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.
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.
This post is part of a monthlong February CircleAround series tied to Black History Month — the first since the loud calls for social justice this past summer — in which we asked writers to explore the topic of race in America from a variety of perspectives. The murder of George Floyd last summer catalyzed a national reckoning on race, with many questions to be answered. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."