Children's books to celebrate Black History Month

Seira Wilson on February 05, 2020
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Every February we celebrate African American history, and I write a post just like this one. As I sat down to choose which new children's books to feature this year I was struck by all the choices I have before me--more than ever before.  And this makes me incredibly happy.

Just two weeks ago the American Library Association chose the winning and honor books for the biggest awards in children's literature and the book that took home multiple prizes is one that goes right to the top of this list: Kwame Alexander's The Undefeated. A poem, rendered in picture book form and illustrated by the award-winning artist Kadir Nelson, The Undefeated is a perfect example of the history and legacy we are celebrating right now.

In the last year I've read a multitude of kids' books about African American inventors, writers, artists, astronauts, scientists, politicians, and activists--I love that publishing is finally bringing the full scope of history forward and introducing young people to the diversity that has shaped our world and continues to do so.  The next generation will be better for knowing these incredible African American pioneers; they are an inspiration to us all.

Below are a half-a-dozen books that have come out in the last year that offer a small representation of the wonderful books to share with children this month.


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The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

This gorgeous and moving picture book created by the dream team of author Kwame Alexander and illustrator Kadir Nelson was one of our editors' picks for the best children's books of 2019 and this year was awarded the 2020 Caldecott Medal, a 2020 Newbery Honor, and the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator award.  It's a poem and a history and an inspiration.

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Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

Okay, so this came out in late 2018, but I can't help it: Dream Big, Little One is still a favorite that I love to recommend.  This board book edition of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features eighteen trailblazing African American women including astronaut Mae Jemison, journalist Gwen Ifill (now memorialized on a U.S. stamp!), and sculptor Augusta Savage. The women here touch every part of American life and here Harrison puts them in front of the youngest readers. 

*Also check out Harrison's newest title, Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History a terrific look at dreamers and leaders, many of whom have not yet been widely recognized.

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Muhammad Ali by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara

A new addition to the Little People, BIG DREAMS series, this picture book biography shares the inspiring story of Muhammad Ali with the K-Gr 2 set.  Vegara captures Ali's drive, skill, and dedication to fighting not just in the ring, but out in the world as a civil rights activist--something he continued to do long after he retired from his boxing career.  Fun, quirky, illustrations accompany the text.

*also of note:  Little People, BIG DREAMS Martin Luther King Jr. which just released last month.

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Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Hudson

More than fifty African American women who paved the way for others and imprinted their names into history. An illustrated biography for ages 8-12, in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Each woman is featured in an illustration accompanied by basic info on hometown, date of birth/death (if applicable), and a quote that leads into the story of how they become the first... Comprehensive, engaging, and a fascinating and important reflection of these women in history.

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Thurgood by Jonah Winter

Well before he became the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was nicknamed Mr. Civil Rights and it suited him well.  An icon of the movement, Marshall fought tirelessly to change laws and lives, including the ground-breaking case Brown v Board of Education.  All this and more is covered in a gorgeous and accessible picture book that brings Marshall's story and legacy to life. Illustrated by Brian Collier, recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King and Caldecott awards, written for ages 5-9.


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Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace by Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace

The story of the African-American troops who served in the U.S. military is an important part of our history, and Ashley Bryan's book for ages 10 and up is a welcome and powerful addition to the story. Bryan was drafted at the age of eighteen and fought in World War II as a soldier in the segregated U.S. army.  Bryan endured horrific conditions and discrimination not from the Nazi's but by his own nation.  Yet, he found hope and light through art and the kindness of a few, and he survived.  Diary entries, letters, and previously unseen art make this memoir a marvel of history crafted by the award-winning artist who lived it.


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