27 Kids' Books for Black History Month — and All Year Long

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In February — Black History Month — we celebrate the culture, accomplishments, and impact of Black people — African Americans, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, and the vast and diverse diaspora. Here, we will share ways to honor Black History Month with young kids — and we start with stories.

Why Are Books So Important?

Children learn about their world through books and stories, each opening up new possibilities. How the characters act, speak, and look gives a child an opportunity to expand and clarify their sense of self and sense of others.

And all kids need two kinds of stories: “mirror stories” to feel seen and “window stories” to open up to and understand others. Mirror stories help children see themselves and their family reflected in their world, making them feel strong, known, and valued. Window stories enable children to learn about others, to develop comfort and curiosity about the differences between us.

Filling Your Bookshelves

As parents, we can curate the stories that shape our children’s minds to make sure that they have both mirrors and windows, and that those stories are authentic to the people they represent. Such work is not always easy, especially when it comes to children’s literature.

Experts have been sounding an alarm for years: There’s a lack of books that feature Black characters and an even greater shortage of children’s books told in own voices. In 2018, fewer than a third of children’s books had a main character of color. Also that year, Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just 7% of new children’s books published, according to bookseller Lee & Low.

The phrase #OwnVoices was coined in 2015 by writer and activist Corinne Duyvis on Twitter, and it refers to books in which “the protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity,” whether that’s a racial, cultural, or gender identity or a disability.

When children of color see themselves represented in books, they learn that people who look like them matter, and that they are seen. When that story is also told by someone who looks like them, they know that the person behind the story is someone like them, too, who has a shared experience. As children’s author Tina Athaide explains, “It is firsthand storytelling.”

It’s also essential that kids who are white read books about and written by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) characters and authors, too. Doing so helps them gain a truly accurate and authentic understanding of identities, perspectives, and experiences that are different from their own. Own Voices narratives help us to “move away from a monolithic idea about a particular cultural group,” Athaide argues.

Finding Quality Stories in Own Voices

As with all things, some books featuring BIPOC characters are better than others. Embrace Race offers a comprehensive guide (find it here) to choosing the best. Find books in which BIPOC are the protagonists or stars of the book, it recommends, and aim for a balanced set of portrayals, so children don’t start to identify one experience as defining BIPOC.

If you’re buying a book, seek out Black-owned bookstores, too. You can find lists on Lit Hub, the African American Literature Book Club, and Bustle.

Here are 27 Own Voices books recommended by the Tinkergarten team, with titles that celebrate the accomplishments of leaders in Black History.

Books for Infants and Toddlers

​B Is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank​

​What Is Light? by Markette Sheppard, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson​

Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham​

So Much! by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury​

​Books for Preschoolers​

​I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison​

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora​

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison​

Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper​

​The Night Is Yours by Abdul-Razak Zachariah, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo​

Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Paul Howard​

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison​

Books for School-Age Kids

I Am Enough by​ Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo​

​Salt in His Shoes by Delores and​ Roslyn Jordan, illustrated by Kadir Nelson​

The Undefeated by Kwame​ Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson​

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez​

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold​

Pecan Pie​ Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall​

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney​

Celebrations of Black History and Culture​

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon​

Her Stories: African American Folktales by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon​

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe​

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt​

​Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison​

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison​

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford​

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson (recommended for ages 8 and up)​

Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This piece was originally published on Tinkergarten.com. To see the original piece, and more great content, visit here.

Tags: Education, Activities for Kids, Black History Month

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