Diversity in children’s books is extremely important, yet it can be difficult to find picture books that feature African American characters. To celebrate Black History Month and encourage reading more diverse books, I thought I’d share 10 of our favorite kid’s books that star black children.
As the mom of two girls, it’s incredibly important to me that my daughters are exposed to books with lots of strong, fierce female characters. While I have no problem with pretty, pretty princesses, I also want my daughters to read stories filled with determined girls building and getting dirty and not ticking off all of the stereotypically “female” boxes.
Multi-dimensional, diverse characters are so important in children’s literature. Kids need to see depictions of children that are just like them doing a wide range of things. They also need to see stories of children who are not just like them. It helps build empathy and a connection between people who are different from them.
Did you know that a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that only about 12% of children’s books published in 2016 star black characters? If you regularly read children’s books, that’s probably not so surprising—but it’s definitely unacceptable.
Since February is Black History Month, I thought now would be as good a time as any to feature a few of our favorite books that star African American children. Please note that these are not (with the exception of one) about historical figures (for a great list of those check out the Brightly article 22 Books That Celebrate Lesser-Known African Americans and Their Contributions to History). Instead, these books star highly relatable girls and boys that your kids will love.
Celebrating Diversity – 10 Great Picture Books That Star African American Children
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Always-curious Ada learns that sometimes questions lead to even more questions as she tries to understand how the world works. Sometimes all of her questions and experiments get her into trouble, but when her family supports her, she thrives. With lessons of perseverance and problem solving, this book is inspiring for future scientists and quirky kids alike!
Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser
I’ve mentioned this before, but my youngest really loves Rosa Parks. She wants to read each and every book about the woman that we see and wonders why her birthday isn’t a national holiday. She is obsessed. This book is the best one for her age range (she’ll be seven next month) that we’ve come across. The illustrations are fantastic and the story starts with Rosa as a young child, making her a character that’s instantly easy to relate to. Her story is told simply and with just the right amount of detail. It’s a great way to dip a child’s toes into biographies.
Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats
This is one of Ellie’s all-time favorite books. It’s the simple and classic story of a little boy enjoying a magical snow day in a big city. The snow has totally transformed the boy’s neighborhood and every little thing about it—from his footprints to the crunching sound it makes—fills him with wonder.
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck
Sophia really wants a giraffe for her birthday. She just has a few problems: the members of her family who don’t think it’s such a good idea. Persistent as can be, Sophia creates different arguments, presentations and pie charts for each member of her family to make her case. The illustrations are pretty and playful and the story is a fun lesson in creativity and critical thinking.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
When Grace sees a poster with all of the US presidents hanging in her classroom, she has one question: where are all the women? When her teacher explains that there have been no women presidents, Grace quickly decides that she wants to be president. Her teacher holds a mock election and Grace runs against Thomas, a smart, popular, and confident boy who quickly realizes there are more boys than girls in their grade—and decides that means he doesn’t need to put any effort into it. Grace works hard, but will it be enough?
This book does an excellent job of explaining the electoral college to kids (and adults!) and also gives a great look into campaigning and the whole election process. Grace is strong and determined and a great role model. I think you’ll love her!
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
This book is a really sweet depiction of the intersection of fear and excitement. Jabari just passed his swimming test and is ready to jump off the diving board. It “looks easy,” but Jabari keeps finding reasons to put it off. His dad patiently and lovingly encourages Jabari until the determined little guy goes for it. It’s a gorgeously illustrated book that does a really good job of showing a boy facing his fears.
Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn
This book is part of a series that is perfect for the littlest readers. Lola loves to go to the library with her dad on Saturdays. They take home a big stack of books and each night they read a new story. The next day, Lola acts out what they read. She’s a princess, a pilot, a tiger and more. Simple and with cute illustrations, this one is sure to become a favorite.
Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This sweet story is about a girl and her grandmother bonding over the grandma’s treasure-filled purse. With a mirror, lipstick, earrings, memories and a little something special for her granddaughter, Mimi’s purse is filled with the things that make Mimi unique. Super sweet and with pretty and playful illustrations, this story works for littles as well as elementary school-aged kids.
Rain! by Linda Ashman
This story starts with side-by-side depictions of an excited little boy and a grumpy old man who have two completely different reactions to the fact that it’s raining. The boy bounces around getting ready to go out, while the man finds fault in everything as he does the same. They cross paths in a cafe, where the man becomes angry when the boy bumps into him. In the end, the boy’s enthusiasm rubs off on the old man and turns his day around.
Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates
Lola’s hair is big. It’s so big, it blocks the view of anyone who sits behind her and it makes her easy to find in a crowd. But rather than focus on anything negative, Lola tells everyone who will listen how much she loves her hair. It’s big, it’s unique, and it’s beautiful. This book is great for kids who are self-conscious or who need a boost of confidence. It lets them know that it’s ok not to look like everyone else at school—different doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful.