Books Celebrating Black Children

Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.

February 2021

The stories of Black people have often been underrepresented in children’s literature. We’ve compiled a list of books for kids by Black authors and illustrators that celebrate the perseverance, achievement, and empowerment of African Americans. These children’s books with Black characters center Black narratives, affirm Black joy, and make great picks for young readers.

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Hey Black Child
Author: Useni Eugene Perkins
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Book Type: Picture
Age: 3-10

Useni Eugene Perkins’ lovely poem is enhanced by gorgeous watercolor illustrations. This lyric text celebrates Black children, inspires them to achieve their goals, and instills a sense of joy that is moving for all readers. 

This book is a wonderful read that provides inspiration for young Black children. It is a call to action for young kids to recognize who they are, pursue their passions, and never forget how great they can be. The rich and impressive artwork complements the strong message of affirmation and self-love.

Brown Boy Joy 
Author: Thomishia Booker
Book Type: Picture
Age: 3-5

Brown Boy Joy is a book to celebrate the things Little Brown Boys love. This sweet rhyming narrative follows one little boy who calls himself “Brown Boy Joy,” describing all of the things he enjoys, what he wants to achieve when he grows up, and what makes him wonderful. 

This is a positive and affirming book for Black boys that will teach them all about what makes them special. Its cheery rhythm and fun illustrations help impart the message that this boy can be whatever he wants to be. It establishes the integral notion that self-love and confidence are priceless.

Baby Blessings: A Prayer for the Day You Are Born
Author: Deloris Jordan
Illustrator: James E. Ransome
Book Type: Picture
Age: 0-2

Baby Blessings: A Prayer for the Day You Are Born is a touching book about the blessings two young parents wish for their newborn child. The simple narrative structure of this story with affirmations on each page is complemented by wholesome illustrations of a loving new family. 

This book is great for reading to your child from the time they are a newborn on. It spreads a message of love, acceptance, and worthiness to Black children. It is a beautiful and inspirational read that your family will cherish. 

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Author: Kadir Nelson
Book Type: Picture
Age: 4-7

A gorgeous depiction of a spiritual song, this book represents the beauty of landscape and joy of reflection. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands pays tribute to the tradition of African American Spirituals, which brought on the musical traditions of gospel, blues, jazz and rock-and-roll. 

This book is full of stunning illustrations that correspond with verses of this well-known song. Children can point to the pages and understand the song’s theme of connecting with the vast and glorious land around us. They can also sing along as they flip through the pages of this classic.

Welcome, Precious 
Author: Nikki Grimes
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Book Type: Picture
Age: 0-3

Peaceful, lyrical text and serene illustrations depict an African American family welcoming their new child to the world and introducing all the best things about it, from chocolate fudge to moonlight. Full of love and wonder, this story is a beloved tale of the experience of caring for a newborn. 

This story is a sweet depiction of new parents and a wonderful book to read aloud to your child. It is perfect for teaching big siblings about loving and cherishing the newest addition to their family, a great choice for teaching kids just how much they are loved, and makes a lovely pick for parents-to-be.

Lullaby (for a Black Mother)
Author: Langston Hughes
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Book Type: Picture
Age: 0-4

A touching poem about the bond between mother and child, this children’s book captures maternal love and peace. Sean Quall’s illustrations pair beautifully with a portion of Langston Hughes’ poem about this special relationship. 

Lullaby (for a Black Mother) makes the perfect bedtime story for mothers to read to their young children and express their love. The seemingly simple premise of poetry linked to illustration creates a not only unique, but profound reading experience to draw loved ones closer. This book is a treasure for mothers and their babies. 

Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Book Type: Picture
Age: 4-8

Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than her family and all of her friends. She wants to be beautiful like her mother and her sister. Follow along on Sulwe’s journey through the magical night sky, where she discovers more about herself and her own beauty. 

