28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (Vol. 3)

Several 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 (#BlackLibrarianLife) 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 lots of books to show for it. Here is a humble sampling of 28 children’s picture books featuring Black children doing what all the other things children like to do: play, make up stories, learn life lessons, and dream.

I’m really excited about this year’s list for several reasons. The first is that there is so much more range in what children’s books are willing to engage: colorism, body-positivity, mental health, gender awareness, special needs education…the field has started to become a meaningful buffet of subjects related to the very real lives of children. Young people need to see positive versions of their experiences (and those of their families, schoolmates and friends) reflected in the media they consume. It makes them more empathetic and intelligent human beings. I am so emboldened by this realization that I am committing myself to doing these lists annually instead of every other year.

Another reason I’m excited for this year’s list (my third. You can see the first one here and the second one here) and this year’s list is special: ALL 28 BOOK WERE PUBLISHED IN 2019! Usually I extend a list back a few years, but this time I challenged myself to stick to books that came out this year.

Books are listed with writer/artist (i) for illustrator. Where there is no designation the person did double duty on the book (writing and artwork).

  1. Dear Dragon
    Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo (i)

Pen pals are a lost art. In this story, two friends trade letters back and forth, sharing their hobbies and interests, but upon meeting each other discover that one of them is a dragon. It’s cute, but I also like anything that might compel a child to write and communicate as an adventure.

  1. Stop That Yawn!
    Caron Levis/LeUyen Pham (i)

Gabby Wild is the lead character’s name and also a complete sentence, as she and her grandmother hurtle through an adventure in ana tempt to stave off sleep.

  1. When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree
    Jamie L. B. Deenihan/Lorraine Rocha (i)

A young girl is given a lemon tree for her birthday (which is, of course, not what she asked for) but in the spirit of “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” she learns a valuable lesson. This book comes with a lemonade recipe to boot.

  1. When Aidan Became A Brother
    Kyle Lukoff/Kaylani Juanita (i)

Aidan is a young transgender boy that discovers his mother is pregnant, which will soon make him a big brother. A great story about self-awareness, acceptance, and thanks to the art of Juanita, notions of gender run through the rare lens of race. A great book for families that struggle with this conversation.

  1. Hair Love
    Matthew A. Cherry/Vashti Harrison (i)

There are a ton of children’s books about black hair, but this one stands out because it has a refreshing father/daughter dynamic, and an accompanying short film which you can watch here.

  1. What If…
    Samantha Berger/Mike Curato (i)

A girl tries to discover the best way to unleash her many creative ideas into the world through various forms of art. It’s an important lesson in how to find the work that works for you.

  1. A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon
    Suzanne Slade/Veronica Miller Jamison (i)

Since the movie Hidden Figures came out you can find a lot of children’s books on mathematician Katherine Johnson, who (with other black women) persevered through segregation and racism at NASA to help put man on the moon. A lot of the books about her are chapter book level rather than intended for picture book readers, so this one is a nice entry into this particular piece of history. Once they put out a board book about Johnson, you’ll be able to read about her at every level of literacy. #BlackGirlScience for the win!

  1. Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams
    Jeanette Winter

I tend to stay away from biographies on these lists unless they function first as engaging children’s literature, and this one works.

  1. Fresh Princess
    Denene Millner/Gladys Jose (i)

There will probably be a Denene Millner book on every list I make because she goes in the paint for black creators of children’s books through her publishing imprint, Denene Millner books. This particular book is a riff on Will Smith’s Fresh Prince character and is a lot of fun. It doesn’t hurt that Smith himself partnered with Millner to turn this into a series, so you could be seeing sequels on my lists moving forward depending on what else Millner does in a given year.

  1. Sulwe
    Lupita Nyong’o/Vashti Harrison (i)

I am always wary of celebrity books but this story by actress Lupita Nyong’o has a great message about colorism, which is one of the first things a child of color has to contend with. And Harrison’s art is magnificent.

  1. Have You Thanked an Inventor Today?
    Patrice McLaurin/Dian Wang (i)

A young boy learns about the many things that Black inventors have created through the things he uses every day. It’s a great replacement for the Black History Month calendar with the big portrait of George Washington Carver on it.

  1. Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesdays
    Jon Stahl/Tadgh Bentley (i)

A couple of monsters get into a debate about the best way to tell tales and, having determined that they need to insert a dragon into the yarn, they also include a brave Black damsel that saves the day (almost).

