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For acclaimed author Carole Boston Weatherford, researching her recent children’s book “Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre” was a learning experience, as her K-12 schooling never covered it. Weatherford’s stories are “doing double duty,” she told us: teaching her intended audience — children — about the past and also teaching adults in their lives history they may never have learned.
“I think that, historically, we've not been given a full history,” Weatherford said, going on to say that “the more we begin to fill in those gaps, the more we can all have some pride and ownership and realize that this land belongs to all of us.”
Students seem to be enthusiastic about learning Black history: Myron Curtis, a teacher at Broad Run High School in Loudoun County, Va., recently told the Washington Post that there was high interest in his course on African history and diaspora at the school’s curriculum day. “They absolutely want this content,” he said. And reading books that have children tackle “tough topics” is important, Weatherford told us, because it paints a more complete picture of American history.
“If we don't know what made us the people we are as Americans, we can't move forward together,” she told us, “so we need to look at how the past shaped the future, and also how the individual stories of various groups — ethnic groups — intersect and make us all American.”
We combed through children’s books that illuminate the Black experience, explore Black history and portray Black resilience and excellence. Below, we’re sharing those titles popular among a significant number of Goodreads members and their ratings.
‘Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You’ by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Goodreads: 4.49-star average rating, more than 43,000 ratings
An adaptation of the National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning” for children ages 12 and up, this book dives into America’s racist past and present, while also providing action items for those looking to practice antiracism.
‘Ain't Burned All the Bright’ by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.55-star average rating, more than 3,300 ratings
This medley of words and art uses both mediums to show what it means, and how it feels, to not be able to breathe for generations — especially right now.
Goodreads: 4.23-star average rating, more than 133 ratings
Octavia Butler, known for acclaimed novels like “Kindred,” was a science-fiction icon. This biography paints a picture of Butler’s life growing up during the space race, civil rights movement and red scare, and how those experiences molded her into a visionary.
‘Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History’ by Vashti Harrison
Goodreads: 4.6-star average rating, more than 3,300 ratings
This book showcases, through text and illustrations, 40 Black women — including Sojourner Truth, Bessie Coleman, Katherine Johnson, Maya Angelou and others — who have left an indelible mark on society.
‘The 1619 Project: Born on the Water’ by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renee Watson, and Nikkolas Smith
Goodreads: 4.74-star average rating, more than 1,900 ratings
From the New York Times’ acclaimed 1619 Project, this picture book follows a student as she learns about her family history, dating back to her ancestors who were “born on the water” on slave ships in 1619.
‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson
Goodreads: 4.13-star average rating, more than 79,000 ratings
Jacqueline Wilson provides a window into her childhood through verse, sharing her story of growing up during the 1960s and 1970s in both South Carolina and New York — trying to find herself while living in the shadows of Jim Crow and experiencing the burgeoning civil rights movement.
‘Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad’ by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.5-star average rating, more than 15,000 ratings
Henry Brown has always dreamed of freedom, but having been born into slavery and separated from his family multiple times, it felt like just a dream. But then he had an idea: Mail himself in a crate to the north — and to freedom.
‘The Undefeated’ by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.68-star average rating, more than 5,600 ratings
This poem in picture-book form depicts Black life in America, from slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond. It shows the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout history, past and present.
‘Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom’ by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.36-star average rating, more than 5,700 ratings
Harriet Tubman heard these words from God: “I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free,” and soon left her family to escape north to freedom. This book tells the story of her first of 20 trips to the north, the most harrowing journey she faced.
‘Hair Love’ by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.6-star average rating, more than 6,800 ratings
An adaptation of the Academy Award-winning short film, this book tells the story of Zuri and her hair, curls, kinks and all. Her mom usually does Zuri’s hair, but when she’s out of town, it’s up to daddy to make Zuri feel amazing.
‘Baby Young, Gifted, and Black: With a Mirror!’ by Jamia Wilson
Goodreads: 4.43-star average rating, more than 50 ratings
This book for babies introduces them to Black icons like Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Serena Williams and Zadie Smith. At the end, the book has a mirror to show readers that they can one day be among those leaders.
‘Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration’ by Samara Cole Doyon and Kaylani Juanita (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.19-star average rating, more than 920 ratings
This poem in picture book form shows children how to feel comfortable in their own skin, and the joy in finding their sense of self.
‘Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.29-star average rating, more than 13,000 ratings
This biography in picture book form takes young readers through the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from his childhood in the Jim Crow south to his time as a Civil Right activist up to his untimely death. Paired with watercolor and collage art, this book paints a picture of Dr. King’s legacy.
‘Mae Among the Stars’ by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.21-star average rating, more than 1,600 ratings
Based on the life of trailblazing astronaut Mae Jemison, this book shows how her dreams and aspirations, her parents’ encouragement to reach for the stars and her own dedication helped her become the first Black woman in space.
‘Let the Children March’ by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.55-star average rating, more than 1,700 ratings
This book is centered around the children who — after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak — marched in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 to protest segregation.
‘The ABCs of Black History’ by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer (Illustrator)
Goodreads: 4.66-star average rating, more than 560 ratings
This book takes kids through the alphabet with important people, places and historical events for each letter from A to Z.
Goodreads: 4.52-star average rating, more than 100 ratings
This collection of 50 short stories about Black leaders shares positive messages and affirmations with children to help them see the potential within themselves.