February is Black History Month, and it’s a great opportunity for families of all races to talk to their children about race, civil rights, and the history of African Americans. I’ve curated a list of children’s books that provide historical context to the history of black people in our country as well as highlighting many of our nation’s black heroes. I’ve listed them in order of maturity, starting with simple picture books for young children going up to chapter books for teens.
If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks In this book a bus does talk, and on her way to school a girl named Marcie learns why Rosa Parks is the mother of the Civil Rights movement. At the end of Marcie’s magical ride, she meets Rosa Parks herself at a birthday party with several distinguished guests. Wait until she tells her class about this! Amazing Grace Grace loves to act out stories. This cute story is about a girl named Grace who desperately wants to play Peter Pan in her school play, but is told she can’t because of her race and gender. It’s a great simple story of rising above prejudice.
The Story Of Ruby Bridges This story follows six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family in 1960 as a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at an all-white school, Ruby faces angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. Ruby’s story of courage, faith, and hope is a power historical lesson. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Told from the perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King’s sister, this picture book biography brings his life and the profound nature of his message to young children through words from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. A Chair for My Mother This is the story of a family pulling together after a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save and save until they can afford to buy one big, comfortable chair that all three of them can enjoy. Rosa This book is an inspiring account of an event that shaped American history, as Rose Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This picture- book tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.
A Kid’s Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities (A Kid’s Guide series) This book covers a wide range of historical African Americans, such as the first man to die in the American Revolution, the inventors of peanut butter and the portable X-ray machine, and the first person to make a wooden clock in this country. It’s a great resource for parents and teachers interested in fostering cultural awareness among children of all races. The book also includes more than 70 hands-on activities, songs, and games that teach kids about the people, experiences, and events that shaped African American history.
Drylongso This is the story of a family suffering through a drought, helped along by the mystical Drylongso. who teaches them the secrets of finding water hidden in the earth.
100 African-Americans Who Shaped American History This resource book offers brief biographies of African American educators, entertainers, inventors, authors, athletes, and others who have made important contributions to American life.
The Gold Cadillac A personal, poignant look at a black child’s first experience with institutional racism, this story follow two siblings as they travel from Ohio to Mississippi. As they travel deeper into the rural South, they encounter suspicion and anger, and for the first time in their lives, the children know what it’s like to feel scared because of the color of their skin
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt This books recounts the story of Clara. a seamstress who dreams of a reunion with her mother, who lives on another plantation. Clara overhears two slaves talking about the Underground Railroad. In a flash of inspiration, Clara sees how she can use the cloth in her scrap bag to make a quilt with a map of the land that will bring freedom.
Through My Eyes This book is a more mature telling of the story of Ruby Bridges. In 1960, surrounded by federal Marshall’s, Ruby walked through a mob of screaming segregationists and into her school.
Sounder follows the faith of a poor African-American boy in the 19th-century South. The boy’s father is a sharecropper, struggling to feed his family in hard times. Night after night, he and his great dog, Sounder, return to the cabin empty-handed. One day, they return home to the smell of ham cooking . . . but after a visit from the sheriff his life takes an unexpected turn.
Let the Circle Be Unbroken Let the Circle Be Unbroken is a story of a small Mississippi town in the 1930s, and the struggles of its black community. Picking up where its precursor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, leaves off, Mildred Taylor recounts the trials of this small community through the characters of the Logan family.
Bud, Not Buddy This story for more mature readers tells the take of 10-year-old Buddy, who decides to go in search of his father.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Another book for more mature readers, this is the story of one African American family fighting to stay together in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass The famous abolitionist provides graphic descriptions of his childhood and harrowing experiences as a slave in this narrative biography. Published in 1845 to address doubts about his origins, it remains a powerful story of this influential man.
Chains (Seeds of America) This book opens on the Revolutionary War, as thirteen-year-old Isabel begins a fight for her own freedom. Promised to be freed upon the death of their owner, she and her sister instead become the property of a cruel couple with no sympahtyl. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to become an instrument in fighting for the revolution. This story illustrates the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual. Do you have any other book recommendations for educating kids about African American history?