Celebrate Black History Month All Year With These Picture Books

Celebrate Black History Month All Year With These Picture Books

Black History month is drawing to a close, but the celebration should continue. There is a growing collection of children’s books that chronicle the struggles, triumphs and contributions of Black Americans throughout our history as a nation. Here are a few of my favorites that I love sharing with my family and the children at my library. Hopefully you will find them as inspiring as I do.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, Author: Ellen Levine,  Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

This incredible book is based on the true story of Henry Brown, an African American slave who escaped by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Virginia to Philadelphia in 1849. The book shares a powerful message and is illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Kadir Nelson. You will find his name cropping up often in this list of great books.

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom,  Author: Carole Boston Weatherford,  Illustrator: Michele Wood 

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Michele Wood

This is another version of Henry Brown’s story, beautifully written and filled with facts and details about Henry’s journey and life. It is so amazing, it earned a prestigious Newbery Honor in 2021.

Celebrated poet Carole Boston Weatherford powerfully narrates Henry Brown’s story using stanzas of six lines each, each line representing one side of the box that he used to mail himself from slavery to freedom. Strikingly illustrated in rich hues and patterns by artist Michele Wood.


Before She Was Harriet

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: James E. Ransome

This is the story of African American Harriet Tubman from her childhood to her later years as an abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad. The Ransome’s (a wife and husband team) did a beautiful job creating a moving tribute to Harriet Tubman and the many roles she played throughout her remarkable life.  A perfect Black history month choice and best seller for young readers.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, Author: Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: James E. Ransome

I also love this version of Harriet Tubman’s story. The book’s vivid illustrations created by Kadir Nelson (this book earned him both a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award) and powerful language create a fitting tribute to this amazing woman. The book also touches on Harriet’s involvement in the Civil War, where she served as a nurse, cook, and spy for the Union army. After the war Harriet continued to fight for the rights of African Americans and women.

Overground Railroad, Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome,  Illustrator: James Ransome

Overground Railroad

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: James Ransome

The book's beautiful illustrations and engaging narrative make it a powerful and accessible introduction to the Great Migration, shedding light on a pivotal period in American history and the resilience and determination of the African American community. This book is from the award-winning creators of Before She Was Harriet and Finding Langston.

The narrator of the book, a young girl named Ruth Ellen, boards a New York bound train, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge mountains, and records in verse her stop-by-stop experiences as she nears New York’s Penn Station.

As she travels she reads from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, noting the similarities between their two journeys.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie-Till Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, Author: Angela Joy,  Illustrator: Janelle Washington

Choosing Brave: How Mamie-Till Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

Author: Angela Joy
Illustrator: Janelle Washington

This has recently become a new favorite of mine. This 2023 Caldecott honor book is a picture book biography of Mamie-Till Mobley whose son, Emmett Till, was brutally murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. Mamie’s brave decision to share Emmett’s story created awareness and outrage that helped spark the civil rights movement. 

Rosa, Author: Nikki Giovanni, Illustrator: Bryan Collier


Author: Nikki Giovanni
Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Another Caldecott Honor book, this gorgeous book tells the story of Rosa Parks, beginning when she was a little girl as she witnesses segregation and discrimination. It continues through her growing up years as she becomes involved in the civil rights movement. Those events ultimately lead to her brave decision to not give up her seat on on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white passenger and the events that would follow.

To this day, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement.

Award-winning poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni combines her skillfully written narrative with Bryan Collier's striking cut-paper images to tell this story of one of America’s pivotal Black women in history.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Author: Doreen Rappaport, Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrator: Bryan Collier

This is a beautifully illustrated and written picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and includes quotes from some of his writings and speeches. It’s a wonderful introduction to the life of Dr. King and his commitment to fighting for civil rights and social justice.

This Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, and New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings his life and the profound nature of his message to young children through his own words.