This story provides a sweet message of self-acceptance and finding confidence in your own beauty. The narrative is powerful and inspirational for Black girls, encouraging them to love the skin they are in. It provides a great message to all about overcoming feelings of self-doubt. 

Daddy Calls Me Man 
Author: Angela Johnson
Illustrator: Rhonda Mitchell 
Book Type: Picture
Age: 3-7

This book, comprised of four short lyrical verses, is a depiction of an African American family from the eyes of a young boy. The verse and pictures depict the love, symbols, and stories that transcend generations. They also explore the special bond between a young boy and his father. 

This is a wonderful book from the point-of-view of a young child who is outlining his own role in his loving family. The rhythmic text is perfect for teaching children about poetry and the narrative presents a scenario that all children can relate to, as the boy discovers his various titles in life: brother, son, and man.

Princess Hair 
Author: Sharee Miller
Book Type: Picture
Age: 3-8

Princesses all wear crowns, but not all princesses have the same hair. Some princesses have afros, some have braids, and others have twists or blowouts. Not all princesses are the same, but princesses love their hair! 

This book is all about celebrating Black girls and empowering them to embrace their beauty. The exuberant and joyful illustrations, paired with charming rhyming text, create a delightful story of self-confidence and pride. Representing all different textures and styles of hair, this book is a great read.

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
Author: Daniel Beaty
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Book Type: Picture
Age: 4-7

Every morning, a child hears a “knock-knock” on his door. It’s his papa, knocking away as the child pretends to sleep. Papa lies down right next to the boy and tells him “I love you,” but one day, there is no knock. Learn how this child copes with the absence of his father, learning to grow and love on his own. 

This book is a moving tribute to children dealing with absence of a parent. It teaches an important lesson of recognizing love even when it isn’t right in front of us. The touching text and beautiful illustrations help promote the idea that children are capable of developing independence, strength, and familial love in hard times.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Book Type: Picture
Age: 3-10

This book is about the wonders a fresh cut will do for a young boy. It will inspire him to ace his test, all the girls will notice him, and it will help him achieve whatever he wants. The barbershop is where the magic happens, and a fresh cut makes boys fly

This is an uplifting story about how a simple trip to the barber shop is full of meaning, purpose, and empowerment for young kids. A celebration of Black joy, Derrick Barnes’ rhythmic text is thought-provoking and inspirational. His message of Black boys being treated like kings will embolden young readers and, when coupled with Gordon C. James’ glorious watercolor illustrations, make for an unforgettable, award-winning read.

Malcolm Little 
Author: Ilyasah Shabazz
Illustrator: A.G. Ford
Book Type: Picture
Age: 6-10

Before Malcolm X was an influential figure of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a young boy named Malcolm Little. Learn more about Malcolm’s childhood, his big and loving family, and his natural tendency for leadership in this touching story. 

This book, authored by Malcolm X’s daughter, gives unique insight into her father’s life and upbringing. It pays tribute to Malcolm X’s legacy of Black excellence and teaches young children an important lesson of individuality, strength, and perseverance.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Author: Javaka Steptoe
Book Type: Picture
Age: 6-12

A biography about the childhood of the famous collage-painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, this story follows the young artist through a journey of inspiration. As a child, Basquiat finds art in all of his surroundings, including New York City streets, museums, and time spent with his mother. This book is full of lessons about beauty, passion, and inspiration. 

This book earned both the Caldecott honor and the Coretta Scott King Illustration Award for its breathtaking depiction of the life of young Jean-Michel Basquiat. Javaka Steptoe’s vivid approach to the artist’s life teaches the important lesson that true beauty doesn’t have to be carefully curated or delicate, but that it can sometimes be messy, loud, and bold.

Trombone Shorty 
Author: Troy Andrews
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Book Type: Picture
Age: 4-8

In this autobiographical book, Grammy-nominated musician Troy Andrews tells the story of how he got his nickname. At age six, Trombone Shorty was on stage performing in front of a huge crowd! This narrative delves into the rich cultural history of music in New Orleans, where Trombone Shorty grows up, pursues his immense talent, and fosters a love for jazz.  

