In honor of Black History Month, here are some books we love, written by Black authors and featuring Black characters in happy, present-day storylines. When thinking about stories to share with your family, keep these tips in mind:
Stay positive. Since young children learn by generalizing, caregivers can help children form positive generalizations by flooding them with positive and relatable exposures to different identities.
Prioritize books by Black authors and illustrators. This helps incentivize publishers to commission more Black creators in future, helping address longstanding racial disparities in publishing. Plus, when authors and illustrators create from their authentic lived experience, their books are less likely to rely on stereotypes.
Support Black-owned bookstores when choosing books. To explore different titles, the YouTube channel Sankofa Read Aloud features hundreds of books read aloud, making it easy to find something your child will enjoy!
Books for babies ages 0 to 2
For babies and toddlers, look for books that present Black characters in positive, relatable storylines, such as playing with family and friends. Here are some titles we love:
‘Every Little Thing’ by Cedella Marley: based on Bob Marley’s classic song, with glowing illustrations of a loving family learning together.
‘Homemade Love’ by bell hooks: a sweet exploration of a supportive family trio.
‘I Got the School Spirit’ by Connie Schofield-Morrison: a happy child succeeds in school.
‘I Promise’ by LeBron James: an inspiring pledge to excellence, with lovely artwork.
‘ABC I Love Me’ by Miriam Muhammad: sweet ABCs for healthy self-esteem.
‘I Got the Rhythm’ by Connie Schofield-Morrison: a poem about enjoying the fun sounds of the city.
‘Whose Toes Are Those?’ by Jabari Asim: a sweet rhyme about a little girl’s toes.
‘Ta-Da!’ by Kathly Ellen Davis: best friends learn to play cooperatively, with expressive illustrations. Lots of fun to read aloud.
‘Please, Baby, Please’ by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee: a toddler becomes independent, with simple words and rich, evocative and funny artwork.
Books for preschoolers ages 3 to 5
When reading with preschoolers, spend extra time discussing the illustrations. Help your child decode the characters’ body language, emotions, and needs, since discussing emotions and fairness helps children relate to other people with greater empathy.
When discussing body language and emotions, you might say:
- ‘What do you think this person is feeling?’
- ‘She’s frowning, I wonder if she feels frustrated!’
- ‘Why does she feel that way?’
- ‘What could she do to solve her problem?’
Draw attention to fairness by saying:
- ‘Was it fair that this character wouldn’t share?’
- ‘What could this character say to help solve this problem?’
- ‘He could say, I don’t think this is fair!’
- ‘They could say, Let’s play fair and give everyone a turn.’
These kinds of social scripts help give children the words and confidence to advocate for themselves and each other—an early toolkit to help them become better playmates to others around them.
Flood children with hundreds of positive stories:
Continue to flood preschool-age children with hundreds of positive stories about Black characters in relatable storylines, since children are still constructing generalizations to make sense of the world. Here are some titles we love:
‘Baby Boy, What Will You Be?’ by Terquoia Byrne: lovely dreams for a baby’s future, without gender stereotypes and with language rich enough for preschoolers.
‘I Am Perfectly Designed’ by Karamo Brown: a luminous exploration of love between a real life father & child.
‘I Got the School Spirit’ by Connie Schofield-Morrison: a happy child succeeds in school, with energy and passion.
‘The King of Kindergarten’ by Derrick Barnes: a loving parent inspires her son to succeed in school with grace and courage.
‘A Night Out With Mama’ by Quvenzhané Wallis: Wallis, the youngest-ever Oscar nominee, reflects on the big night: connecting with her mother was the best part.
‘Mommy’s Khimar’ by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: an imaginative little girl tries on her mother’s khimar (sometimes called a hijab) while playing with family members at home and friends at the mosque. A gentle introduction to religious tolerance in a sweet, everyday story.
‘Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea’ by Meena Harris: the true story of little Kamala Harris and Maya Harris rallying their neighbors to create a community playground.
‘I Promise’ by LeBron James: an inspiring pledge to excellence, with beautiful artwork.
‘Full, Full, Full of Love’ by Trish Cooke: a child waits patiently for a delicious family dinner at Grannie’s.
‘Cece Loves Science’ by Vashti Harrison: a curious girl experiments to see if dogs eat vegetables.
‘The Low-Down, Bad-Day Blues’ by Derrick Barnes: a little boy learns to turn a bad day around.
‘The Grandad Tree’ by Trish Cooke: a gentle, sensitive, non-religious book about the death of a grandparent.
For older children ages 6 to 8
Be mindful of intensity. With older children, families can sensitively discuss modern-day racism and historical racism – while always being mindful and age-appropriate about violence.
Share more than trauma stories. It’s important not to only present Blackness linked to trauma, trouble, or racism. Continue to present enjoyable books about Black characters engaged in pleasant, relatable situations. Here are some titles we love:
‘Sisters & Champions’ by Howard Bryant: the inspiring origin story of Serena and Venus Williams—encouraging for any child who’s practicing a skill.
‘Just Like Me’ by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Lovely poems about modern children, with gorgeous illustrations.
‘A Caribbean Dozen’ edited by Agard/Nichols: Fun, short, rhythmic poems by Caribbean Poets.
‘Donovan’s Word Jar’ by Monalisa Degross: in this early chapter book, Donovan savors every new word—until his collection starts to run out of space.
‘The Day You Begin’ by Jacqueline Woodson: a sweet story about the many ways that children might feel different, and the relief of finding common ground with others.
Most importantly, be mindful of the big picture that’s painted by the stories your child encounters in their books and media. Blackness is complex and vibrant, and should not be reduced to a single story of constant struggle; make sure to share hundreds of stories that delve into Black peace, Black joy, and Black excellence!
For more tips on how to observe Black History Month with your child, check out this post.
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