When I made the first of these lists back in 2016 (see the 2019 edition here!) I had no idea the places it would go: Libraries, schools and families all over the world continue to share it even now, and I am humbled by its reception. I’ve long threatened to do a sequel to that list, so here it is. Same old librarian, all new tricks. Same rules apply:
1) Titles that came out within the last ten years (or so).
2) A spread in the gender of the protagonists.
3) Shine light on typically ignored aspects of black life. Nothing against history, but we aren’t exactly hurting for books on slavery. We could do with some more books about fishing, owning pets, and generally any other hobby children have. (That said, this list caught a lot more history than the last one.)
The books are not ranked in any way. Creator(s) are noted: Author/Illustrator.
See you in the stacks, but more importantly, buy some books!
- Freedom in Congo Square
(Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie)
I lean out of historical stuff for these lists, but this book was too strong to ignore. A look at the birthplace of jazz, and how Congo Square was just about the only place that could have happened.
- Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
(Derrick Barnes/Gordon C. James)
Anything that alleviates the drama of taking a child to the barbershop should be celebrated. A beautifully done and warm book about learning to love your hair, the process of maintaining it, and the unique experience of barbershop traditions.
- Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
This is the 2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Illustrator Winner, and for good reason. Get hip to one of the greatest names to ever grace the art world in this completely accessible narrative done in a playful and informative style.
- Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
(Margot Lee Shetterly/Laura Freeman)
By now you’ve probably seen the movie and read Shetterly’s original adult version of this story. This is a fine encapsulation of the women scientists who went unheralded for years, now specifically for younger children.
- Big Hair, Don’t Care
Nobody loves their hair more than the irrepressible narrator of this book. Perfect for any child that may struggle with self-esteem because of their crown.
- My Friend Maya Loves to Dance
(Cheryl Willis Hudson/Eric Velasquez)
A strong and beautifully rendered take on an otherwise common childrens book topic. And how about that co-ed dance class, eh?
- I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl!
(Betty K. Bynum/Claire Armstrong Parod)
This book takes the ugliness of colorism and turns it completely on its head, celebrating all the shades black girls come in.
- Mae Among the Stars
(Roda Ahmed/Stasia Burrington)
A warm and engaging take on the childhood dreams and observations that made Mae Jemison – the first African American woman to travel into space – put on a helmet.
- Hey Black Child
(Useni Eugene Perkins/Bryan Collier)
A poem-as-book self-esteem building exercise best done out loud. Emphasis on the loud.
- Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
(Daniel Beaty /Bryan Collier)
I’m a sucker for a book with a present and affectionate black father in it, and while this one roped me in with that promise, it takes matters further by actually being about what it’s like when your father isn’t present.
- Ruth and the Green Book
(Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss/Floyd Cooper)
The infamous Green Books and the circumstances that made them necessary during segregation are conveyed here in a careful and intelligent way.
- The Ring Bearer
Lots of stories out there about flower girls. Almost none about ring bearers.
- Early Sunday Morning
(Denene Millner/Vanessa Brantley-Newton)
Denene Millner has parlayed her best-selling success in writing non-fiction into a full-blown imprint deal that lets her publish children’s books with a focus on black creators, so if you see a book with “Denene Millner Books” across the top (see #2 above), get it. Early Sunday Morning is a delight of a book, roping in several black traditions in a beautiful package.
- Tea Cakes for Tosh
(Kelly Starling Lyons/E. B. Lewis)
I am also a sucker for grandmothers. This is a political treat of a book that touches on family, slavery, and the importance of traditions.
- Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day
(Tameka Fryer Brown/Charlotte Riley-Webb)
This book brims with examples of a diverse and well-rounded neighborhood life with irrepressible art to boot.
- This Is the Rope
(Jacqueline Woodson/James Ransome)
The prolific Woodson has been killing the book game for a while now, and this picture book offering takes a common playful activity – jumping rope – and connects it to notions of legacy and history without being heavy-handed.
- I’m a Big Brother Now
(Katura J. Hudson/Sylvia L. Walker)
A good one for that soon-to-be-a-sibling who wants to know what life after the new baby is going to look like, and what their job is.
- Lily Brown’s Paintings
(Angela Johnson/E. B. Lewis)
Every child loves to paint, but few of them are as talented as budding art forger Lily Brown, who tries her hand at capturing the styles of the masters.
- Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
(Katheryn Russell-Brown/Frank Morrison)
A beautifully illustrated and sound-rich biography of important (yet unheralded) trombone player Melba Liston.
(Note: On my first list there was a book about current musical herald Trombone Shorty, so it was good to find a book that essentially says “These things come from traditions. Yes, even the trombone players.”)
- Fishing Day
(Andrea Davis Pinkney/Shane W. Evans)
A girl and her mother go fishing is just about the surprising premise I found this time around. Alas, of course, Jim Crow appears. A reach-across-the-aisle tale.
- Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon
(Ruth Forman/Cbabi Bayoc)
An ode to Philly brownstone summertime life, this is a vibrant and slightly dialect inflected book-length poem. “Today Was a Good Day” for kids.
- The Hat That Wore Clara B.
(Melanie Turner-Denstaedt/Frank Morrison)
A black woman’s church hat is a sacred thing. They come with their own stories and rituals, and this book does a great job of relaying the layers of tradition associated with them. Black church childrens books are practically a genre unto themselves, and this title is a standard bearer.
- Not Norman: A Goldfish Story
(Kelly Bennett/Noah Z. Jones)
Most kids want pets, but this kid is not feeling Norman the Goldfish. Fish don’t do anything cool…or do they? A cute study in appreciation, responsibility that has a nice wry touch that makes reading it aloud a lot of fun.
- The Moon Over Star
(Dianna Hutts Aston/Jerry Pinkney)
Any story that has a young girl make her cousins build her a spaceship in the backyard is pretty much gold. A period piece (1969) with a wink at Mae Jemison (see #8), suggesting that there just might be enough books about black women and space to make a proper school unit.
- The Quickest Kid in Clarksville
(Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison)
Two girls face off in a dramatic foot race before the big parade comes featuring Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph. There’s way more drama than I gave a book about a foot race. Like, I got invested.
- Hank’s Big Day
(Evan Kuhlman/Chuck Groenink)
I was confused by this book because the first half of it focused entirely on the adventures of Hank the Pill Bug. I feared the black girl on the cover was mere decoration, only to discover halfway through the book that Hank has essentially been making his way to Amelia, who as it turns out is his best friend. A wonderful testimony about friendship featuring an engaging young girl and her buddy the pill bug.
- Grace for President
(Kelly DiPucchio/LeUyen Pham)
What better time to instill the message in our youth that their civic duty moving forward should largely be to make us forget 2017 ever happened.
- Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
(Phil Bildner/John Parra)
Another New Orleans-focused entry with a ton of heart. Based on the life of French Quarter sanitation worker Cornelius Washington, who was a real character. It is a great slice of community life of the most unique city in America after one of its most trying times. Don’t worry: The hurricane part is brief. It’s mostly neighborhood love. Also, any opportunity to get a room full of kids to yell “Hootie Hoo!” unapologetically simply must be taken advantage of.