This book is full of vibrant illustrations which depict the sounds and sights of musical New Orleans through color. Trombone Shorty’s message of pursuing passion, exemplified through his deep love of music, will encourage young readers to follow their own dreams. 

Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammed Ali  
Author: Charles R. Smith Jr.
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Book Type: Picture
Age: 10 and up

Written in lyrical poetry form and complemented by Bryan Collier’s iconic  illustration style, this book is the uplifting story of Muhammed Ali’s rise to success. Follow along on his journey from teenager in Kentucky to Olympic Legend. 

This tale of the famous boxer tackles important concepts from societal prejudice and faith to glory, success, and fighting. The book is structured in twelve chapters, each commemorating life events and key rounds in the ring throughout Ali’s life. The story provides a message of Black empowerment, glory, and success.

Miami Jackson Gets it Straight
Author: Patricia C. McKissack
Book Type: Chapter
Age: 6-9

For Miami Jackson, school couldn’t end soon enough–five days feels like forever! There’s a lot going on in this third grade classroom: his teacher is leaving for Ghana, his arch-enemy, Destinee Tate is stirring up trouble, and Miami’s hiding things from his best friend, String. Summer can’t come soon enough!

This book about quit-witted Miami Jackson is a great story for intermediate readers with a strong Black protagonist. It teaches important lessons of friendship and life transitions, and creates a lovable and relatable cast of character for readers to relate to.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore
Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Book Type: Picture
Age: 7-10

A true tale of an incredible spot, this book tells the story of Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr. in the 1930s. Lewis, had an itch he needed to scratch–a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore.

This is a wonderful narrative about an impactful community space where great thinkers came to exchange thoughts and ideas. Frequent visitors included Malcolm X and Langston Hughes. Just as the National Memorial African Bookstore helped people stand up for what they believed in, so will this book encourage young Black readers to stand up for what is right and give voice to their own ideas.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Book Type: Chapter
Age: 8-12

Clayton loves spending time around his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd and his band of Bluesmen. When Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids him from playing the blues, Clayton takes measures into his own hands. On the road with his grandfather’s porkpie hat and a harmonica, Clayton leaves home to search for the Bluesmen. 

This is a moving story that tackles tough issues of intergenerational tension, grief, and pursuing one’s passions. Clayton’s commitment to his grandfather and his deep love for the blues provide an inspirational basis for the narrative, and encourage readers to follow their dreams.

Dear Martin
Author: Nic Stone
Book Type: Chapter
Age: 14-18

The story of Justyce, a young Ivy-League bound student who faces an unjust arrest, Dear Martin explores issues of race relations and police brutality. Justyce seeks answers, turning to the works of Martin Luther King Jr., and keeping a journal with entries addressed to the Civil Rights Leader. 

This book, intended for a young adult audience, takes a raw and real approach to contemporary issues, teaching important lessons about justice and prejudice. The novel’s epistolary approach provides a unique perspective on Justyce’s story, and creates a meaningful reading experience.

X: A Novel
Authors: Ilyasah Shabazz, Kekla Magoon
Book Type: Chapter
Age: 14-18

An in-depth narrative of the life of influential Civil Rights figure Malcolm X, this book is an inspirational read for young adult readers. The story follows Malcolm from his upbringing in Flint and Lansing, Michigan to his imprisonment for theft at the age of 24 to the moments that characterized his strong voice for change in our country’s history. 

This story is an empowering biography of Malcolm X that will have readers considering the influential role one’s past can play in their adult lives. As Malcolm faces struggles, discovers his faith, and begins to understand himself, the story imparts a powerful message of strength and individuality. 

For more book ideas for babies, toddlers, and young kids check out Elephant Books for additional information about the gift everyone feels good about!

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