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65 New and Noteworthy Children’s Books With Black Characters

Looking for the best children’s books with Black characters to read with your kids? Here are some great picture books for classroom read alouds or for students to read. Children’s books about Black characters, famous African Americans, and fiction books with Black characters. Ideas for elementary school teachers looking for children’s books with Black representation including lesson plans and activities! Great for Kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth or fifth grade.

If you’re a member of the Picture Book Brain Trust Community, you already have access to EVERY lesson plan and activity for these books! Just click on the Lesson Plans button in the menu!

Children’s Books With Black Characters:

Here are the best children’s books with Black characters separated by genre.

Fiction Children’s Books With Black Characters:

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality. A great LGBT children’s book!

Hair Love by Matthew Cherry

Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her — and her hair — happy.

Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham

  At Granny’s, Sunday isn’t Sunday without a big family gathering over a lovingly prepared meal. Old enough now, our narrator is finally invited to help cook the dishes for the first time: He joins Granny in grating the cheese, cleaning the greens, and priming the meat for Roscoe Ray’s grill. But just when Granny says they’re finished, her grandson makes his own contribution, sweetening this Sunday gathering—and the many more to come.

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

FIRST, FIND A TREE – A BLACK TUPELO OR DAWN REDWOOD WILL DO – AND PLANT YOURSELF.

IT’S OKAY IF YOU PREFER A STOOP. LIKE LANSTON HUGHES.

With these words, an adventure begins—an adventure into the world of reading. Kwame Alexander’s evocative poetry and Melissa Sweet’s lush artwork come together to take you on a sensory journey between the pages of a book. This is also one of my favorite children’s books of poetry!

Get the lesson plan and activities for How to Read a Book HERE

Check out these engaging children's books with Black characters. Fun fiction and nonfiction children's books featuring Black characters and historical figures. Award-winning books to add diversity to the characters of the books you read in class. Also linked are lesson plans and activities for Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade and 5th grade! Elementary kids will love these new and classic books!
PIN ME!

Crown by Derrick Barnes

The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Crown HERE

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through–as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you–and shows you–who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!

Get the lesson plan and activities for I Am Every Good Thing HERE

A Stone For Sascha by Aaron Becker

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again. Another amazing wordless picture book by Aaron Becker!

Get the lesson plan and activities for A Stone For Sascha HERE

What If by Samantha Berger

This girl is determined to express herself! If she can’t draw her dreams, she’ll sculpt or build, carve or collage. If she can’t do that, she’ll turn her world into a canvas. And if everything around her is taken away, she’ll sing, dance, and dream…

A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts

Finders keepers, right? When Ruben picks up someone’s lost money, he finds out how hard it can be to do the right thing.

Ruben feels like he is the only kid without a bike. His friend Sergio reminds him that his birthday is coming, but Ruben knows that the kinds of birthday gifts he and Sergio receive are not the same. After all, when Ruben’s mom sends him to Sonny’s corner store for groceries, sometimes she doesn’t have enough money for everything on the list. So when Ruben sees a dollar bill fall out of someone’s purse, he picks it up and puts it in his pocket. But when he gets home, he discovers it’s not one dollar or even five or ten—it’s a hundred-dollar bill, more than enough for a new bike just like Sergio’s! But what about the crossed-off groceries? And what about the woman who lost her money?

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles

Discover this poignant, timely, and emotionally stirring picture book, an ode to Black and brown children everywhere that is full of hope, assurance, and love.

Get the lesson plan and activities for All Because You Matter HERE

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Climbing aboard the New York bound Silver Meteor train, Ruth Ellen embarks upon a journey toward a new life up North– one she can’t begin to imagine. Stop by stop, the perceptive young narrator tells her journey in poems, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge mountains.

Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view. As they travel, Ruth Ellen reads from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, reflecting on how her journey mirrors her own– until finally the train arrives at its last stop, New York’s Penn Station, and the family heads out into a night filled with bright lights, glimmering stars, and new possiblity.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Overground Railroad HERE

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else.
Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island.  As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” A great book for talking about immigrants and immigrant communities.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Islandborn HERE

Grace For President by Kelly DiPucchio

“Where are the girls?” When Grace’s teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school’s mock election. But soon, she realizes that she has entered a tough race. Her popular opponent claims to be the “best man for the job”–and seems to have captured all the male votes–while Grace concentrates on being the best person. In this timely story, author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought–and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.

Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them. An amazing diverse picture book!

City Green by Dyanne DiSalvo-Ryan

Right in the middle of Marcy’s city block is a vacant lot, littered and forlorn. Sometimes just looking at it makes Marcy feel sad. Then one spring, Marcy has a wonderful idea: Instead of a useless lot, why not a green and growing space for everyone to enjoy?

Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry

Captain Swashby loves the sea, his oldest friend. And he loves his life by the sea just as it is: salty and sandy and serene. One day, much to Swashby’s chagrin, a young girl and her granny commandeer the empty house next door. All Swashby wants is for his new neighbors to GO AWAY and take their ruckus with them. When Swashby begins to leave notes in the sand for his noisy neighbors, however, the beach interferes with the messages that are getting across. Could it be that the captain’s oldest friend, the sea, knows what Swashby needs even better than he knows himself?

Get the lesson plan and activities for Swashby and the Sea HERE

Going Down Home With Daddy by Kelly Lyons

“On reunion morning, we rise before the sun. Daddy hums as he packs our car with suitcases and a cooler full of snacks. He says there’s nothing like going down home.”

Down home is Granny’s house. It’s where Lil Alan and his parents and sister will gather with great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Down home is where Lil Alan will hear stories of the ancestors and visit the land that has meant so much to all of them. And down home is where all of the children will find their special way to pay tribute to their family history. All the kids have to decide what they’ll share, but what will Lil Alan do?

Get the lesson plan and activities for Going Down Home With Daddy HERE

Flossie and the Fox by Patricia McKissack

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A wily fox, notorious for stealing eggs, meets his match when he encounters a bold little girl in the woods who insists upon proof that he is a fox before she will be frightened.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Grace loves stories, whether they’re from books, movies, or the kind her grandmother tells. So when she gets a chance to play a part in Peter Pan, she knows exactly who she wants to be. Remarkable watercolor illustrations give full expression to Grace’s high-flying imagination. Amazing Grace is an amazing diverse picture book!

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is a beautiful land. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village. And try as she might, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well. Instead of a crown, she wears a heavy pot on her head to collect the water. After the voyage home, after boiling the water to drink and clean with, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own.

Galimoto by Karen Williams

Kondi, a seven-year-old African boy, decides to make a galimoto — a toy vehicle — out of scraps of wire. He finds some wire…but it’s not enough, so Kondi searches out more….Gentle text and…soft watercolors capture the essence of life in a contemporary African village.

Follow The Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

Winter’s story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad. While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper). A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song’s directions. Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors. The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that’s compelling

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard. With the focus on an array of time periods in American history, this book is definitely one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade.

The Nutcracker in Harlem by T. E. McMorrow

This jazz-inspired reinvention of The Nutcracker is a worthy tribute to the dreamlike wonder and magic of the Christmas season. In this original retelling, set in New York City during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, one little girl finds her voice as a musician thanks to her enchanting adventures with a magical toy.

Saturday by Oge Mora

How do you control yourself when everything goes wrong? Today would be special. Today would be splendid. It was Saturday! But sometimes, the best plans don’t work out exactly the way you expect….

In this heartfelt and universal story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong–ruining storytime, salon time, picnic time, and the puppet show they’d been looking forward to going to all week. Mom is nearing a meltdown…until her loving daughter helps her practice a calming strategy and reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all. A great book for social emotional learning!

Get the lesson plan and activities for Saturday HERE

Thank You Omu by Oge Mora

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

Get the lesson plan and activities for Thank You Omu HERE

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice! Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Hike by Pete Oswald

Take to the trails for a celebration of nature — and a day spent with dad.

