Picture Books with Black Main Characters
This post may contain affiliate links.
Celebrate Black lives, Black boy joy, and Black girl magic with amazing picture books with Black main characters.
Kids need to see themselves in stories — these picture books show Black kids that they matter, and that their stories are important.
In addition, it’s also very important that kids who aren’t Black read about Black kids. This shows the diversity of our world and build bridges of understanding, empathy, and awareness.
So if you’re looking for picture books with black main characters, you’ll find everything you need on this book list. If you’re searching specifically for books written by black authors and illustrators, go to this list of favorites.
But you might also like this list of excellent middle grade books with black main characters for older readers of this list of children’s book biographies of famous African Americans.
Must-Read Picture Books with Black Main Characters (Not Just for Black History Month)
The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illustrated by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt
BLACK / BROWN GIRL MAGIC
What a gorgeous, empowering book with a positive message showing beautiful photographs of Black and brown girls and boys being creative, curious, and doing amazing things.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
BLACK BOY JOY
I love this exuberant celebration of a young boy’s infinite possibilities illustrated in bright, textured colors. Not only is this beautiful depiction of black boy joy, but it’s also a masterpiece of culture, writing, and art! “I’m the BOOM-BAP– BOOM-BOOM-BAP when the bass line thumps and the kick drum jumps. I’m the perfect beat, the perfect rhyme, keeping everything on point and always on time — but you already knew that.” AMAZING WRITING showing young boys of color that they have worth and that they can be anything. I adore everything about this book.
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
A beautiful, beautiful story that helps a little girl find the song in her own name. When her teacher can’t say her name, a boy looks scared when she says her name, or the kids at recess say her name sounds made up, Kora-Jalimuso’s momma helps her notice and feel the heart, the beat, the love, in all people’s names, including Kora-Jalimuso’s own name. Her wise momma encourages Kora-Jalimuso to see that names are the songs of dreamers; names like Lamika, Ta’jae, and Ahlam. Kora-Jalimuso returns to school with bravery and confidence…then she shows everyone, including her teacher, how to sing her name correctly…KO-raj DJAAAA-lee-MOOOO-so.
Ice Cream Face by Heidi Woodward Sheffield
If you like ice cream, you’ll enjoy reading this playful and relatable story about the feelings and the faces kids experience before, during, and after eating it! You’ll crack up as the author depicts the biter, the bearded lady, the brain-freeze face, and the sad face! The story begins with a long wait for ice cream all the way to dropping your precious ice cream on the sidewalk, and the kindness of strangers who share some of theirs. Darling.
Kicks by Van G. Garrett, illustrated by Reggie Brown
Inspiring lyrical verse gives readers sage wisdom for picking out those next pair of sneakers–because picking out “kicks” isn’t like picking out anything else — they are magic and wow and zoom. And then you’ll wear them everywhere, the perfect look for every occasion, helping you leap, soar, run, and play. Playful, relatable, and filled with joy!
My Fade is Fresh by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Kitt Thomas
A little girl walks into a barbershop with A LOT of ideas — she listens to everyone’s many cool ideas but the barber isn’t cutting enough. After much discussion and trial and error, eventually, the girl gets the haircut that she wanted all along. This book reminds me of how adults (parents, myself included) always have so many “helpful” suggestions that aren’t necessarily helpful to the child and could bully them into choosing what we want, not what they want.
Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C.G. Esperanza
FAMILY & FOOD
A joyful day of family and food! A boy’s grandma lets her grandson help prepare the food for their family’s big Sunday feast. He grates the cheese, washes the lettuce, and skins the meat, and even makes sweet tea. Vibrant artwork!
The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
BACK TO SCHOOL
MJ is excited about her first day of school. Before she leaves, her momma tells her that she can be the Queen of Kindergarten and how being the Queen isn’t just about the tiara but it means being kind and helpful to others. At school, MJ shows kindness to her new classmates and has a wonderful first day. She’s truly the queen — and you can be a queen, too. A joyful celebration of school and kindness.
