I’ve been ordering picture books like crazy this weekend, stocking our family library with good reads for Black History Month, with the hope of educating not only my kids but also myself. (Having grown up in Vermont in the 80’s, my own knowledge of Black history is pretty scant.)
Black History Month is about acknowledging the numerous ways that people of color have shaped our history, shifting our focus to see our past through a lens that isn’t overwhelmingly white. It is a call to study not only slavery and the Civil Rights movement, but also the myriad of Black heroes with amazing accomplishments in sports and science, art and music – historical figures rarely covered in school curricula.
As eager as I am, I also recognize that delving into Black history means opening the door to some of the saddest and ugliest parts of humanity and is likely to result in some difficult, but critical, conversations with my children. I embrace that too. These are conversations we can’t ignore and books are a great point of entry. My goal is to balance sadness with hope, and stories of adversity with stories of amazing triumph and courage. I want these stories to help my boys recognize injustice when it rears its ugly head and be inspired to stand against it. I want them to find wonderful new role models.
With that in mind, I hope the list below will serve as inspiration. It is geared toward elementary school kids, with one book for each day in February. And since this is a Leap Year, that means 29 awesome books!
If you are interested in adding any of these books to your family library, clicking on the book image or title will take you to Amazon.com.
Also, because some of these books include disturbing events, I encourage you to read each book yourself before sharing with your child, to determine if the story or information is right for your child at this time.
February 1: Ron’s Big Mission – One of my all-time favorites. Based on real-life events in 1950s South Carolina, this story will inspire kids to stand up for what is right (like Ron) and highlights the range of ways that people, both Black and white, respond to racism. Great for discussion!
February 2: The Story of Ruby Bridges – In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby was the first African-American child to integrate New Orleans schools and handled very adverse circumstances with tremendous grace and courage.
February 3: If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad (ages 7-10) – A children’s book with historical facts and information about the Underground Railroad.
February 4: Nelson Mandela – While I’ve mostly focused this list on U.S. History, Nelson Mandela is such an iconic figure in the fight for equality around the world and author/illustrator Kadir Nelson is such an amazing artist that this is a must-have!
February 5: Juneteenth – An overview of the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the last slaves in Galveston, Texas…two-and-a-half years after Lincoln made the proclamation! June 19 is now celebrated as Juneteenth.
February 6: Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream – Space Jam is currently my kindergartner’s favorite movie. How could I not include a book about famed Chicago Bulls player #23?!
February 7: Teammates – I picked up this book about Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reece from an awesome little multicultural shop in Vermont this fall, because my 9-year-old is really into learning about sports figures. This book highlights not only Jackie Robinson’s story, but also the impact a white teammate made by standing by Robinson.
February 8: Henry’s Freedom Box – The true story of a slave who mailed himself North to escape slavery. I just ordered this highly-rated book for my family and can’t wait to read it!
February 9: Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Any list of books on Black history is of course going to include at least one about MLK! This book about his life and words earned a 2002 Caldecott Honor.
February 10: Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson – The story of the first African-American to ever compete in the Wimbledon Cup. Spoiler alert: She was also the first to win the Wimbledon!
February 11: Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins – This book touches upon the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl in North Carolina and highlights that no matter how young, we can all play a role in standing up to injustice.
February 12: Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion – A biography of Muhammad Ali, known not just for dominating the boxing ring but also for his “get used to me Black pride” (to quote one review) and stand against social injustice.
February 13: If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Amstrong – The story of a boy who dreams of making music and eventually becomes a beloved New Orleans jazz musician.
February 14: The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage – Unfortunately, this book is only available from third-party sellers on Amazon and therefore rather expensive. That is really unfortunate, since it is the only children’s book I’m aware of that tells the story of the Lovings, the interracial couple from Virginia who took their right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court. Still, I had to include this as the choice for Valentine’s Day!
February 15: Harriet Tubman: A Woman of Courage – Published by TIME for Kids, this book introduces Harriet Tubman, a slave who helped hundreds escape via the Underground Railroad.
February 16: Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth – A biography of an abolitionist and former slave who traveled around the United States in the late 1800’s speaking out against slavery.
February 17: Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes – A collection of 26 poems by an esteemed Harlem Renaissance writer.
February 18: A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver – Dr. Carver was born into slavery and grew up to become a scientist who used his research to help poor farming communities.
February 19: Daniel Hale Williams: Surgeon Who Opened Hearts and Minds – Dr. Williams, a Black surgeon, performed one of the first successful open-chest surgeries.
February 20: One Million Men and Me – The historic 1995 march, told from the perspective of a young girl marching with her father.
February 21: Windflyers – The story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II as told by award-winning author Angela Johnson and illustrated by one of my all-time faves, Loren Long.
February 22: Fifty Cents and a Dream: Booker T. Washington – Inspire kids with the story of a man who did not take education for granted; Washington began as a slave denied the right to read and write and eventually became a legendary educator.
February 23: Child of the Civil Rights Movement – This memoir offers a child’s-eye view of growing up in the deep South and her family’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement.
February 24: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal – If your child likes action, adventure, and the Wild West, check out this book about a larger-than-life former slave who, as a U.S. Marshal in the late 1800’s, arrested more than 3,000 outlaws.
February 25: Fly High: The Story of Bessie Coleman – Did you know the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license was also a woman? Go Bessie!
February 26: The Great Migration: Journey to the North – Two women who were in fact part of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South tell about the experiences of families moving North through free-verse poems and illustrations.
February 27: In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage – Like so many artists of the Harlem Renaissance, August Savage is one whose story most kids haven’t heard. Read about how she leaves behind the life she knows in Florida to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
February 28: 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed The World – The 28th seemed like the perfect date for this book, which touches upon a broad range of landmark events, both well-known and not-so-much, and covers over 200 years of Black history.
February 29: Barack Obama: Out of Many, One – A Step-into-Reading biography of our first Black President, from his childhood in Hawaii to his election to the White House.