In the cool and quiet early light of morning, a father and child wake up. Today they’re going on a hike. Follow the duo into the mountains as they witness the magic of the wilderness, overcome challenges, and play a small role in the survival of the forest. By the time they return home, they feel alive — and closer than ever — as they document their hike and take their place in family history. In detail-rich panels and textured panoramas, Pete Oswald perfectly paces this nearly wordless adventure, allowing readers to pause for subtle wonders and marvel at the views. A touching tribute to the bond between father and child, with resonant themes for Earth Day or Arbor DayHike is a breath of fresh air.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Hike HERE

The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey

A young girl turns her imagination into action in this beautifully crafted and intricately designed debut picture book. When is an old truck something more? On a small, bustling farm, a resilient and steadfast pickup works tirelessly alongside the family that lives there, and becomes a part of the dreams and ambitions of the family’s young daughter.

After long days and years of hard work leave the old truck rusting in the weeds, it’s time for the girl to roll up her sleeves. Soon she is running her own busy farm, and in the midst of all the repairing and restoring, it may be time to bring her faithful childhood companion back to life.

Get the lesson plan and activities for The Old Truck HERE

Another by Christian Robinson

In his eagerly anticipated debut as author-illustrator, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honoree Christian Robinson brings young readers on a playful, imaginative journey into another world.

What if you…
encountered another perspective?
Discovered another world?
Met another you?

What might you do?

Get the lesson plan and activities for Another HERE

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by Jonathan Steptoe

This is the story of Mufaro, who is proud of his two beautiful daughters. Nyasha is kind and considerate, but everyone—except Mufaro—knows that Manyara is selfish and bad-tempered. When the Great King decides to take a wife and invites the most worthy and beautiful daughters in the land to appear before him, Mufaro brings both of his daughters—but only one can be queen. Who will the king choose? A great retelling of the Cinderella fairytale set in Africa.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters HERE

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears. Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head. A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pena

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them. A great book about imagination and for talking about point of view.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fear and anxiety, Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is inventing a machine that will fly all the way across the yard! But making it go from CRASH to WHOOSH will take grit, patience, and maybe even a little help from his sister.

Jabari is making a flying machine in his backyard! “It’ll be easy. I don’t need any help,” he declares. But it doesn’t work! Jabari is frustrated. Good thing Dad is there for a pep talk and his little sister, Nika, is there to assist, fairy wings and all. With the endearing father-child dynamic of Jabari Jumps and engaging mixed-media illustrations, Gaia Cornwall’s tale shows that through perseverance and flexibility, an inventive thought can become a brilliant reality.

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey

Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family’s new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren’t treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws . . .

Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth’s family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook―and the kindness of strangers―Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma’s house in Alabama. A tale of how one girl learned about racism and inequality and how her family and thousands of others dealt with it.

Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson

It’s two weeks before Christmas, and Deja is worried that Santa might not be able to visit her–after all, as a city kid, she doesn’t have a chimney for him to come down and none of the parking spots on her block could fit a sleigh, let alone eight reindeer! But with a little help from her family, community, and Santa himself, Deja discovers that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in her city.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie—stars of their own New York Times bestselling picture books Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer—Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious.

Julian at the Wedding by Jessica Love

Julián and his abuela are going to a wedding. Better yet, Julián is in the wedding. Weddings have flowers and kissing and dancing and cake. And this wedding also has a new friend named Marisol. It’s not long before Julián and Marisol set off for some magic and mischief of their own, and when things take an unexpected turn, the pair learns that everything is easier with a good friend by your side. Jessica Love returns with a joyful story of friendship and individuality in this radiant follow-up to Julián Is a Mermaid.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Julian at the Wedding HERE

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin

Kameeka yearns to continue her hula hooping competition with her rival, Jamara, rather than help prepare for Miz Adeline’s birthday party, and “the itch” almost ruins the party before the girls learn who the real winner is.

Nonfiction Children’s Books With Black Characters:

Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker

You’ve likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe.

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston

Henry Brown “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one generation to the next — as property. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Henry Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape!

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.

My Name Is Celia Cruz by Monica Brown

This bilingual book allows young readers to enter Celia Cruz’s life as she becomes a well-known singer in her homeland of Cuba, then moves to New York City and Miami where she and others create a new type of music called salsa.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

The inspirational true story of Ruby Bridges. The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her.

