28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball

2018 UPDATE: I made a sequel to this list for 2018 with 28 MORE books! You can see it here.

A few years ago I was asked by a local TV station to suggest some books for children in honor of Black History Month. Being a Black librarian I relished the opportunity, but I did point out that my offerings would avoid the typical fare of Black children’s books: boycotts, buses and basketball. We’ve picked up a few other hobbies since the 1960s, and there are hundreds of books to show for it. Here is a humble sampling of some just in time for Black History Month. 28 children’s picture books, most of them featuring Black children doing what all children do: play, make up stories, learn life lessons, and dream.

I picked titles that came out within the last ten years (or so). I also tried to spread out the gender of the protagonists, as well as put some light on some typically ignored aspects of Black life in books (loving and present fathers, non-urban life, and so on). Books list creators as follows: author/illustrator.

  1. Bigmama’s – Donald Crews
    A nostalgic riff on visiting your country folks, heavy on the love, light on the mosquitos.
  2. Lizard from the Park – Mark Pett 
    If you miss Calvin and Hobbes, this might help.
  3. My Family Plays Music – Judy Cox/Elbrite Brown 
    If you come from a musical family – or want to – this is your joint.
  4. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore – Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie
    Nelson returns to the well of the famous National Memorial African Bookstore, but this time for a younger set than her previous offering, No Crystal Stair.
  5. Tar Beach – Faith Ringgold
    A little older than much of this list, this modern classic proves you can make Black family magic anywhere.
  6. Thunder Rose – Jerdine Nolen/Kadir Nelson
    Girl Power to the tenth power. I love this book. And the art? Fugedaboutit.
  7. Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table – Vanessa Newton
    A hilarious take on one of Black families’ most stringent traditions.
  8. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands – Kadir Nelson
    Nelson is a powerful artist as well as writer, and this book is a great marriage of his gifts.
  9. Daddy Calls Me Man – Angela Johnson/Rhonda Mitchell
    The all-too-rare Black father book.
  10. Momma, Where Are You From? – Marie Bradby/Chris Soentpiet
    A nice mother-daughter conversation goes historical and personal.
  11. The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County – Janice N. Harrington/Shelley Jackson
    I’m partial to girl protagonists doing things no one thinks they’re supposed to do. The art is magnificent as well.
  12. I Love My Hair! – Natasha Anastasia Tarpley/E.B. Lewis
    You can’t have a Black children’s book list without a book on Black hair.
  13. When I Am Old with You – Angela Johnson/David Soman
    Grandfathers don’t get enough shine. A sweet generational tale.
  14. Max and the Tag-Along Moon – Floyd Cooper
    Beautifully rendered and a nice surreal take on a pretty common observation by children.
  15. Lola Reads to Leo – Anna McQuinn/Rosalind Beardshaw
    Any book that has children reading to other children is going on my lists about books for children.
  16. How Many Stars in the Sky? – Lenny Hort/James E. Ransome
    A little science – and father-bonding – never hurt anybody.
  17. Peeny Butter Fudge – Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison/Joe Cepeda
    Morrison did some kids books, and this one is a LOT of fun. Grandma is off the chain.
  1. Hot Day on Abbott Avenue – Karen English/Javaka Steptoe
    Girls fight. This book shows us how to get past the fight.
  2. When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop – Laban Carrick Hill/Theodore Taylor III
    A little wordy and historical for a picture book, but still a worthy addition to any collection.
  3. Kitchen Dance – Maurie J. Manning
    Kids not sleeping when they’re supposed to usually leads to trouble. Here, it leads to dancing…and love.
  1. The Rain Stomper – Addie Boswell/Eric Velasquez
    Never mess with a Black girl’s parade.
  2. Summer Sun Risin’ – W. Nikola-Lisa/Don Tate
    Country life never looked so good. This book is fun, and the art is some of the best to be found anywhere.
  3. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin – Jen Bryant/Melissa Sweet
    The art isn’t necessarily representative of the subject, but that’s not really the point. The point is children seeing famous people turning what they already do into a possible life path.
  4. Yo! Yes? – Chris Raschka
    Simple, fun, and subtle.
  5. Come on, Rain! – Karen Hesse/Jon Muth
    Some good ol’ playing in the rain fun, with some great descriptive language.
  6. Monster Trouble – Lane Fredrickson/Michael Robertson
    A girl who not only isn’t scared of monsters, but sets out to show them why they should be scared of her.
  7. The Ghost of Sifty Sifty Sam – Angela Shelf Medearis/Jacqueline Rogers
    A book about a Black chef you won’t have to hide from your kids. Beware: Sam’s a little creepy.
  8. Yesterday I Had the Blues – Jeron Ashford Frame/R. Gregory Christie
    A lot of color association here married to some strong family life observations.
    yesterdayihadthebluesAnd since this is coming out during a leap year, I’ll give you one more:
  1. Trombone Shorty – Troy Andrews/Bryan Collier
    Why wait for someone to write the children’s book of your life when you can do it yourself? New Orleans musicians Trombone Shorty gives us a slice of that Tremé Second Line life.

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the resource, The Brown Bookshelf. I wish I had found this site when I started compiling this list. Then I could have spent my night with a Playstation controller instead of my keyboard and a stack of books. If you’re looking to stay on top of the Black children’s book game, that’s my recommended resource right now.


