I was a biracial child in the 1980s. So, growing up, there weren’t a lot of picture books that had people who looked like me. I think my parents realized this early on and tried to make up for it the best they could. Consequently, most of the books I remember having were The Berenstain Bears. Which isn’t to say that Black children’s books couldn’t be found. It just took a lot of work to find them.
Happily, that isn’t the case today. There are infinitely more options for children of color. Book Riot has even showcased articles about this, focusing on older readers, as well as books to read to celebrate Black History Month. This list of Black children’s books by Black authors are ones which you may want to get for the kiddos in your life. This is a mix of current and older titles.
As a call out, some of the books below will feature biracial children. Nowadays, most places will allow you to check more than one when it comes to your race. I can and do proudly proclaim I am biracial or ‘mixed’. However, this was not always the case, though, even for me. In the Southern states, the mindset was one drop meant you were considered Black. As a result, I had to check only that through all my public school years. I am sure that is the case even now in some locations. So, some of the books I mention will include biracial children so that they too can see someone like them in the pictures they look at.
The Best Black Children’s Books
1. Lullaby (for a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Taken from the poem by Langston Hughes and beautifully illustrated by Qualls, this book is all about the love between an African American mother and her baby. A good first book for mothers to read to their children, since it is artistically illustrates all the types of loving tender maternal moments.
2. Brown Boy Joy by Dr. Thomishia Booker
An adorable little picture book about all the things that brown boys love. This would be perfect for toddlers and beginning readers with the awesome illustrations and a delightful rhyming scheme.
3. Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood, Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Imani is a young Maasai girl who has big dreams to touch the moon. She will not be deterred from her goal either, no matter how much teasing she has to face from those around her. This sounds like a delightful little book about never giving up on your dreams, no matter what.
4. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison and Kwesi Johnson
Two picture books that chronicle some of the exceptional people in Black history. These books are sure to be a welcome addition to any child’s library. They will also serve as inspirations for children to know that they can do anything they set their mind to, no matter what challenges they may face in life.
5. Hair Love by Mathew A. Cherry, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
This book recently gained a lot of popularity due to the short film that was made about it, and with good reason. It is a testament to not only the love between a father and his daughter, but also for little girls to love their natural hair. Plus, the lengths you can see the father go to to try to tame his daughter’s hair is beyond endearing. This one is a winner all around.
6. Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Centered around Arturo Schomburg, this book tells the story about how his collection of books, letter, music, and art found its way to becoming a collection at the New York Public Library. What began as a cornerstone in a “new Negro Collection” is now known as the world famous Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This is sure to delight parents and children alike with its illustration of the rich history as well as showcasing all the contributions Black people have made to all those fields.
7. Miami Jackson Gets It Straight by Patricia and Frederick McKissack, Illustrated by Michael Chesworth
The titular character in this early reader novel can’t wait for summer to start. Between having to keep secrets from his friend, his teacher leaving, and constant run-ins with his arch-nemesis, Miami feels like he is going through the longest school week ever! This book should be a great starter chapter book for early readers, and is chock full of humor that they can relate to.
8. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
I am fairly confident a good number of y’all reading this article just experienced a heady dose of nostalgia looking at that title. Inspired by an African folktale, this story is about Mufaro and his two daughters. There is beautiful but selfish Manyara and kind Nyasha. Then the king calls for an audience with the family to pick his new queen. But as with other competitions, there can only be one, so which daughter will he choose? Not only is this a wonderful story, but the illustrations match perfectly. There is a reason this book is still read today, even over 20 years later.
9. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate
Moving from North Carolina to New York City to stay with her aunt, multi-talented Celeste experiences all aspects of the Harlem Resistance. Not happy with this change, Celeste finds herself at a crossroads between and the choice will change her forever.
10. The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons are headed to Birmingham to drop off 13-year-old Byron, who has been classified as a delinquent. The hope is that his Grandmother can help get him back on the right path. And they’re there when their Grandmother’s church blows up. Taking place at the time of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, this book is a different view on a tragedy that shook the entire nation.
11. Firebird by Misty Copeland, Illustrated by Christopher Myers
Penned by the first African American lead ballerina in the American Ballet Theater, this story is about a girl who doubts her own ability to be as renowned as Misty is. Throughout the book, Misty encourages her to reach new heights by having faith in herself so that she can reach her full potential.
12. Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family by Elizabeth Zunon
This story takes place while a father and daughter are baking her birthday cake. He tells her the story of her Grandpa Cacao. He was a farmer in the Ivory Coast in West Africa for cacao. The father goes on to explain the importance of his job. Without farmers like her Grandpa, there would be no chocolate for the world to enjoy. After the cake is done, the little girl is ready to eat. However, she has one more birthday present waiting for her at the front door.
13. Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Sulwe is a dark-skinned little girl who yearns to be beautiful like her lighter sisters. One night she takes a magical journey into the night sky. This helps her to see that she is also beautiful, in a different way. This book is a must for all children so that they too can see how we all are uniquely beautiful.
14. Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
This is an allegorical tale which also takes place during the Harlem Renaissance in 1939. It is a picturesque aerial journey that highlights symbolic and historical references in African American culture. This is a wonderful tale that will delight children and adults alike and should be considered a classic in children’s literature.
15. Happy to Be Nappy by bell hooks, Illustrated by Chris Raschka
This is available as a board picture book as well as a regular one. It’s perfect for younger readers and it is all about the hair love. This is exceedingly important for young Black girls to see, since most go through some type of hair identity crisis during their lives. So it’s nice to know that no matter what we should be proud of our hair, no matter the type.
16. My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, Illustrated by and Shane Evans
This book is great on so many levels and it teaches about autism in a way that children can understand. It also shows them how to be loving and understanding to people in their family who are autistic. It highlights that this something that anyone, regardless of color, can have. I feel this is especially important that this is read to Black children. There is still so much of a stigma surrounding autism and this can help overcome that obstacle.
17. Mixed Me by Taye Diggs, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
This book is about Mike, who is the product of an interracial marriage. There is a poem in there that says that his parents got him just right which just warms up my heart on so many levels. I love that books like this exist now and help make it easier for children of any type of interracial relationship to know that they are perfect the way they are.
18. Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller
If I had a dollar for every time people wanted to touch my hair growing up…hell, if I had a dollar for every time someone wanted to do it now! I wish I had this book when I was a little girl. I went through this same thing, only I never spoke up like Aria does. This book that teaches not only about hair love but setting boundaries. It is sure to be a great addition for any library.
19. Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson, Illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell
This book has a simple synopsis of a young boy writing four poems based on his family experiences, but the picture on the cover evokes so many warm feelings. Again highlighting a loving relationship between a father and his child, this one should help light up your library with joy and happiness.
Honorable Mention: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Keats was the child of Polish Jewish immigrants, but this is still a pinnacle book in children’s literature. Front and center in the story is a young African American boy as as he wanders through his city on the titular snow day.
Hopefully these Black children’s books help to give a good springboard for adding more diversity and inclusion into your child’s library. Maybe you even found one or two for your own!!
Editor’s Note: Author Vera B. Williams was previously misidentified as Black in this post. Her bookA Chair for My Mother has been removed.