Above the Rim by Jen Bryant

Hall-of-famer Elgin Baylor was one of basketball’s all-time-greatest players—an innovative athlete, team player, and quiet force for change. One of the first professional African-American players, he inspired others on and off the court. But when traveling for away games, many hotels and restaurants turned Elgin away because he was black. One night, Elgin had enough and staged a one-man protest that captured the attention of the press, the public, and the NBA.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard

Born into an African American sharecropping family in 1880s Kentucky, Jimmy Winkfield grew up loving horses. The large, powerful animals inspired little Jimmy to think big. Looking beyond his family s farm, he longed for a life riding on action-packed racetracks around the world. Like his hero, the great Isaac Murphy, Jimmy Wink Winkfield would stop at nothing to make it as a jockey.

Though his path to success was wrought with obstacles both on the track and off, Wink faced each challenge with passion and a steadfast spirit. The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby brings to life a vivacious hero from a little-known chapter of American sports history.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. Later, at 116, she learned to read. From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge More comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn. Also a great book to read during Black History Month!

Salt In His Shoes by Deloris Jordan

Michael Jordan. The mere mention of the name conjures up visions of basketball played at its absolute best. But as a child, Michael almost gave up on his hoop dreams, all because he feared he’d never grow tall enough to play the game that would one day make him famous. That’s when his mother and father stepped in and shared the invaluable lesson of what really goes into the making of a champion—patience, determination, and hard work. Another great book for social emotional learning to talk to students about perseverance and grit.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The inspiring story of how William Kamkwamba used discarded and recycled materials to save his home and his village in Africa by building a windmill.

Brave Ballerina by Michelle Meadows

Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. It tells her story from her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera. An excellent book for Black History Month!

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller

As a young black man in the segregated South of the 1920s, Wright was hungry to explore new worlds through books, but was forbidden from borrowing them from the library. This touching account tells of his love of reading, and how his unwavering perseverance, along with the help of a co-worker, came together to make Richard’s dream a reality An inspirational story for children of all backgrounds, Richard Wright and the Library Card shares a poignant turning point in the life of a young man who became one of this country’s most brilliant writers, the author of Native Son and Black Boy.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

When Sheldon Russell Curtis told this story to his daughter, Rosa, she kept every word in her heart and was to retell it many times. I will tell it in Sheldon’s own words as nearly as I can.

He was wounded in a fierce battle and left for dead in a pasture somewhere in Georgia when Pinkus found him. Pinkus’ skin was the color of polished mahogany, and he was flying Union colors like the wounded boy, and he picked him up out of the field and brought him to where the black soldier’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, lived. She had soft, gentle hands and cared for him and her Pink.

But the two boys were putting her in danger, two Union soldiers in Confederate territory! They had to get back to their outfits. Scared and uncertain, the boys were faced with a hard decision, and then marauding Confederate troops rode in. This book is actually a true story, not historical fiction but narrative nonfiction. A truly touching story.

Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

After being initiated into a neighbor’s family by a solemn backyard ceremony, a young Russian American girl and her African American brothers’ determine to buy their gramma Eula a beautiful Easter hat. But their good intentions are misunderstood, until they discover just the right way to pay for the hat that Eula’s had her eye on. A loving family story woven from the author’s childhood.

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential and gifted speakers of all time. Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. Bryan Collier’s stunning collage art combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures. A timeline and a lsit of additional books and web sites help make this a standout biography of Dr. King. Definitely one of my favorite read aloud books for 3rd grade to talk about MLK and activism.

So Tall Within by Gary Schmidt

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery but possessed a mind and a vision that knew no bounds. So Tall Within traces her life from her painful childhood through her remarkable emancipation to her incredible leadership in the movement for rights for both women and African Americans. Her story is told with lyricism and pathos by Gary D. Schmidt, one of the most celebrated writers for children in the twenty-first century, and brought to life by award winning and fine artist Daniel Minter. This combination of talent is just right for introducing this legendary figure to a new generation of children.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful. This is the most memorable narrative nonfiction books for 5th grade, especially if you’re studying art and artists.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

As slaves relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles slaves’ duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square. A beautiful book written as a poem.

Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford

I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free…

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman hears these words from God one summer night and decides to leave her husband and family behind and escape. Taking with her only her faith, she must creep through woods with hounds at her feet, sleep for days in a potato hole, and trust people who could have easily turned her in. But she was never alone. This one can get a little preachy at times, but that was how Harriet Tubman was. Certainly a book worth of being one of the best read aloud books for 5th grade.

Brothers In Hope by Mary Williams

Eight-year-old Garang is tending cattle far from his family’s home in southern Sudan when war comes to his village. Frightened but unharmed, he returns to find everything has been destroyed. Soon Garang meets other boys whose villages have been attacked. Before long they become a moving band of thousands, walking hundreds of miles seeking safety — first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts. One the best picture books about refugees!

Pies From Nowhere by Dee Romito

Georgia Gilmore was a cook at the National Lunch Company in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus boycotts broke out in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was arrested, Georgia knew just what to do. She organized a group of women who cooked and baked to fund-raise for gas and cars to help sustain the boycott. Called the Club from Nowhere, Georgia was the only person who knew who baked and bought the food, and she said the money came from “nowhere” to anyone who asked.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for his role in the boycott, Georgia testified on his behalf, and her home became a meeting place for civil rights leaders. This picture book highlights a hidden figure of the civil rights movement who fueled the bus boycotts and demonstrated that one person can make a real change in her community and beyond. It also includes one of her delicious recipes for kids to try with the help of their parents!

Game Changers by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Venus and Serena Williams. Two peas in a pod. Best friends. Sisters. Six days a week they awoke before the sun came up to practice their serves and returns, to learn to run faster and hit harder. They were unstoppable. At age fourteen, Venus played her first professional match. Three years later, it was Serena’s turn. It wasn’t easy. Some tennis fans cheered for these two fresh faces, while those who were unhappy to see two black girls competing in a nearly all-white sport booed and taunted them. But they didn’t let it stop them.

I Am Farmer by Miranda and Baptiste Paul

Discover the true story of how environmentalist Farmer Tantoh is transforming the landscape in his home country of Cameroon. When Tantoh Nforba was a child, his fellow students mocked him for his interest in gardening. Today he’s an environmental hero, bringing clean water and bountiful gardens to the central African nation of Cameroon with his farms. Authors Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul share Farmer Tantoh’s inspiring story.

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Aretha Franklin was born to sing. The daughter of a pastor and a gospel singer, her musical talent was clear from her earliest days in her father’s Detroit church where her soaring voice spanned more than three octaves. Her string of hit songs earned her the title “the Queen of Soul,” multiple Grammy Awards, and a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But Aretha didn’t just raise her voice in song, she also spoke out against injustice and fought for civil rights. This book is told through musical verse with award-winning illustrations by Frank Morrison.

In addition to being one of my favorite books for Women’s History Month, I also really like it for women in sports and entertainment and to talk about different forms of activism.

Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.

News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This narrative non-fiction book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.

Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King

MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of Jim Crow, she couldn’t just go to any beach–most of the beaches in Jacksonville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather bought a beach that African American families could enjoy without being reminded they were second class citizens; he called it American Beach. Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It’s here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.

After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others, so determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home.

Get the lesson plan and activities for Saving American Beach HERE

Best Children’s Books With Black Characters

What are some of your favorite children’s books with Black characters? Are there any must read children’s books with Black characters that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!

If you’re a member of the Picture Book Brain Trust Community, you already have access to EVERY lesson plan and activity for these books! Just click on the Lesson Plans button in the menu!

Check out these engaging children's books with Black characters. Fun fiction and nonfiction children's books featuring Black characters and historical figures. Award-winning books to add diversity to the characters of the books you read in class. Also linked are lesson plans and activities for Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade and 5th grade! Elementary kids will love these new and classic books!
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Hey there! I’m Josh from Picture Book Brain here to share only the best literature for you to use with your students. If you are looking for a specific book, use the search bar below to check my archives. Glad you’re here, and glad to help you!

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