131 thoughts on “28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball

  1. this list needs to be in pinterest. please god put it on pinterest. i’m so tired of brown hand and smiling mlk book lists of teachers’ pinterest boards. can i put this on pinterest? the pinning public needs this list…
    -kerrita k. mayfield

    1. I have a chapter book young readers called Freya’s Friend. The main character is a black girl who happens to be looking for her black cat–the most coveted of all cats!! What I love about it is that Freya could be any race. The story has nothing to do with color. Our daughters need to see their faces on main characters who are strong smart funny witty and loyal.

  2. Lovely suggestions. I’d also like to add Moon Over Star by Dianna Hutts Aston–a great book about the moon landing of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

  3. Reblogged this on Eccentric and Bent and commented:
    Just in time for Black History Month this wonderful researcher, writer and curator shared a list of books. They reflect the everyday moments that turn into personal history. Although, one book seems to be actually about History with a capital H. The author includes a link to another curator.
    I hope that you use that link and at least some of these books year round, not just during February. All children benefit from learning about diverse people and scenarios. They benefit by learning new ways to think. They benefit by developing empathy for others. The children who resemble the characters benefit by having their lives normalized. Children who don’t resemble these characters benefit by learning even though people may look different they can have similar experiences. I mean who doesn’t have cherished family memories, love for music, and/or big imaginations? But the best benefit for sharing diverse books is instilling the love of literature in a child. Have a look.

  4. Great list and much needed! I’d love folks to know about Charlotte and the Quiet Place, my first picture book, illustrated by Sara Woolley, which shows how a girl in NYC finds inner peace in her very noisy world.

  5. My students loved, “The Stories Julian Tells,” which is more a read-aloud than a picture book. Walter Dean Myers, “Harlem,” (illustrated by his son) is another wonderful book. Reading this list made me wish I was teaching young children again.

  6. Freya’s Friend. Teen witch who happens to be black searching for the most coveted of all pets–a black cat. This story is not about being black. This story is about a girl. This story is about perseverance, loyalty and friendship. Every book with black characters should not have to do with our histor, our struggle, or our accomplishments as a race!

  7. “I LOVE MY HAIR” is a great book. If I by be so bold to suggest “NONNIE AND I” – a picture book published in 2014 (Xist Publishing) about an African girl and her friendship with a giraffe and starting school fears.

  8. What a wonderful list. I will be adding a few of these to my grandchildren’s book collections…..

  9. Great list – thank you for compiling and sharing! I’d also like to recommend: The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus, Precious and the Boo Hag by Patricia McKissack, and This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson.

  10. I recommend all of these as well: Ruth and the Green Book, Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in 9 Innings, Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp-Stride, Knockin’ on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates, Misty Copeland’s Firebird, Brown Girl Dreaming & Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (she’s wonderful), Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, Little Melba and her Big Trombone, Heart & Soul by Kadir Nelson (I love his work), Bad News for Outlaws, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (anything by her is amazing), Bud, Not Buddy & Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, Cornrows, Mirandy & Brother Wind, Talkin’ About Bessie (Bessie Coleman), The Blacker the Berry, One Crazy Summer & its sequel P.S. Be Eleven and the a 3rd one whose title escapes me…

    SO many great books!!!! 😊😊😊

  11. When I taught pre-schoolers and even my own grandchildren I used books like these and even two of them ( Tar Beach and I Love My Hair) My youngest grand daughters hated having kinky hair but children of all ethnic backgrounds in various classrooms responded well to these books. Parents and teachers please keep the positive messages flowing. i am the daughter of a teacher ( should have said that first) and reaching and teaching is in my DNA. Now, more than ever we must dedicate ourselves to teaching our children all things positive. Image is very important…our babies must believe in the power of their beautiful relevance in this world. Keep up the good work! These books are so beautiful I might buy some of them and start my Story time with Grandma Zee again!

  12. “Yo? Yes!” is absolutely marvelous! It is amazing how much depth of feeling is found in those two words. Thanks for a wonderful list, most of them new to me. – Fawn

  13. Thanks so much for this. Some of these are my favorites out there! Always looking for great reads for my daughter. I’d also like to recommend Sunne’s Gift by Ama K. Yawson. Wonderful story with strong messages about pride and love.

  14. I was hoping you were African American…I went to your about page first and my hopes were crushed when I read you were a “librarian.” I thought: “an African American Librarian…yeah right!” Then I came to this page and my hopes blossomed again; I thought: “an African American Librarian, YEAH!” I don’t know why that excited me so! But thanks for posting this list…awesome!

  15. Please don’t forget, “Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch. Great story about a girl who is told “you can’t” and overcomes. There is also a sequel which I haven’t seen, “Boundless Grace.”

  16. Thank you, Scott! I have a suggestion to add to the list:

    Title: Alligator Eggs: Sara’s Wildlife Adventure
    Author: Stephanie Steele, Wildlife Biologist
    Publisher: Mascot Books (December 2, 2014)
    ISBN-10: 1620868172
    ISBN-13: 978-1620868171

  17. Awesome Blog! Thanks for sharing this with us just in time for Black History Month. You should also add this Children Book that was written about a Child. “Hunter Defeats The Bullies Part One Of The Series Hunter And The God Squad” By Hunter E. Carpenter
    Publisher: Carpenter’s Press; 1st edition (2015)
    ISBN-10: 0986368717
    ISBN-13: 978-0986368714

  18. I still have several books my kids in Head Start loved-“Doctor Shawn”, “Shawn Goes to School””Sara and the Door” and “I Don’t Care” and They are books about real kids and real feelings. They were published in the &0’s and are hard to find but well worth the search.

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