Kick Push Be Your Epic Self by Frank Morrison
BEING YOURSELF / SKATEBOARDING
A young skateboarder learns to be himself and find his people in Frank Morrison’s first author/illustrator picture book. Punchy language syncopates through the story with a skateboarding kick-push vibe of energy! Ivan aka. Epic, rolls through his new neighborhood with a kick push but having no friends is getting him down and his attempts at more traditional sports aren’t working. His parents encourage him, his dad gives him back his skateboard, and with a kick, push, bounce, ka-clonk, zwoosh, Epic finds his crew.
Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Tiffany Rose
LEARNING DISABILITIES / WRITING
Abdul loves stories but struggles with getting the words down on paper. When a visiting writer helps teach the class, all the students learn that good writing is more than spelling and handwriting — it’s good ideas and the rest can come later. It’s an important lesson for ALL kids, parents, and teachers as it shows that learning disabilities don’t mean lacking ideas or intelligence.
Together We Ride by Valerie Bolling, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
RIDING A BIKE
Simple text with strong verbs show a father teaching his little girl how to ride a bike — from learning to falling to gaining confidence. Modeling growth mindset and persistence plus a sweet father-daughter relationship, this book is a gem that will appeal to all readers.
Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
STEM / ENGINEERING / GROWTH MINDSET / EMOTIONS
Jabari is making a flying machine today all by himself with his little sister Nika. When his flying machine crashes and he feels mad and sad, Jabari’s dad gives him good advice: “When I’m frustrated, I gather up all my patience, take a deep breath, and blow away all the mixed feelings inside.” That helps Jabari feel better. He and Nika try again. And, they get the machine to fly high! He and Nika are great engineers! This wonderful STEM story models emotional intelligence and growth mindset.
A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon
EMOTIONAL LITERACY / POLICE SHOOTING / BLACK EXPERIENCE
A black boy expresses a myriad of feelings that wait inside him for him to feel each one. Joy that glows bright and warm as the sun when he’s playing basketball, sorrow that is cold & dark when he sees the news about a police shooting, fear that stalks him and “seeps like a poison into my dreams”. He expresses his anger, hunger, pride, hope, love, and compassion in lyrical phrases and illuminating illustrations.
Catch That Chicken! by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
AFRICAN CULTURE / GROWTH MINDSET
Another winning book from Atinuke filled with African culture, exquisite mixed-media art, and the perfect amount of text. While other kids might be speedy at spelling or braiding hair, Lami is the speediest, bravest chicken catcher. One day, she runs too fast up a baobab tree and falls down, spraining her ankle. Her Nana Nadie gives her some advice, “It’s not quick feet that catches chickens — it’s quick thinking.” Lami takes the advice and figures out how to catch chickens by making them come to her.
Lulu the One and Only by Lynnette Mwhinney, PhD, illustrated by Jennie Poh
RACISM / IDENTITY
A wonderful book about race, identity, and kindness…Lulu is a biracial girl who hates when people ask, “What are you?“ Her big brother explains that he uses a power phrase to answer that question, saying, “I’m magic made from my parents.” Lulu decides to answer with WHO she is, not WHAT she is. She says, “I’m Lulu Lovington, the one and only!” Lulu finds her inner strength and models for readers that they can find their own power phrases, too. Her story also will help readers understand why asking questions about what a person not who a person is simply because of a person’s skin color feels hurtful.
Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
The importance of this book is that it shows a family with a guardian who is just like a mama and a “Mommy and Daddy” living miles away. The girl wishes they lived together but she also loves her Mama Rose who loves her, cares for her, and teaches her, just like a mama.
