African American picture books, Black History Month, picture books Black History Month,

Top 10: Best African-American Picture Books (ages 4-12)

African-American History Through Picture Books

This Top 10 list of African-American Picture Books is different for me, because rather than list the books from favorite to most favorite as I usually do, I chose instead to list the books in historical chronology such that each book touches on a significant period or event of African-American history in the United States.  If you read all 10 (and please use your library for this!), you and your child will get a sense of history through picture books.  Because each picture books tells its own powerful story, I am hoping you and your child will get images and vignettes that will linger in your mind.

If you want more details on the history of African-Americans, please go to this link.


Honorable Mention

of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long

Who knew Barack Obama was a poet? This love letter to his daughters inspires in this tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans, but also highlights the simple human characteristics that made each of these people great and lies within all of us: creative, smart, brave, healer, strong, kind, possessing our “own song,” and inspiring. And he bids us to remember others’ sacrifices, never give up, and will always belong. Beautiful words from father to child but also from President to his people!

10. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson.

Clara is a slave who escapes to freedom by creating a quilt that maps the way to freedom.  [ages 5-9]

9. Minty:  A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder

An insightful fictionalized account of 8-year-old Araminta “Minty” Tubman as a young slave child. The story depicts the cruelty of slavery but also shows  the strength Minty possessed as a child that shaped her into the extraordinary heroine and leader she became. [ages 4-9]

8.  Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

A true story of a slave who shipped himself to freedom. [ages  4-8]

7.  Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

This is the story of Patricia Polacco’s ancestor’s who survived the Civil War due to the kindness of a black soldier and his mother, both who perished brutally during the war.  [ages 10-12]

6. Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard and E.B. Lewis.

Set in Reconstruction Tennessee, Virgie, a girl, goes to school to learn to be free. [ages 5-9]

5. Rosa Parks:  Not Giving In (The Time Traveler’s Adventure) by James Collins

An audio interactive book with CD that tells the story of Rosa Parks as a time travel adventure in which students go back in time and sit on the bus with Rosa Parks on that fateful day in December of 1955. [ages 6-10]

4. The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

When Ruby Bridges was 6-years-old, she was the only African American student to attend a newly desegregated school in Louisiana.  Her extraordinary ability to withstand a hostile environment while viewing her tormentors (adult and child) with forgiveness makes her an inspiration to us all.  My kids were lucky to meet her at a school event a few years ago.  She continues to inspire!  If you want to see if you can get her to come to your school, go to this link:  [ages 4-8]

3. Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

This multi-award winning book somehow manages to put the power of Martin Luther King Junior’s words into a format that is accessible to kids as young at preschoolers while simultaneously telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement in an accessible way.   A must read!  [ages 4-9]

2. Don’t Say Ain’t by Irene Smalls.

Dana learns to navigate two worlds:  an advanced integrated school and the friends she has at home.  [ages 5-10]

1.  Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

A charismatic little African American girl realizes that she can be anybody and do anything despite the color of her skin.  [ages 6-10]

Honorable Mention

White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman

The actor Amber Tamblyn reads it in a very compelling way.

Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman

The sequel to Amazing Grace stands on its own.  Grace frets that her family isn’t the tradition two parents, two kids.  She has a mother and a grandmother while her father, now remarried, lives in Gambia, Africa.  When he sends her tickets to visit, she experiences the culture of Africa and that a father’s love is boundless. [ages 6-10]

Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English.

Wonderfully illustrated with collage art, this is a story about a hot day in an inner city.  [ages 4-8]

My First Biography:  Martin Luther King, Jr by Marion Dane Bauer

The perfect first biography for preschoolers on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in a story that young children can relate to.  [ages 3-5]


p.s. I have more book lists to celebrate Black History Month and MLK Day here:

Celebrating MLK Day with 3 Children’s Books. I selected two picture books and one chapter book to help tell the story of the impact Martin Luther King, Junior made.

As Fast As Words Could Fly: Picture Book of the Day. Ruby Bridges came to visit my elementary school and her story is contrasted with 14-year-old Mason Steele who used his typing skills both as a writer and a speed typist to prove that he had the right to attend a previously all white school.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Children’s Books. I have seven books for kids including picture books, YA, non-fiction and chapter books.

Ten Chapter Books for Kids on the Civil Rights Movement. This list covers many genres including picture books, chapter books, Young Adult and non-fiction.

5th Grade Slavery Unit. I cover a little of the history of the Underground Railroad where I live, what life was like during this time and book list including picture books and chapter books.

Booker T Washington: Picture Book of the Day. The story of Booker T. Washington told through an advanced picture book.

To purchase any book, please click on image of book.

African American picture books, Black History Month, picture books Black History Month,

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Jeanette Nyberg

    Great picks, Mia! We’re off to the library in a matter of moments, so I will look for some of these. After we get a cookie at the coffee shop, of course.
    Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Eye Can Art Cans: Art Kits for KidsMy Profile

  2. Renee C.

    Your lists are always so great Mia! How do you compile them? Have you done a post explaining what criteria you use? I’m debating doing something like that to make it clear what our review criteria we use. Hmmmm….
    Renee C. recently posted…Book Review: Manner-Man by Sherrill S. CannonMy Profile

    • Thanks Renee,
      In all honestly, I research the books to make the lists. I search online and then try to get the books at the library to check them out. Sometimes I have a few at home which starts my list. I can usually build a list up to 6 books off the top of my head but then I have to dig and research to find those last 4 books. I love it when readers offer up their recs because then the list starts to get really robust!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Heart Smart for FebruaryMy Profile

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