  1. Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me
    Eloise Greenfield/Ehsan Abdollahi (i)

Oh, just a normal story about a boy and his dog…both of whom create poetry!

  1. Power Up
    Seth Fishman/Isabel Greenberg (i)

This is a cool toe-dip into the world of energy science, done in a completely digestible way. It focuses on physical activity and how that translates to energy. Get up and move, kids!

  1. Rocket Says Look Up!
    Nathan Bryon/Dapo Adeola (i)

Rocket is a young Black girl who is WAY into space and endeavors to get her whole neighborhood to join her in witnessing a rare celestial event. The cover caught my eye because Rocket has to be one of the cutest characters I’ve ever seen, and reminds me of Marvel Comic’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur series that just ended (which you should also get, while also being on the lookout for a forthcoming TV series).

  1. A Boy Like You
    Frank Murphy/Kayla Harren (i)

In the spirit of this list, this is a book that celebrates things that boys can do that aren’t just playing sports and toughing things out. Boyhood out the box!

  1. Party: A Mystery
    Jamaica Kincaid/Ricardo Cortés (i)

Party has the brains of a Jamaica Kincaid book, but ramped down for children. It is an extremely clever book that holds up a love of literacy and is, in fact, a bit of a mystery. If you have an advanced reader on your hands, give this a shot: the story is smartly sprinkled with words they – and you – will have to look up as part of the fun.

  1. Not Quite Snow White
    Ashley Franklin/Ebony Glenn (i)

A body-positive riff on the black-princess-dreaming trope.

  1. Reading Beauty
    Deborah Underwood/Meg Hunt (i)

A fairy tale remix on the power of loving books and no small amount of #BlackGirlMagic.

  1. Missing Daddy
    Mariame Kaba/bria royal (i)

A not-easy book to do, this story navigates a young girl’s feelings about having a father in prison, and the day she gets to go visit him.

  1. M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child
    Tiffany Rose

If the title wasn’t clear, this is an alphabet book that uses plenty of Black-positive examples. You can never have enough ABC books for children who are looking to learn the alphabet, and this one expands the traditional S-is-for-sun catalog.

  1. Ruby Finds a Worry
    Tom Percival

This was one of my favorite books this year. The titular character tries to deal with her anxiety, personified here as a “worry” that follows her around and impacts her life. When she encounters another child with a similar dilemma, they learn some things about dealing with their special shadows. I love that this book exists because so many children need it whether they deal with issues surrounding emotional intelligence or not. It can be hard to be a good friend to someone dealing with such feelings, and this book helps break that down.

  1. Double Bass Blues
    Andrea J. Loney/Rudy Gutierrez (i)

It is imperative to expose children to musical instruments – schools can’t guarantee that experience anymore – and this beautiful book makes playing music look awesome.

  1. Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment
    Parker Curry/Brittany Jackson (i)

Ripped from the headlines, this book captures the true story of a young girl who came to the National Portrait Gallery and was struck by Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama. A picture of Parker Curry looking at the painting went viral on the internet, and this book was born. It’s a nice touch that she’s the author of her own story.

  1. The Classroom Mystery: A Book about ADHD
    Tracy Packiam Alloway/Ana Sanfelippo (i)

Maybe it’s because of my vast history with Stephen King books, but I get nervous when I see a book about children with special educational needs. This book does a great job of using mystery to walk the line between seeing ADHD as a need and a way of seeing the world.

  1. I Am Perfectly Designed
    Karamo Brown, Jason “Rachel” Brown/Anoosha Syed (i)

Queer Eye host Karamo Brown pens this warm day-in-the-city tale about a son and father enjoying each other’s similarities and answering some kid-tough questions about the future.

  1. Happy Right Now
    Julie Berry/Holly Hatam (i)

There has been a real uptick in books attempting to address the emotional range of children and letting them know that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. This is a great entry in that life-affirming vein.

  1. Saturday
    Oge Mora

The regular Saturday rituals shared by a mother and daughter are put to the test by one challenge after another, but in a slight twist, the daughter saves the day here. A delightful call to not only employ regular social rituals into your relationships with children, but also keep in mind what’s important: that you spent time together in the first place.






