Books to Read for Black History Month

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Thank you so much to Harding Academy of Memphis for encouraging us to read with our kids!

Black History Month is a great time to share with children the contributions that Black Americans have made in the United States, often against huge challenges. Along with celebrating accomplishments, we can also teach about the struggles Black Americans have had to overcome. No country’s history is a fairy tale, and the sooner we see the injustices of the past, the more likely we can change the future. And let’s not forget that Black History is American History.

It is important to teach our children about people’s differences, because it can offer new experiences. It helps them realize we’re all important and worthy of respect. Understanding things from a different point of view is an important part of critical thinking. Books are a great way to help our children learn about the past and the present so they can help make a great future.

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” ~James Baldwin

Books for the youngest readers (3-5 year olds)

  1. We March by Shane W. Evans

This book, with simple text and striking illustrations, focuses on the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

2. Black Cowboys by Kyla Ryman

The photographs in this book will appeal to even the youngest. Children will see rodeos, visit trail rides, and meet many different cowboys and cowgirls. This book explores an old culture still alive in America today.

3. Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney

The Pinkneys use photographs to show various skin tones, hair texture, and eye color. It’s a celebration of the diversity among African-Americans and affirms a strong sense of pride in a unique heritage.

Books for early elementary readers (5-8 year olds)

  1. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

*Caldecott Medal winner

I distinctly remember being struck by this book the first time I read it to my class. In this incredible true story, Henry “Box” Brown escapes slavery by shipping himself in a box to a place where he can be free.

Henry's Freedom Box for Black History Month

2. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

*Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King award winner

This biography celebrates Dr. King as a great leader, preacher, and politician while using his own writings and speeches.

3. Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

*Coretta Scott King award winner

This book is perfect for young children and girls especially. It speaks of following childhood dreams. Mae Jemison paved the way for herself to achieve her goals and become the first African-American woman to go to space.

4. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

*Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King award winner

Carole Weatherford writes about Harriet Tubman’s journey to freedom as she hears the voice of God leading her north. Courageous, compassionate, and deeply religious, Harriet Tubman shows how strong the human spirit can be.

Books for older elementary readers (8-11 year olds) kids reading books for Black History Month

  1. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

This bestselling book highlights 40 black women who have shaped American history. Sojourner Truth, Bessie Colman, and Maya Angelou are just a few of the biographies that are accompanied with bold illustrations.

2. New Kid by Michael Berry

*Newberry Medal & Coretta Scott King award winner

Kids are into graphic novels, and in New Kid, Jordan Banks is a seventh grader who loves drawing cartoons about his life. As a new kid at a prestigious private school, he feels like he belongs to two different worlds—and doesn’t really belong to either one.

3. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan *Coretta Scott King award winner

Alice Faye Duncan is a native Memphian, and while this is a picture book, the writing is really for older elementary readers. She tells the story of a girl who witnessed the 1968 sanitation strikes in Memphis and Dr. King’s last stand for justice.

4. What Color is My World?: The Lost History of African American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

In a fun “Did You Know?” we learn about the great minds behind inventions, improvements, and discoveries that we take for granted. From ice cream scoops to refrigerated food trucks to open heart surgery, we see creations that have changed our world.

Books for middle school readers (10-14 year olds)

  1. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine

It’s 1958 in Little Rock and Marlee is a shy middle schooler who meets a new friend. Liz is bold and brave, but the rumor is she has been passing as white. This story is a great way for middle schoolers to learn about the integration of schools.

2. Blended by Sharon Draper

Isabel is being pushed and pulled—split between her black father and white mother, moving between their blended families. Each week she switches houses, nicknames, backpacks, identities. The author shows how the color of your skin can affect your safety, and there is police brutality at the end of the book. This story has references to current trends, but also has timeless issues like divorce, racism, and growing up.

3. Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

*Coretta Scott King award winner

This novel-in-verse is told by a boy whose dad was a famous NFL player. But now his dad is forgetting things and seems angry all the time. This sad yet hopeful story is a unique take on fame.

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Claire at harding

This wonderful list was compiled and written by Claire Turner. Claire is a life long Memphian and Tiger fan. She is the lower school librarian and art teacher at Harding Academy. Claire lives with her husband and daughter in East Memphis.