What are the Best Kids’ Books for Exploring Black History? A Guide by Age
American and world history is often viewed through a white lens. But that’s not representative of all our experiences. Human history is made richer by including the stories of all people.
Learning to examine history thoroughly while questioning the current narrative is an important skill for children to learn. We can only learn from our past if we know it. We can only build a better future by including everyone. This is why it’s important to tell diverse stories to our children throughout their lives.
The past is messy, and some topics are best tackled when children can fully grasp their nuances and importance. That’s why we’re sharing some excellent Black history books for kids by age and grade. It’s never too early to start dismantling rose-colored history. By following this list, you can ensure your kids learn these important lessons at an age-appropriate time.
It’s time to learn and grow together with some of our favorite Black history books for kids.
Black History Board Books for Babies and Toddlers
Starting as babies, kids should learn lessons about Black history. These board books are a great way to showcase the accomplishments of Black historical figures while diversifying your bookshelf.
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison
This beautifully illustrated board book is based on another of our favorite books featured below — Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
Dream Big, Little One features 18 Black women who have made a difference in our world. From scientists to everyday heroes, your child can learn their names and a bit of their stories. Also be sure to check out Follow Your Dreams, Little One for 18 true stories of Black men who made history.
I Look Up To…Misty Copeland by Anna Membrino and Fatti Burke
This is one book in a series showcasing important women, including Oprah, Serena, and Malala. Your tiny dancer will love hearing the trailblazing story of Misty Copeland. The graphics are bold and attention-grabbing, just like her. Bonus — it includes several inspirational quotes from Misty to keep your little one reaching for the stars.
Who Was Jackie Robinson? By Lisbeth Kaiser and Stanley Chow
The Who Was? series is another popular choice for older kids (we feature one below), and now your baby and toddler can enjoy the learning too. The Who Was? Board Book Series is a great way to introduce your little one to important people in history.
We especially love Jackie Robinson’s story. The book summarizes his life in a beautiful way. And the illustrations and sports in the story will keep your kid engaged and excited to read. It’s a fantastic early introduction to the struggles Black people continue to face every day.
Rosa: My First Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser
This beautiful board book is part of the Little People, BIG DREAMS series, and it’s a great read for your little dreamers. Rosa Parks is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, and her story is told simply, but powerfully, in this book.
Your kid will love the vibrant drawings and the message. Check it out, then explore more of the 99 books in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series for more toddler-friendly biographies.
Illustrated Black History Books for Your Elementary Child
Your early reader can dig into Black history with these favorite, illustrated stories for kindergarten and elementary students.
The Water Princess by Susan Verde
This beautiful, illustrated story is based on the real childhood of African-born model Georgie Badiel. This book shares both the history and ongoing struggles of many people throughout the world.
Princess Gie Gie lives in a beautiful land, but one that requires miles of walking to gather clean water for her family and village. It’s a struggle many kids do not know, and this early exposure to the needs of others can help build a thoughtful and empathetic child. Give it a read to learn a little more about the history and people of Africa.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Ruby Bridges was only six years old when she became a symbol of school desegregation. Your child can read and learn from her inspirational tale in this book that perfectly captures her courage and hope, complete with true-to-life illustrations from George Ford.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Henry’s Freedom Box is a heartbreaking tale of slavery and separation. Henry was born into slavery. After being torn away from his mother and then losing his wife and kids to a slave trade as an adult, he decides to make a drastic change.
The dramatic illustrations in Henry’s tale help bring the story home. As he mails himself to freedom, the illustrations continue his tale, keeping children engaged and curious until the end. It’s a difficult but important read for any family.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Melba Doretta Liston is an icon in the world of jazz. This musically-infused tale shares her love of music, showcasing her talent — talent that transcended the obstacles of race and gender in the early to mid 20th century.
The illustrations are fun and colorful, and the text has an underlying musical feel. If your child loves this story, be sure to also check out Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews for another jazzy Black history story.
The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez
The bright images and rhyming text of this book create the perfect introduction to Black history for kids. Featuring prominent people, places, and events, your child can get a broad overview of the struggles and triumphs of the Black community.
If it feels odd to have your elementary child reading an ABC book, don’t stress — it’s not your typical ABC words. The words are complex and full of meaning. And the book includes more history and information on each word in an appendix.
White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman
This fictional story is an engaging look at segregation. A young Black girl walks into town and drinks from a “Whites Only” fountain. She was wearing white socks, after all. This innocent moment sparks a chain of events that perfectly demonstrates the feelings during this time in history. With beautiful paintings by Tyrone Geter, this short novel is a must-read.