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller
I love this joyful celebration of the many styles, textures, and shapes of Black hair! These princesses have dreadlocks, kinks, head wraps, curls, and bantu knots. “Princesses with AFROS do-si-do. // Princesses with BRAIDS throw parades.” All the princesses love their hair. We can see it in the exuberant illustrations of playful, happy little girls.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyongo, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
BEAUTY / SELF-ACCEPTANCE
Sulwe doesn’t like that her skin is the color of midnight and that she doesn’t look like her mother or sister. After trying to erase her color, eating only light-colored foods, and praying for lighter skin, she tells her mother her deepest desire for lighter skin. Her mother shares that the name Sulwe means star and not only is Sulwe beautiful just as she is, but her beauty comes from within, just like a star’s. That night, a shooting star takes Sulwe to the sky to share the story of the sisters Night and Day. Sulwe learns that you need both kinds of beauty in the world, the sunniest day and the darkest night because together they make the world strong and beautiful. What an important message!
Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
It’s Sunday and Sarah and her family are going to church. But this day, Sarah is singing her first solo in the choir. As we watch she and her family prepare for services, she gets advice to help her nervousness, and a wonderful surprise when she does sing. This picture book is a beautiful portrayal of an African-American family and their church culture accompanied by outstanding illustrations.
Up, Up, Up, Down! by Kimberly Gee
DAY IN THE LIFE
Lyrical and repetitive, this relatable storyline captures a day in the life of a talkative toddler and a stay-at-home dad with evocative, diverse illustrations. Sure to bring a chuckle to both you and your growing reader when you read it aloud.
The Night Is Yours by Abdul-Razak Zachariah, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
On a hot summer night, you escape the apartment to the cooler courtyard to play double Dutch and hide-and-go-seek. The moon gleams off your skin and the different browns and tans of your friends. The night is full of laughter and joy and the light of the moon. Celebrate summer, friendship, and community with this exuberant story!
Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin, illustrated by Ebony Glenn
DIVERSITY / BEING YOURSELF
Tameika feels sad when the other kids at school say she is too chubby, tall, and brown to be Snow White. Her dad and mom remind her that she not a pretend princess but a real princess and who she is is enough.
Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max
FATHER-DAUGHTER / STEM
Father and daughter talk about the daughter’s plan to be an astronaut. Their playful relationship showcases the things that you must do as an astronaut — go around and around, eat food out of tubes, get used to zero gravity, and so forth. And the ending reveals that the girl wants to be just like her astronaut mom who has just returned from space.
Amara’s Farm by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Samara Hardy
PUMPKINS / FALL
Read this picture book for fall harvest season and learn about pumpkins with a girl named Amara who needs to harvest pumpkins. As she searches the farm, we learn about the features of pumpkins with our own search and find and compare and contrast. For example, “A pumpkin is large and round. Is that a pumpkin? // No. That’s an apple. An apple is round, but not large like a pumpkin.” Can you spot the pumpkins?
The World Belonged to Us by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
MEMOIR / SLICE-OF-LIFE
Retro art immediately draws the eye to this nostalgic look back “In Brooklyn in the summer not so long ago.” We see the community of people whose kids experienced playful adventures, friends, and fun! “We spun tops and learned to take turns and flicked our double-dutch ropes into blurs.“
Climb On! by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
An exuberant child reminds her dad it’s the day for their hike. The child talks nonstop in Creole words and English as they hike, leap, and climb through the lush, green jungle filled with colorful creatures and plants, rocks, lakes, and footpaths to get to the tippy tippy top of the mountain. At the top, it’s a wow moment — a spectacular view overlooking their village, the mountains, and the ocean.
The Talk by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu
Jay’s happy life is filled with high-tops that make him run fast, cheek squeezes from Nana, height measurements on the wall, best friends for life, and the Talk. Grandpa says not to have gatherings of four or more. Dad says if a police person pulls you over, to keep both hands on the wheel. Mom says Jay needs to keep his hands out of his pockets in the mall. And then, he gets the Talk with a capital T, illustrated vignettes of police violence, accusations, and kids in trouble. After the Talk, his family gives Jay hugs and reassurances that he’s not to blame and is a brave, beautiful child.
