It’s important that we read Black History books with our kids.
In fact, it’s essential that we read history books that include stories about our own ethnic group, as well as stories about ethnic groups that are different from our own. Why is it so important? First, we need to help our kids identify with their own special culture, heritage, and history. But it’s also vital to help our kids learn to relate to others who are from different ethnic groups. And reading excellent literature is one of the best ways to teach and reinforce that we have more in common with others than we might think. So take advantage of Black History month and read some of the best Black History books for kids.
I bet many of us would agree that our educational system is not too great about giving children a thorough education in history. The fact is, minorities and women are often terribly underrepresented. That’s why it’s so important that homeschooling families do better. So for that reason, take a look at the infographic below to learn what benefits there are to reading about our own and other ethnic groups.
Therefore, in honor of Black History Month, the following is a list of my favorite Black History Books for kids along with other resources honoring some incredible Black Americans. (Note that these books are in Train a Child Publishing Unit Program Tools as well as in some of our literature-based High School Courses.)
To make this list of the best Black History books for kids more useable for you, I’ve broken it down by elementary, middle school, and high school, although there are a few books that fit into more than one group.
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Black History Books for Elementary Children
I Have Heard of a Land
This is a gorgeous book that recounts the pioneering spirit of Black Americans who moved to Oklahoma during the land runs of 1889 and 1893. This lyrical poem tells of the hopes and dreams of a single woman who desired to carve out a life for herself in a new land. The double-spread paintings are incredible! For first grade and up.
Kids love reading about this brilliant man who invented peanut butter! Not only was he a man of deep faith, but he was also an inspired scientist, teacher, and artist. Reading about his difficult early life and the obstacles he overcame opens the door for teaching about character qualities such as perseverance, hope, humility, and hard work. (And at the same time build empathy for others.) Win-win. For early elementary.
The Story of Ruby Bridges
This beautiful book tells the story of the faithful and strong Ruby, encouraged by her parents to pray for those who persecuted her. If you don’t already know, this is the story of the first black child to attend a white school in New Orleans. As a first-grader. Her bravery and courage will stand out to your young students. This is another book that will teach your child lessons in courage and faithfulness as well as building compassion for others. Early elementary.
Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way
This colorful, inspiring book does a wonderful job of showcasing not only Hank’s talent as a ballplayer but also his perseverance and strength of character. He was determined to play in the Major Leagues before black American’s were allowed to and achieved that goal. Hank persevered through hate mail and even death threats to become the first player to exceed the home run record of the great Babe Ruth. Perfect for early to mid-elementary students.
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the same series as The Story of Ruby Bridges, this book chronicles the heroic life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Born in the late 1920s, Dr. King’s early life informed his views on non-violent Civil Rights. I recommend this beautifully illustrated book for early elementary. (His death is treated sensitively, as well.)
Rosa was the civil-rights activist and strong woman who refused to give up a seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger. Although Rosa is the subject of the book, you learn about her life in the context of the racial conflict of the times. In addition to the Montgomery bus boycott, topics include the Brown vs. Board of Education case argued by Thurgood Marshall before the Supreme Court and the hated (and feared) Ku Klux Klan. Historically accurate and well-written, I recommend this book for 2nd-4th graders.
This is a book and CD combo of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in Washington, DC in the early 1960s. Dr. King’s moving speech was part of the March on Washington and in support of the equality of black Americans. The words of Dr. King’s speech are accompanied by wonderful illustrations capturing the emotions of Dr. King and others. Having a chance to hear the speech as well as read it makes this book special! For third through fifth grade.
Another non-fiction treasure, When Marian Sang provides the account of the famous contralto Marian Anderson. Beginning by singing in a church choir at age eight, she eventually became one of the most celebrated opera singers in the world. Marian had an incredible range of three octaves! And although she became a sensation in Europe, her own country did not appreciate her for many years. Another incredible book. For second through fifth grade.
