Black history is filled with stories of courage, strength, and determination. The picture books below provide the perfect way to explore these important stories with your children.
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Counting on Katherine
by Helaine Becker
There’s nothing that Katherine loves more than working with numbers. In fact, Katherine’s mathematical genius takes her all the way to NASA where her skill helps send astronauts around the earth and to the moon! But when a life or death problem comes her way, can Katherine find the solution that could save lives?
Follow the Drinking Gourd
by Jeanette Winter
It was just a simple song, but it was part of Peg Leg Joe’s plan. When the brave runaway slaves hear Joe’s song—follow the drinking gourd, for the old man is a-waiting to carry you to freedom—they look to the stars, and the Big Dipper leads them along. Jeanette Winter’s folksy style is the perfect backdrop for this stirring tale.
Freedom in Congo Square
by Carol Boston Weatherford
Congo Square is just a plain field on the outskirts of town, but for half a day each week, there is Freedom in Congo Square. Every Sunday, the slaves gather to sing, dance, and share life together. It is a weekly taste of freedom in a life otherwise filled with oppression, sorrow, and pain. Congo Square is freedom’s heart.
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
When freedom came to the slaves, there was much to celebrate. But for Lizzie, the most exciting thing about her family’s newfound freedom was that now she could go to school. And although there was still much danger for the freed slaves, Lizzie tries to hold onto hope and make the most of her opportunity to learn.
by Phil Bildner
Everyone knows Marvelous Cornelius! Not only does he keep the streets of New Orleans neat and clean, he keeps everyone entertained with his singing and dancing while he works. Cornelius loves his city and takes pride in keeping it beautiful, but what will happen to Cornelius and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hits?
Henry’s Freedom Box
by Kadir Nelson
Exquisite paintings accompany the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a courageous young slave who wants nothing more than to live free. When his wife and children are sold at the slave market, Henry knows he has nothing to lose, so he seals himself inside a box and has the box mailed to Philadelphia … and to a life of freedom.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
David, Joseph, Franklin, and Ezell sit quiet and still, their hearts full of hope. Sitting at the “Whites Only” lunch counter with growling stomachs and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ringing in their ears, the four friends wait to be served. They know they have to meet hate with love, and so they sit and wait for what they know is right.
Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Amid the darkness of slavery, a light burns brightly in the hearts of the slaves: it is the desire to read. But because reading is forbidden, the slaves are forced to learn in secret—and at great personal risk. Watercolor illustrations create the perfect canvas for a truly inspiring story of courage and determination.
Martin & Mahalia:
His Words, Her Song
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Martin preaches and Mahalia sings. And they both inspire others—Martin with his message and Mahalia with her song. But during the days of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin and Mahalia come together and turn up the volume on their message. Together, they lead their people toward the dream they share.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Doreen Rappaport
With big, breathtaking illustrations, Martin’s Big Words offers a simple yet profound look at a preacher’s son who becomes a preacher. Martin goes wherever people need him. He walks with them and talks with them and sings with them and prays with them. And as people listen to Martin’s words, change comes.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
by Carole Boston Weatherford
Just as Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, so Harriet Tubman became a savior to her people. After escaping her own life in chains, Harriet knows that God is calling her to lead others to freedom. Poignant artwork illustrates the story of Harriet’s life of unwavering faith, perseverance, and strength.
Like everywhere in the 1960s South, there were invisible lines dividing Huntsville, Alabama. For decades, the lines had separated black and white with a “that’s just the way it is” attitude. But change is coming. And when it comes, thanks to the creativity and courage of the people of Huntsville, change comes peacefully.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown
A giant trombone may seem an unlikely instrument choice for a little girl, but Melba Doretta Liston is determined to learn how to play! And once she learns to play, the world had better watch out, because Little Melba is destined to become one of the best trombone players anyone has ever seen—or heard!
Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend
by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
The old mule looked ordinary as he chomped his collard greens, but Alex is about to discover that Belle is anything but ordinary. Listen in as Miz Pettway recounts the story of a town determined to vote, a visit from a bold leader, and a very special mission for Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend.
Dream Big, Little One
by Vashti Harrison
The little ones in this charmingly illustrated book grew up to be some of America’s biggest and brightest stars. They were trailblazers who changed our world. They were courageous women who dreamed big things and did even bigger things. And they will encourage your little one to dream big, too!