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
A sad little girl sits on her porch steps thinking about the colors of the rainbow…and how black isn’t in the rainbow. Then, she thinks of all the things that black can be…a crayon, a feather, braids, rhythm, blues, trains, dreams, and so much more in poignant, lyrical metaphors and luminous illustrations. “Black is the color of ink staining page. Black is the mask that shelters his rage. Black are the birds in cages that sing– Black is a color. Black is a culture.// …My color is Black.” Her thoughts celebrate black culture, showing pride, context, and history. She finishes with the thought black is in her rainbow box of crayons. Every single part of this incredible book is meaningful, beautiful, and memorable.
Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey
BALLET / FRIENDSHIP / COOPERATION
You don’t have to love ballet to love the captivating story of pursuing a goal, working hard, and cooperating with a friend. Misty is excited to learn her studio will be dancing the ballet Coppelia and she wants to get the role of Coppelia. As she works hard in practice, she and her friend Cat help each other prepare. At the auditions, her friend gets the part of Coppelia and Misty is happy with her part of Swanilda. After the show, Misty and her bunhead friends take a final bow, proud of what they accomplished. Transcendent illustrations capture the joy of dance!
Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Sitting on the barber’s chair, a young boy reflects on how, when he leaves, he’ll feel like royalty. Not to mention, people will take notice of his fresh cut — his teachers, his mom, and the girls in his class. Because he’ll be looking good. The author transports readers into this boy’s shoes as he celebrates his cool cut, the men around him on the chair, and the barber who cuts his hair. Rhythmic, vibrant words plus bold, oil painting illustrations give this barbershop experience a swagger of its own. (Also on: Delightful Picture Books That Celebrate Hair)
Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Goodwin, illustrated by Blanca Gomez
Fall in love with the simple, lyrical story showing the colors of a little girl’s world around her illustrated with bold graphic-style pictures
See the trains sparkle in the sun and in the rain.“
Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
#OWNVOICES / POC CULTURE
Lyrical, figurative language (filled with similes, personification, and vivid imagery) this story not only celebrates people of color living life fully but transports readers into scenes rich with sensory imagery. “Deep, secret brown. Like the subtly churning river currents playfully beckoning me through my grandmother’s kitchen window, winding steadily past banks of tall grass and wild rose bushes.” A stunning, joyful tribute to brown skin of all shades.
You So Black by Theresa Tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D., illustrated by London Ladd
BLACK LIVES MATTER
“You so Black, when you smile, the stars come out…” Vivid illustrations and poetic, lyrical writing celebrate Blackness in this picture book based on a spoken word poem you can watch here. (Watch it — I HIGHLY recommend it!) “Black is brilliant, Black is strong. Black is resilient. Black is song.” Buy this for your libraries, your classroom, and your friends! You’ll love this emotional, truthful, joyful affirmation of Black boys and girls and folks of all ages.
For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe In a Better World by Michael W. Waters, illustrated by Keisha Morris
RACISM / GUN-VIOLENCE / CURRENT EVENTS
Jeremiah’s dad explains about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, a rally and march for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, gun violence, and blue ribbons. Each time his dad explains another racially-related or gun-related incident, Jeremiah gets quiet and doesn’t feel like talking anymore. When Jeremiah does feel like talking, his dad explains that they also hope for change and that’s why they vote, march, pray, organize, and speak out. Jeremiah connects social change to growing locs — you need patience, time, and belief to grow locs and to see positive changes in the world. Understandable and relatable, this timely book shows social justice issues and gives readers action steps and hope. A helpful discussion guide at the back will allow you to unpack the big issues covered in this book.