The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt
This book from The Story Of biography series is a full look into the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The reader follows him from childhood into the civil rights leader he became. This early chapter book is easy to read with lots of bonus learning — including a visual timeline and glossary of the more difficult words.
If your kid enjoys this book, you can explore the full 35 book series here to keep the learning going.
Black History Chapter Books for Older Elementary and Middle Schoolers
As your child grows up, there are more stories to share. Some are empowering, some are heartbreaking, but all are important.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This book is full of the accomplishments of Black women. Some were activists, others scientists or artists, but all 40 are amazing. This book details these women’s lives and their importance, giving hope and inspiration to kids, no matter their race or gender.
Like its corresponding board book mentioned above, you can also read Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History (also by Vashti Harrison) for 35 powerful stories of inspiring Back men.
Black Heroes: 51 Inspiring People from Ancient Africa to Modern-Day U.S.A. by Arlisha Norwood
Discover prominent Black heroes throughout history — from Ancient Egypt to modern times — in this interesting read. This is a great introduction to biographies, with each section including more ways to learn and dig deeper into each hero’s rich history. Let your child explore the book and find their favorite historical figures, then follow the author’s suggestions to learn more together.
History Smashers: The Underground Railroad by Kate Messner and Gwendolyn Hooks
The Underground Railroad isn't exactly the feel-good story you remember from history class. In this book from the History Smashers series, kids get to uncover the messy truth of a slave’s path to freedom.
The History Smashers books are written with tweens in mind — utilizing fun break-out sections and comic-style illustrations to keep your child excited while learning some real-life history.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
This picture book features the powerful story of the origin of slavery and the end of freedom for the people taken from Africa. Their story is told in a stirring verse as we follow their travels and endure their heartbreak.
The illustrations are striking and the story is rich. Your child will feel both the despair and hope in this beautifully told story.
Who Was Louis Armstrong? by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Jazz was a big part of American culture in the early 20th century. The music was inventive and fun, perfect for letting loose and telling a story. And Louis Armstrong was one of the jazz greats. In this book, kids can learn about his childhood while discovering the unfair Jim Crow laws of the day. They’ll follow him into his musical adulthood while learning about civil rights.
This is one book in the popular Who Was? series — a biography story series for middle-schoolers. This series features over 200 biographies telling the stories of important figures throughout human history, including the Black history figures Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and more.
Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies by Mireille Harper
Explore the entirety of Black history with the stunning visual timelines in this educational resource. These timelines show how Back culture has been shaped over the years — including the often erased history of prominent Black people and places. It does far more than explore the American history of Black people, diving into Ancient cultures and life in post-colonial Africa. This is the perfect choice for filling in the gaps of their classroom studies.
Best Black History Books for Teens and Adults
Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert
The Tulsa Race Massacre was a dark moment in the history of the United States, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. This nonfiction work by Colbert shares the engaging story of the event — examining how it came to be, details of the massacre, and its legacy.
This was a devastating moment in history, and because of this, it’s rarely discussed. With this book, your teen can fill in the gaps in their education, learning from the past to create a better future.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones
The 1619 Project began as a piece of journalism featured in The New York Times Magazine. And it’s now been expanded in this eye-opening book. It redefines American history around slavery — because there is little of the current American experience that this troubled history hasn’t touched.
This compilation of essays, poetry, and works of fiction exposes the effects of slavery on current racial and social inequities. It’s an important read for every teen and adult.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s poetic memoir is a powerful story all readers should experience. She faces bigotry and prejudice throughout her life but perseveres and continues to grow into her own strong spirit.
Maya Angelou is an accomplished writer and figure in Black history. If you or your teen enjoy this story, be sure to look into her other works, such as Letter to my Daughter — a collection of personal essays written for women.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Before Rosa Parks, a teen named Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus. But her tale is rarely told. Based on her interviews and information from others who knew her, this book tells her story for all to witness. In 1955, her stand for equality was dismissed, but she powered on and was a key witness in the case that struck down segregation laws.
This is a powerful story for any teen (or adult!) to hear. All people have the power to stand up for what’s right. And Claudette’s story brings that to life.
Black History Is Important Every Month of the Year
As these books showcase, Black history is American history. It’s world history. And it’s important every month of the year. We hope you find some great choices to help your kid start or continue their studies.
Do you have a favorite not on our list? Let us know — we’d love to read it and learn with you!