February is Black History Month, the perfect time to add to your kids’ knowledge about the contributions and experiences of Black Americans through some great children’s books. You might even learn a few things in the process.
Here are some recommendations for those with pre-schoolers to tweens:
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad may have only been published in 2007, but it is already considered a classic. The tale, about a young slave boy who gains freedom by mailing himself in a crate to Philadelphia, has won numerous awards and praise. Its words, by Elaine Levine, and illustrations, by Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Kadir Nelson, pack an emotional punch. It introduces young children to the cruelty and hardships of slavery without causing bedtime nightmares. (For ages 4 through 9.)
We’ve been big fans of prolific best-selling author Brad Metzler for years. His “Ordinary People Change The World” series of inspiring and fun biographies, while not focused on Black History Month subjects, offers several children’s books that are perfect to share this February or any time of the year. These are I Am Jackie Robinson, I Am Rosa Parks, I Am Martin Luther King Jr., I Am Harriet Tubman, I Am Oprah Winfrey, I Am Muhammad Ali and I Am John Lewis. (For ages 5 through 8.)
Like Metzler’s books, the “A Biography Book for New Readers” series aims to introduce children to inspiring people. Several volumes in this 40-plus book series focus on Black Americans. Yes, you’ll find long-revered civil rights figures such as King, Underground Railroad “conductor” Harriett Tubman and school integration pioneer Ruby Bridges. However, you’ll also find more contemporary heroes such as gymnast Simone Biles, ballerina Misty Copeland, singer Ella Fitzgerald and NASA scientist Katherine Johnson. (For ages 6 through 9.)
So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom may be classified as a “picture book” but its beautiful art by painter/illustrator Daniel Minter and lyrical words by Newbery-winning author Gary D. Schmidt will inspire you and your child. It tells the story of Truth, born into slavery to later be freed and become an important fighter not only for abolition and the rights of Black Americans but also for women’s rights. (For ages 4 through 8.)
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water uses the framing of a school assignment about tracing one’s family roots to go back in time to show African life before enslavers robbed people of their freedom. Co-authors Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Black history articles for The New York Times Magazine that inform this tale, and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson take readers through the generational struggles against slavery, for civil rights and finally, for respect and justice. (For ages 7 through 10)
A two-day massacre in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921 destroyed one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States. But this horrific episode garnered little notice in history until the late 20th century.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre may be a short picture book but it is powerful. Using verse, authors Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper expose readers to a Black community filled with pride taken down in terrifying tragedy. Their 2021 work won many accolades and honors including the 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards for Author and Illustrator. (Ages 8 through 12.)