The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann
CAMPING / NATURE / BRAVERY
Ernestine shares all the important details about her first camping trip from packing to hiking and even getting a little scared in the night. The trip ends up being a wonderful experience! And it’s a wonderful reading experience, too with fresh, atmospheric comic panels and illustrations.
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier
A beautiful love letter to black and brown children…The author acknowledges that they will face challenges but reassures readers that they matter and were dreamed of long before they were both. “Did you know that you are the sun rays, calm, like the ocean waves, thought, like montañas, magic like stars in space?” Calming, reassuring, beautiful.
Hike by Pete Oswald
NATURE / WORDLESS
Take an adventure with a boy and his father out of the city and into the woods. Wordless, playful, emotion-filled, and deeply satisfying, see the beauty of nature from a log bridge and a waterfall to the pine forest where the father and son plant a new tree. Stunning and heartfelt.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is ready to jump off the diving board. Mostly. His dad tells Jabari that he feels scared too, and sometimes after a deep breath and telling himself he is ready, the thing stops feeling scary and feels like a surprise instead. I really like this advice. And it works for Jabari, too. Beautiful illustrations, perfect text to picture ratio, and a helpful, relatable story with a diverse (multicultural) main character make this a new summer favorite.
Magic Like That by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Geneva Bowers
HAIR / FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
This girl has magic hair with personality which imbues her with strength, no matter what the style! Sometimes it’s mischievous and turns and coils, moving like a million ocean currents. “Braided, it dangles gently around my face like long vines tumbling from a garden trellis–woven tightly, swaying loosely, flexible, but unbreakable. My hair is strong like that.” I love the writing that exemplifies figurative language with similes, personification, and sensory images.
Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts
Laugh with this silly, silly story about two dads and their kids trying to do chores to prepare for Grandma’s visit…but because of a cat, getting all mixed up! The chores are listed with magnetic letters on the fridge but when the cat hears that bathe the cat is on the list of chores, the cat slyly rearranges the letters and words. Now the family feeds the floor, sweeps the dishes, and scrubs the fishes. They do all sorts of weird things until one dad realizes the problem — and captures the cat so they can do the right chores.
Handa’s Noisy Night by Eileen Browne
Two friends have a sleepover and Hana hears lots of strange sounds — snorts, chattering, rattling, and more. Handa’s friend, Akeyo, explains that it’s just the grown-ups being noisy. We know from the illustrations that the noises are African animals outside. Beautiful, colorful illustrations and a clever plot that showcases African animals.
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Vanessa picks out an outfit that expresses her personality. But at school, it seems like it’s too much for the other kids and she feels not special and upset. She wraps up in blankets and doesn’t talk about it. The next day, she picks out a plain outfit without any special touches. Before she leaves for school, her mom explains that her name means metamorphosis — to mean that she could become whoever she wants to be. Vanessa sees that she’s special, changes into a butterfly shirt, and shares about her name with her classmates at school, proud to be a butterfly. A great book to read to address identity, the meaning of your name, and being yourself.
Saturdays Are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan
DEATH OF A GRANDPARENT / BIRTH OF A SIBLING
George spends Saturdays with Stella. The days are filled with exciting adventures like frozen yogurt trips, rides on the carousel, ninja tournaments, and reading favorite books. Until Stella dies, and Saturdays aren’t any fun at all. Now all the fun things he used to do with Stella make him sad and queasy. Just when George thinks he can’t do another Saturday, baby Stella arrives. Now George isn’t sad on Saturdays because he’s busy with Stella having exciting adventures. A story of death and life, grief, and joy.
The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann
Ernestine shares all the important details about her first camping trip from packing to hiking and even getting a little scared in the night. The trip ends up being a wonderful experience! And it’s a wonderful reading experience, too. The comic panels and illustrations feel fresh and atmospheric.
