “Uncle Martin” and the men and women of her “civil rights family” through her childhood memories of the movement and her mother’s macaroni and cheese.
Delivering Justice: W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights, by Jim Haskins, illustrated by Benny Andrews (Candlewick Press, 2005)
The story of the NAACP’s W.W. Law, the postman who led the nonviolent protests that desegregrated Savannah, Georgia, in 1961.
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (Dial Books, 2005)
A young girl witnesses history being made during the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.
*Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (Atheneum, 2001)
How do children make sense of the race hatred stirred up in the South in the 1960s? In this touching story, two best friends, one white and one black, face the problem by staying true to their friendship.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, by Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Random House, 2012)
This lively book follows the rise of Florence Mills, the beloved musical star of the 1920s who championed black music and performers even as she built her brilliant international career.
*Going North, by Janice Harrington; illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
A poetic, stunningly illustrated story of a family leaving the Jim Crow South of the 1960s and traveling toward the hope of better jobs and a better life in Chicago.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray, 2011)
A beautifully illustrated recounting of history by an African-American matriarch, encompassing the life of her African-born grandfather to her vote for the first black President.
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low Books, 2012)
The bittersweet story of Bill Traylor, a sharecropper who was born a slave. He began to draw at the age of 85, and today he is considered one of the foremost American folk artists.
John Henry: An American Legend, by Ezra Jack Keats (Pantheon, 1965)
The mythic figure of John Henry is believed by many to have actually lived. In Keats’s powerfully illustrated rendition, the famed “steel-drivin’ man” pits himself against the machine that is threatening the jobs of his fellow railroad men.
March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, by Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd (Scholastic, 2008)
The older sister of Martin Luther King, Jr., offers a unique perspective on the 1963 March on Washington as she remembers her brother as a boy and as a leader.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song, by Tonya Cherie Hegamin, illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Little, Brown, 2013)
The legacies of Dr. King and the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson are intertwined, as theirs were the epic voices of the 1963 March on Washington. The story of their lives and friendship also shows how the arts inspire and narrate social change.
*Most Loved in All the World, by Tonya Cherie Hegamin, illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)
A deeply moving story of the Underground Railroad, from the perspective of a young girl whose mother sends her northward with a quilt to guide her toward Freedom and to remind her that she is the “most loved in all the world.”
Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Boyds Mills Press, 2012)
The inspiring journey of this natural athlete from the rural South to the 1948 London Olympics, where she was the first African-American woman to win the gold.
The School Is Not White!: A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Curtis James (StarWalk Kids Media, 2014)
How the Carter family desegregated a Mississippi high school in 1965: with faith, determination and the courage to show up every single day.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2008)
This gorgeous book tells the story of the Negro Leagues, which rivaled the best white teams, and how Major League Baseball was integrated.
White Socks Only, by Evelyn Coleman, illustrated by Tyrone Geter (Albert Whitman & Company, 1996)
A heartwarming story of a young girl who innocently defies the “whites-only” rule, and with the help of her neighbors, succeeds in breaking it for good.