The following are some of our favorite books for Black History Month (and anytime!). Some describe our different histories, while others show the joys and challenges that are shared by people of all backgrounds & ethnicities.
We hope these suggestions serve to introduce you to what Black History Month is all about.
Books for Children
After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother save their money to buy a big comfortable chair. Suffused with warmth and tenderness, A Chair for My Mother celebrates family love and determination. A Caldecott Honor book. Spanish version also available.
Grace loves to act, but one day some kids tell her she can’t play the part of Peter Pan because of the way she looks. Grace’s grandmother helps this young girl realize that with effort anything can be achieved. An inspiring and heartwarming story.
Have you ever wondered how the Moon was placed in the sky? According to this Ashanti tale, Nyame, the god of all things, put it there when Anansi could not decide which of his sons deserved it. Brilliant illustrations accompany this classic retelling of a traditional tale.
Every year the narrator and his family take a trip down to Cottondale, Florida, to visit his grandmother, Bigmama. This autobiographical story recalls the joys of summer and the contrast between the author’s life in the city and Bigmama’s lush, rural home. While the illustrations suggest it was a period of segregation, this thought never overpowers the carefree summer celebration.
By: Ntozake Shange ; illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta knew, too well, the unfairness of life in the segregated south. A yearning for equality began to grow. Together with Martin Luther King, Jr., she gave birth to a vision and a journey–with dreams of freedom for all.
By Rae Bains ; illustrated by Larry Johnson.
The biography of a slave whose flight to freedom was the first step in her becoming a conductor on the underground railroad.
Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used
by Alan Schroeder ; pictures by Jerry Pinkney.
Young Harriet Tubman, whose childhood name was Minty, dreams of escaping slavery on the Brodas plantation in the late 1820s.
By: Lola M. Schaefer.A brief biography of the Alabama black woman whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus helped establish the civil rights movement.
Soonie’s great grandmother was only seven-years-old when sold to the big plantation. A quilt that showed the way to freedom and chronicled the family’s history connects the generations, and continues to do so. Idealized illustrations and the poetic text provide an unusual family story.
Set in the 1950s, this book by Mildred Taylor is frank in its portrayal of racism. Lois and Wilma are proud when their father buys a brand new gold Cadillac. Only their mother won’t ride in it. On a trip from their home in Ohio to Mississippi, there are no admiring glances only suspicion directed toward the black man driving such a fancy car. For the first time, Lois knows what it’s like to feel scared because of her skin color.
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American to integrate an elementary school. Her memories of that year, when so much hatred was directed at her, makes for a powerful memoir. A 1999 Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner.
Stirring poems and vibrant collage illustrations combine to celebrate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of the Civil Rights and voting rights movements during the 1950s through the 1970s. Born in the Mississippi delta, the youngest of 20 children, Hamer had to drop out of school after sixth grade to work in the cotton fields before she became a powerful voice for her people. The book vividly brings to life Hamer’s legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.
By: Ellen Levine
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
A fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Virginia slave, Henry “Box” Brown, escapes to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.
By: Kadir Nelson
Describes the glory years of Negro league baseball in the early 1900s, profiling its star athletes and highlighting the challenges faced by the players and the sacrifices made to live out their dreams and play the game they loved.
Explores the previously uncelebrated but pivotal contributions of NASA’s African American women mathematicians to America’s space program, describing how Jim Crow laws segregated them despite their groundbreaking successes.
Books for Adults
By: Alice Walker
An uneducated woman living in the rural American south who was raped by her father, deprived of the children she bore him and forced to marry a brutal man she calls “Mister” is transformed by the friendship of two remarkable women, acquiring self-worth and the strength to forgive.
A Black woman searches for a fulfilling relationship through two loveless marriages and finally finds it in the person of Tea Cake, an itinerant laborer and gambler.
By: Maya Angelou
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime.
By: Alex Haley
This poignant and powerful narrative tells the dramatic story of Kunta Kinte, snatched from freedom in Africa and brought by ship to America and slavery, and his descendants. Drawing on the oral traditions handed down in his family for generations, the author traces his origins back to the seventeen-year-old Kunta Kinte, who was abducted from his home in Gambia and transported as a slave to colonial America.
By: Colson Whitehead
A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
By: Yaa Gyasi
Two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
By: Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells–taken without her knowledge in 1951–became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.
By: Kathryn Stockett
In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed. With the civil rights movement exploding all around them, three women start a movement of their own, forever changing a town and the way women–black and white, mothers and daughters–view one another.
n 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.
By: Ron Stallworth
When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. Black Klansman is an amazing true story that reads like a crime thriller, and a searing portrait of a divided America and the extraordinary heroes who dare to fight back.
By: Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule.
by: Malcolm X
In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time.
With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.