I Am Rosa Parks
by Brad Metzer
Rosa Parks was always brave. Even as a child, she had the courage to stand up for herself when she was treated unfairly. Then one day many years later, Rosa sits on a bus and refuses to give up her seat. Her act of courage sparks a movement that changes everything—not just for Rosa, but for black Americans everywhere.
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop
by Margaree King Mitchell
Life wasn’t easy for anyone in the deep South in the 1920s, but for Sarah Jean’s Uncle Jed, it seems just a little bit harder. From Sarah Jean’s surgery to the Great Depression, setback after setback keep him from his lifelong dream of owning his own barbershop. Even so, Uncle Jed never stops dreaming and never gives up.
by Shane V. Evans
The 1960s were a time of change in America. The bells of freedom were beginning to ring as black Americans stood up for their civil rights and finally began to be heard. But their collective voice was never louder than it was on August 28, 1963, when more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. to march for freedom.
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville
by Pat Zietlow Miller
Alta can run! She’s the quickest kid in Clarksville … that is, until a new girl moves in and tries to steal Alta’s title. Maybe the two fastest girls in town can find common ground when Olympic runner Wilma Rudolf returns to Clarksville. After all, there’s no disputing that Wilma is really the fastest girl in town!
Ellington Was Not a Street
by Ntozake Shange
This is the story of tall men. Of great men. Of men who were giants in the eyes of the little girl who looked up to them and knew that the world would be different because of them. Told in rich poetic verse, Ellington Was Not a Street is a tribute to a dozen men who made a difference in a world that was not always kind to them.
by Deborah Wiles
Joe and John Henry are best friends. Like most boys, they love to shoot marbles, eat ice pops, and swim in the creek. But they can’t swim together in the town pool because John Henry’s skin is the wrong color. In the summer of 1964, though, the Civil Rights Act brings a glimmer of hope (and deep disappointment) to the boys’ summer.
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
When Duke Ellington heard the exciting sounds of jazz for the first time, he knew he had found his calling. This vibrant picture book weaves together a lyrical blend of scratchboard illustrations and poetic prose that recounts the fascinating story of a true musical legend.
Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream
by Deloris Jordan
Before he was a world-famous basketball player, Michael Jordan was a boy who feared he would never be tall enough for the sport he loved. He just couldn’t compete with the taller boys on the court. But then Michael’s parents help him learn what it really takes to become a great basketball player.
All Different Now: Juneteenth, The First Day of Freedom
by Angel Johnson
As the sun rose over the Texas cotton fields on June 19, 1865, “… nobody knew that soon, all would be different.” Although President Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation months before, it wasn’t until that first “Juneteenth” that the slaves finally learned that they were indeed free.
Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad
by Pamela Duncan Edwards
“The Barefoot”—just one more in a too-long line of runaway slaves—makes his way silently along a dark path to freedom. But in this heartwarming story of courage, the Barefoot is helped along by some unexpected protectors. This masterfully told story draws readers into the darkness, the fear, and finally … the freedom!
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
by Laban Carrick Hill
Have you ever heard about how hip-hop and breakdancing got their start? This is the story of DJ Kool Herc, an inspiring and innovative disc jockey who discovers a way to turn the space between the verses of songs into breaks for dancing! Soon everyone is clamoring for more—and an exciting new dance craze is born!
Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace
Ernie’s passion has always been drawing and painting, but as he grows older, it becomes increasingly clear that his destiny lies on the football field. Although Ernie is good at the game, it just doesn’t excite him the way painting does. But when Ernie finds a way to combine art and football, it may be the ticket to his dreams.
Mae Among the Stars
by Roda Ahmed
Mae Jamison is a little girl with a gigantic dream: to see Earth from outer space. But to do that, Mae will have to become an astronaut. There are lots of obstacles between Mae and the stars—even discouragement from her teacher. Will Mae be able to prove that her dreams can become a reality?
Would you like to read some of my favorite black history picture books with your children? Click to download our list to take to your local library.
Looking for MORE books? You can find more great library lists here!
Do you have a favorite black history picture book? Please share it in the comments below and I’ll add it to our Readers’ Picks box!