Riding to Washington, Author: Gwenyth Swain, Illustrator: David Geister

Riding to Washington

Author: Gwenyth Swain
Illustrator: David Geister

This is a little known book, but one I have loved sharing with my students. Told from a child’s perspective, the author shares the story of a group of people, both black and white, traveling on a bus together to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Seeing first hand the injustices experienced by the passengers along the way, the child realizes her actions can bring about change for good. It is a valuable lesson for any age and a good way to celebrate Black History Month.

Let the Children March, Author: Monica Clark-Robinson, Illustrator: Frank Morrison

Let the Children March

Author: Monica Clark-Robinson
Illustrator: Frank Morrison

This is another award-winning book that tells the story of a children's crusade in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, when thousands of brave young people became civil rights activists, marching to demand an end to laws that kept Black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

This powerful picture book introduces young readers to a key event in the struggle for Civil Rights. A Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner.

The Undefeated,  Author: Kwame Alexander,  Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

The Undefeated

Author: Kwame Alexander
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

I have loved this beautiful tribute to Black American triumph and tribulation from the moment I first saw it. It heralds the heroes of the past, both famous and unnamed who struggled to make a difference. Some survived by any means necessary, while others didn’t survive at all. Many had big dreams of a better way and a promised land.

I Am Ruby Bridges, Author:  Ruby Bridges,  Illustrator: Nikkolas Smith

I Am Ruby Bridges

Author: Ruby Bridges
Illustrator: Nikkolas Smith

I had the opportunity of meeting Ruby Bridges once and listening to her tell her story. She was the first Black child to integrate in 1960 into the all-white William Franz Elementary as a six year old little girl. It was an amazing experience. I Am Ruby Bridges is a beautiful first-hand telling of her story that children love.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, Author: Margot Lee Shetterly, Illustrator: Laura Freeman

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Illustrator: Laura Freeman

If you loved the movie as I did you’ll love reading this picture book adaptation to your children. It’s the true story of four Black women who helped NASA launch men into space. 

Four trailblazing mathematician women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were known as "colored computers." They succeeded at a challenging STEM-based career, overcoming gender and racial barriers.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Author Illustrator: Vashti Harrison

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Author / Illustrator: Vashti Harrison

I love the inspiring true stories in this book as well as the delightful illustrations. It tells the story of 40 trailblazing Black women in American history. Some are famous such as Harriet Tubman and Maya Angelou. It also includes lesser-known but equally inspiring women like Annie Easley, a mathematician and rocket scientist.

Each profile highlights individual achievements and struggles, providing young readers with important role models to look up to. This is the first of a series of three books on role models for young people.

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, Author-illustrator: Vashti Harrison

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History

Author / Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Primary Contributor: Kwesi Johnson

This is the third in a series and a follow-up to her previous book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. This book relates the stories of 40 exceptional Black men who have made significant contributions to history.

Like the great women book, this book covers a wide range of fields, from sports and music to science and politics. It also includes lesser-known figures, such as Benjamin Banneker, an African American scientist and inventor, and Paul Robeson, a singer and civil rights activist.

Sulwe, Author: Lupita Nyong'o, Illustrator: Vashti Harrison 


Author: Lupita Nyong'o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison

This book is about a young girl named Sulwe who struggles with her dark skin color and the societal beauty standards that favor lighter skin.

The story is told with sensitivity and empathy, and acknowledges the pain and hurt caused by colorism. It teaches young readers the importance of loving and accepting themselves for who they are, regardless of how they look.

All Because You Matter, Author: Tami Charles, Illustrator: Bryan Collier

All Because You Matter

Author: Tami Charles
Illustrator: Bryan Collier

This beautiful children's book offers encouragement to Black and brown children everywhere. It is a celebration of the uniqueness and worth of each individual child, and assures young readers that they always have and always will matter.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with vivid and detailed artwork and the text is lyrical and powerful in its simplicity.

Keep the Celebration Going

Both picture books and graphic novels are great history books for young readers, not only for Black children seeking to understand their heritage, but all children who benefit from an exposure to African American History.