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Celebrating Black History: 5 Books to Share With Your Child

During Black History Month and all year round, help your child explore our country’s history — and the inspiring figures who have shaped it — with these books.

February 10, 2017

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and Black History Month in February, consider these books to help spark learning and discussion with your child. Take a quiet moment to glimpse the youth of Congressman John Lewis tending to his chickens, play with words alongside Harlem Renaissance poets and connect with literacy as a means to freedom with Frederick Douglass.

This roundup is just a small selection of the many superb materials for children that explore black history. Please visit your local library for more suggestions.

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History

Recommended for ages 7+.

Frederick Douglass wrote “once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” This is the overarching message of Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, the biographical picture book written by the late Walter Dean Myers. Based on Douglass’ autobiographies, Myers provides insight into the life of this seminal abolitionist who broke the bonds of slavery for himself and many others.  

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Recommended for ages 9+.

This book powerfully and poetically chronicles the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, who braved violence to exercise the right to vote and devoted her life to civil rights activism. Award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford uses poetry to weave Hamer’s oratory skills, spiritual calling and passion for music into a compelling tapestry of her struggles and triumphs. Experience this story as a picture book or as a DVD for children.

Freedom in Congo Square

Recommended for ages 4+.

Weatherford has written several important historical accounts for children, including Freedom in Congo Square. In what is now the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, some enslaved people were permitted to gather together each week to sing, dance and play music — finding some refuge from the brutal conditions of daily life. Weatherford brings the story of these brief moments of reprieve and community to a young audience in this dynamic picture book.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

Recommended for ages 9+.

Celebrated author and poet Nikki Grimes brings us a stunning collection of poetry and artwork inspired by the creative icons of the Harlem Renaissance in this book. Grimes includes illustrations by some of today’s greatest artists for young people, including E.B. Lewis, Elizabeth Zunon and Javaka Steptoe, paired with her poetry that draws from Langston Hughes, Clara Ann Thompson, Jean Toomer and others. This is a dazzling tribute to the many Harlem Renaissance visionaries who continue to energize artists and writers today. 

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

Recommended for ages 7+.

Many are familiar with the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that declared separate schools unequal. Yet, a century before this case made it to the Supreme Court, a young girl in Boston named Sarah Roberts challenged the courts on the very same basis and was denied by the judge. In The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, author Susan E. Goodman and illustrator E.B. Lewis illuminate this bold stride that brought the country closer to integration. 

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis

Recommended for ages 5+.

Before he became a Civil Rights luminary and Georgia congressman, John Lewis was a boy on a farm tending to his family’s flock of chickens. In Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, readers see the beginnings of the inspiring speaker, dedicated champion and passionate leader emerge in even the simplest of a young boy’s chores. Author Jabari Asim and illustrator E.B. Lewis collaborate to create bright prose and sun-dappled illustrations that capture the sweet idealism of a child yearning for change.  

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Recommended for ages 6+.

Known for his colorful, collage-style painting, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s passion for art was cultivated by his mother from a very young age. She encouraged him to see art everywhere, from his favorite paintings hanging in the art museum to the “messy patchwork of the city.” Acclaimed author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe brings us Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the gorgeous, 2017 Caldecott Medal winning story of Basquiat’s youth.