17 thoughts on “28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (Vol. 3)

  1. Lovely set of selections! Beautiful illustrations!!! I wonder if all the authors are people of color? Is that one of your criteria as well? Hopefully African American author, Marc Boston will have one of his three books selected for next year’s list (you can find them at http://www.marcboston.com). His are three Lovely stories with amazing lessons for children (and adults)!! I’m thrilled you’ve decided to publish your list yearly now. I will definitely check some of these books out too.

    1. I have a few of these, and they are own voices. For sure Parker Looks Up, Sulwe, and Hair Love. I feel like others are too, but can’t remember if I checked them (Catherine Parker, Dragons eat tacos on Tuesdays, Reading Beauty, and a Boy Like You).

      1. Thank you a million for checking out marcboston.com and his book reading!!! We appreciate you taking the time to do that. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Beautiful collection!! Our son wrote a book about his journey of starting his mushroom farm business. “Te’Lario’s Amazing Mushroom Farm”. It has inspired kids and adults to think out-of-the-box and DREAM BIG!

  3. Awesome list! I follow you on Social Media. Will share! I especially appreciate that these children’s books have a moral to the stories. I hope to someday have my 3+ children’s alphabet storybooks and story workbooks on your list. A few of my African-American characters – Chris, Chuck, Nyvia, and KJ – share their stories about learning kindness, being yourself instead of copying someone else, connecting with nature, and the importance of losing our baby teeth. They can all be found at kidslearningessentials.com.

  4. This is a fantastic list! I appreciate your commitment to showcase all of the wonderful children’s books that are so needed for young readers! My children’s book Alice’s Musical Debut was released June 2019. I wish I had known if your lists then because I would have sent you a review galley. My children’s book is also not about buses, boycotts or basketball! Ha! 😆Keep up the great work!

    DuEwa Frazier

  5. Love this list! Wanted to share additional books I have given as gifts by author Vashti Harrison: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Dream Big Little One, Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History. Looking forward to your next list, congrats!

  6. How I wish I could’ve come across the old lists to toss my hat (books) in the ring for the this latest installment. Oh well, maybe next year? Either way, wonderful list! Thank you for taking the time to compile a list outside of the stereotypical reads. It is needed and greatly appreciated.

    Peace and Blessings,

  7. Fabulous list, thank you!!
    Just wanted to share some of my family’s favorites which I don’t see on any of your three lists:
    – “Squeak, Rumble, Whomp Whomp Whomp!, A Sonic Adventure” By Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers—a romp through musical New Orleans with a young trumpet player
    -“Splash, Anna Hibiscus!” by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia—a lovely day at the beach for an adventurous little girl and her big family
    -“Anna Hibiscus” early chapter book series by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell — We have eight of the books but there may be a couple more; exceptionally well written with unusual and sometimes engagingly challenging themes, but also very playful; excellent for representation of a strong, curious, brave female character who is also dark skinned African (but, as they touch on now and then, not as dark as her African family because her mother is Anglo-Canadian)
    Good review: https://artfulparent.com/anna-hibiscus/
    -“The No.1 Car Spotter” early chapter book series by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell—we actually haven’t read these but I have one on order now! About a lucky boy nicknamed No. 1, whose hobby is car spotting but who is good at solving all sorts of problems for his village.
    Atinuke’s website: http://atinuke-author.weebly.com

    If you are interested in good books by non-African-American/African authors, but with with all ABC characters, here are some nice ones:
    – “Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Bake You a Pie,” Robbin Gourley—Based on the childhood of pioneering chef Edna Lewis, offers a break from urban settings and a strong, curious female protagonist (includes delicious recipes 🙂
    -“Gravity,” written and illustrated by Jason Chin—an almost wordless picture book of playful visuals illustrating why we don’t all just float off the face of the earth!
    -“Ten, Nine, Eight,” by Molly Bang—super sweet classic children’s board book, especially nice because of the tenderness shown by a father, unusual for stories about kids of any skin tone!
    -“Corduroy,” by Don Freeman—can’t leave out this 1968 classic, which I remember fondly from my childhood, about a little girl who determinedly finds a way to bring home an adventurous stuffed teddy bear.


  8. I’m a professional translator and I want to volunteer my work to get some of these books translated into Spanish. Do you have any contacts you could put me in touch with? Thank you for this list.

  9. I love this list!!! (I know I’m late) I’m a children’s librarian and I’m ALWAYS LOOKING for stories featuring Black children (doing regular children’s story things)
    I’d also add Monster Trouble by Lane Fredrickson (that’s one of my halloween/Monster Favorites!!!!)

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