Every February, parents of all races frantically search for books about Black people for their kids. Usually these books are biographies of prominent Black historical figures geared towards different age groups. And while that’s great, there are so many other types of Black books out there. One way to ensure your kids are reading books about Black people is to buy them a wide array of books. Not just biographies, but fictional stories featuring Black main characters. Especially those that also have Black authors.
There are a bunch of books written by Black authors featuring Black main characters for younger kids. Reading books with fictional Black characters makes it easier for kids to understand Black kids are just like them. Or for Black kids to see themselves reflected back in the pages of their books. There is so much more to the Black community than our struggles. And if you truly want to teach your kids empathy, buying a diverse group of Black books is the first step.
Representation matters. With so much of the focus on the struggles of the Black community, Black kids forget they can just be kids. Reading stories where kids who look like them are doing things they do makes them see more than just pain. Seeing kids excel at sports or fight evil let’s them know that they can contain multitudes. The books below are a wide representation of the Black experience.
Picture Books: typically for kids from birth until mid-elementary school. These Black stories teach young kids about the importance of fighting for what’s right, persevering and that they are perfect no matter what.
This sweet story, written by the “Queer Eye” star and his son, gives us a glimpse of their early relationship. In the book, we see a young boy and his dad talk about all the things that make their bond special. At one point, young Jason asks his dad if he’ll miss him when he grows up and leaves. That’s become one of my son’s favorite questions as a result! And in the back of the book, there’s an author’s note telling the reader about their relationship as father and son. It’s very sweet.
This sweet second-person narrative picture book became an instant favorite in my house. The main character is a little girl who is determined to find an elusive fox. Armed with her camera, she has a series of near encounters with the sly fox before they find each other. A second-person narrative means that kids reading the story can put themselves in the little girl’s shoes, which makes for a super fun reading experience.
Even though the march featured in this book is the famous “March on Washington,” it has a universal message. We see two kids getting ready to attend the march with their family. They join other marchers from around the country to sing songs, hold their signs and hear Dr. King’s words. This book is a great introduction to talking about protests and the significance of marching with young children.
Based in part on Nyong’o’s childhood, Sulwe is described “Black as night.” The little girl yearns to have a lighter skin color like the rest of her family. Sulwe wants friends like her lighter skinned older sister Mich. But then one night, a magical star comes and tells the young girl a story. The day and night are sisters who each bring what’s special about them to make the day. After realizing how important and beautiful night is, Sulwe begins to embrace her dark skin. Lupita Nyong’o also includes an important author’s note at the end of the book.
This is a story of perseverance, determination, and the quest for a better life. Richards’ latest children’s book is the real life story of his father. Joe emigrates from Sierra Leone, Africa to the United States as a young boy. He does everything right: he goes to school and does well, makes friends and assimilates into American culture. Eventually he goes on to become a successful adult.
This is a fun story that will do well with the toddler in the house. We all know the baby who gets into everything, and this is that baby personified. In the story, the adults beg the baby to do things like eat their peas, share a ball and not to splash all the water out of the tub. Little ones will love the repetition of “please, baby, please” in all its forms.
Middle Grade: written for kids age 10 to 13/14, these Black books are about overcoming obstacles, jumping hurdles, using your imagination and fighting for yourself.
This is the graphic novel adaptation of Alexander’s 2014 novel in verse. Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan have basketball in their blood. They get it from their dad. But Josh has more than just basketball in his blood, he has “mad beats” too. But the twins will learn that growing up isn’t easy. And when you break the rules, there are consequences. On and off the court.
Jada Sly is a ten-year-old spy in training. She’s also an artist who studies the great Black artists who came before her like Jackie Ormes, the first known Black cartoonist. Jada is back in New York City after living in France for five years, and she’s on a mission: she’s going to scour the city in search of her missing mother. People say that she died in a plane crash, but Jada believes that she was a spy too.
Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) can run. It’s all he’s ever known. He’s never run for a team though, only for himself. But then he beats the fastest sprinter on an elite track team. And in him, the Olympic medal winning coach sees pure, raw talent. Ghost is a kid with a traumatic past — that’s the thing he’s trying to outrun the hardest. But maybe Coach can help him harness his power and his past into something bigger.
Zoe Washington receives a letter on her twelfth birthday from her father Marcus. The father she doesn’t know because he’s in prison for committing a terrible crime. But he says he didn’t do it. So Zoe takes it upon herself to investigate, without telling her family. They just think she’s nervous about the bakery internship that she’s only doing so her parents will think she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Will Zoe uncover the truth?
Kingston James is convinced that after his brother Khalid died, he became a dragonfly. Khalid’s sudden death is affecting King’s whole family, so he won’t tell them that his brother visits his dreams. If only King could talk to his best friend Sandy, but before his death Khalid warned King to stay away, because people suspect Sandy is gay. And King doesn’t want people to think he’s gay too, right? But when Sandy goes missing, their friendship starts again, and King has to think about who he really is.
Maya is the only one in her neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side who can see things like the werehyenas and the shadow man in her dreams. Her friends try to come up with explanations, but it sounds like one of her Papa’s stories. But then Papa goes missing and Maya learns the truth. He’s the guardian of the veil between the Dark and our world. And Maya is half orisha and half human. She now has to stop the Lord of Shadows from destroying the world. Hopefully she can do it before Comic-Con.
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