Although this is fiction, the author drew upon true accounts in the Slave Narrative Collection, compiled during the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. The characters may not have actually known one another, but they depict real accounts of slaves escaping by boat to the free state of Ohio. The book’s protagonist is a brave 12-year-old boy named Christmas who silently rowed escapees over the river. And then it was time for him and his granny to go. Once again, this book is full of character lessons. 2nd-6th grade.
Through My Eyes
Written by Ruby Bridges herself, this book is heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time. With excerpts from Ruby’s mother, teacher, and others, Ruby tells her story firsthand. Excellent photography captures the drama of little Ruby being walked into the school between U.S. Marshalls, in the midst of an angry crowd. Not able to join the other children, Ruby had a classroom to herself through most of her first-grade year. Reading level: 3rd-6th grade.
Amos Fortune, Free Man
This is one of my favorite read-alouds! Amos Fortune was a real person, but his story is fictionalized based on historical information of the time. He was captured as a teen in Africa, endured the torturous ocean passing, and then sold into slavery in Massachusetts. His story is full of pain and obstacles, yet he remains humble, hard-working, and persevering through his life. Talk about inspiring! Another chance to read and talk about doing what is right and working hard for something for a very long time. This one is suitable for grades 3-7. Not to be missed!
Black History Books for Middle School/High School Kids
(The last two books listed above are also suitable for middle school readers.)
Carver: a Life in Poems
With beautiful lyrical poetry and occasional black and white photos, this moving book reveals the incredible life of the accomplished George Washington Carver. Through all he did, this gifted and deeply religious man strived all of his life to better the lives of his fellow Black Americans. Reading level: Middle-High school
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention
This fascinating book includes seven scientists and seven inventors, many of whom you may never have known about without reading this book! (Sadly!) Readable and informative, each section includes photos of the person as well as other images. Learn more about these men and the impact of their contributions to science. This would be a useful addition to your collection of science books. Now someone needs to write one about women! Reading level: Middle School on up.
Black History Books for High School Students
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
This fictional story is of a 110-year-old woman’s “autobiography.” In it, she describes slavery first hand as well as offering her perspective living through the race riots of the Civil Rights movement. Set in the South, Miss Pittman’s narrative reveals the hardship and tragedy of life as a slave. Eventually, she is “freed,” yet still is bound by a class system. Suitable for High School.
Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom
I’m sure you’ve read at least snippets about this remarkable woman. This book covers all aspects of her life, from her deep faith to her Union spying to her leadership in the Underground Railroad. Also, this book offers a perspective of this passionate and driven Black American hero that is more thorough and deeper than what is offered in any history textbook. This is a must-read for all high school students.
Up From Slavery
This autobiography encompasses the extraordinary life of Booker T Washington as he rose from childhood slavery all the way to founding the Tuskegee Institute. More importantly, throughout the story and in his life, Washington bore no ill will toward those who abandoned or abused him, including his white father. His attitude of reconciliation and grace makes this literary work one of American Literature’s finest achievements. Talk about an example of grace! Another must-read for your high schoolers.
Internet resources to extend your study of Black history in honor of Black History Month:
Written by a husband and wife team interested in history, this readable site is perfect for elementary students. (About 4th grade and up.) Although some of the “African Sounds” links and PowerPoints to African Mask construction are no longer working, there’s a ton of information here about the Ancient African kingdoms. Additionally, on this site, your kids can read Ancient African folk tales and stories (like this one about Anansi the spider), as well as learn about Ancient African religions. There’s even clip art your kids can use freely for their personal lapbooks and reports!
This is a fantastic collection of primary sources (that is, first-hand accounts) of Black Americans. This collection includes a wealth of information and resources, including:
- Famous author, former slave, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s papers
- Baseball great Jackie Robinson’s highlights
- Thousands of narrative accounts from enslaved men and women, including photographs
- African-American band and gospel music and recordings
Editor’s note: this resource includes a few web resources related to LGBTQ lifestyles, so use your judgment in giving your children free access to this web page.
So if you are looking for exceptional Black History books for kids, honoring some incredible men and women of color, pick up several of these books today for your home library.