Black History Month is a time to celebrate all the past achievements of Black Americans and look to all the amazing things Black children will accomplish in the future. What better way to celebrate than to curl up with some outstanding reads by and about Black Americans? While this list could go on for days, here are Cardinal Rule Press’s top sixteen reads for Black History Month!
Best All Around
If there is any single picture book that every family and classroom should read this Black History Month, it is THE 1619 PROJECT: BORN ON THE WATER BY NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES (AUTHOR), RENÉE WATSON (AUTHOR), AND NIKKOLAS SMITH (ILLUSTRATOR).
The 1619 Project’s lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson.
A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders.
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.
And the people planted dreams and hope,
willed themselves to keep
And the people learned new words
With powerful verse and striking illustrations by Nikkolas Smith, Born on the Water provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity.
Historical Fiction to Connect with the Past
With all the lessons of nonfiction and the emotional resonance that only fiction can bring, these historical fiction picks are a great way to introduce your child to Black history.
A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.
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.
Honorable Mention: SHOW WAY BY JAQUELINE WOODSON (AUTHOR), HUDSON TALBOTT (ILLUSTRATOR)
Biographies of Exceptional Black Americans
Learn about some of the most accomplished Black Americans in art, STEM, activism, sports, and more with these inspirational illustrated biographies.
Based on Vashti Harrison’s popular Instagram posts from Black History Month 2017, each book in the Little Leaders series features 40 biographies of Black people that helped shape history. Each page beautifully illustrated, every child is sure to find a role model, no matter their interests, whether it’s chemist Alice Ball or dancer Alvin Ailey.
Honorable Mention: COUNTING THE STARS BY LESA CLINE-RANSOME (AUTHOR), RAÚL COLÓN (ILLUSTRATOR)
Honorable Mention: PREACHING TO THE CHICKENS BY JABARI ASIM (AUTHOR), E.B. LEWIS (ILLUSTRATOR)
Honorable Mention: THE OLDEST STUDENT BY RITA LARRAINE HUBBARD (AUTHOR), OGE MORA (ILLUSTRATOR)
Inspirational Fiction About Loving Yourself
In a world where Blackness is not always celebrated as it should be, take time to rejoice that Black is Beautiful with these amazing picture books!
This lyrically written, stunningly illustrated picture book is a love letter to the beauty of brown skin and a message of love, acceptance, and pride for all brown sugar babes. A classic in the making!
When a little girl has doubts about the color of her skin, her mother shows her all the wonderful, beautiful things brown can be! “Brown is precious. Brown is feet marching for human rights…. Brown is an after-bedtime-story kiss goodnight.”
Honorable Mention: THE DAY YOU BEGIN BY JAQUELINE WOODSON (AUTHOR), RAFAEL LÓPEZ (ILLUSTRATOR)
Honorable Mention: SULWE BY LUPITA NYONG’O (AUTHOR), VASHTI HARRISON (ILLUSTRATOR)
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Martina Rethman is an editorial intern with Cardinal Rule Press. She is currently a senior at Carnegie Mellon University.