The Biggest Story by Sarah Coyle and Dan Taylor
TELLING A STORY
Don’t miss this fantastic, inspiring book about a boy trying to think up a story and the animals that help him. First, the ants suggest they be in his story. Then the cats speak up and the sheep do, too — they want to paraglide. Soon, there are tons of animals including dinosaurs. Errol is ready to tell his mom a story…And his story leads to more stories and his head is full of ideas to tell.
Help Wanted, Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson, illustrated by Courtney Dawson
BEDTIME STORIES / FAIRY TALES
When Shelly’s dad gets a new job, he’s too sleepy to read bedtime books without falling asleep. So Shelly puts up a Help Wanted sign to recruit a new bedtime reader. Soon fairy tale characters arrive for interviews –with hilariously disastrous results. Who will she pick to be her bedtime story reader? An adorable romp through fairy tales that celebrates reading aloud!
Libby Loves Science by Kimberly Derting & Shelli R. Johannes, illustrated by Joell Murray
Libby’s favorite way to do science experiments is by cooking. At school, she learns about chemistry and helps her friends set up a science both for the fall festival. Filled with the ups and downs of trying new things as well as directions for your own experiments (including an ice cream experiment), this is a fun STEM story.
Listen by Gaby Snyder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
LISTENING / MINDFULNESS / ONOMATOPOEIA
What if you listened to each sound? Listen with a little girl through her day, starting with the noisy street, then the sounds at school, into the rain and wind, and all the way to bedtime. “Listen past the crunch of gravel and the scrape of chalk.// Can you hear new words? Listen to each sound. Some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like looong and leisurely. Listen.” The girl implores you to listen, repeating it frequently throughout the book, reminding us to stop and listen to what’s outside and inside us, too. Listen to the slap-slap-slap of shoes, the tippy-tap-tap of rain falling on your umbrella, the rumble of belly, and whooshy of breath. Beautiful.
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town and CJ notices the many economic and cultural differences about the neighborhoods. A remarkable story and Caldecott winner!
IslandBorn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Díaz captures Lola’s heartfelt longing to remember the island of her birthplace for a school assignment. Lola interviews her family and friends, listening to their snap-shot, detailed stories of the island’s bats, music, agua de coco, heat, and the Devil Monster. Through their stories, she creates her own tapestry of island memories that will always be in her heart. Stunning illustrations explode in colorful exuberance on every page of this 2018 picture book.
This is the Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrations by Rafael López
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Evocative, lyrical text illuminates the awkwardness of a girl’s first days at school. She listens to other kids’ big stories of summer and feels like she doesn’t fit, until …she finds out that she might have something in common with others after all. And can still be her unique self.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Curious Ada loves questions and thinking just as much as she loves science experiments. Even when in time out, Ada is thinking and wondering . . . all over the wall. Ada is a spunky science-loving (multicultural) main character of color that you’ll love.
Lola Sleeps Over by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
In this positive sleepover story where the child stays the entire night, Lola gets to stay overnight at her cousin’s house– and it’s lots of fun.
Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs and Shane Evans
The boy feels so un-okay because of his skin color. It takes the eyes and wisdom of his mom for the boy to see how awesome he is, and embrace who he is and the color of his skin. It’s simple and meaningful.
Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
I LOVE the illustrations in this song of change and hope. It’s metaphorical and abstract but the illustrations make Gorman’s words more concrete. For example, on the page with this text, “I also walk our differences to show we are the same. // I’m a movement that roars and springs, There’s a wave where my change sings,” the illustrations show diverse kids marching along and playing instruments.
The Cot in the Living Room by Hilda Eunice Burgos, illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro
A little girl feels jealous of the kids who stay overnight at her apartment because their parents work nights. Those kids get to sleep in a cot in the living room. One day, she gets to sleep there and realizes that it’s not that fun. This helps her feel more empathic towards the visiting kids. Her selfish “it’s not fair” becomes an empathetic “it’s not fair” when she realizes that the kids probably prefer being in their own beds.
Saturday by Oge Mora
DAY OF THE LIFE
Everything on their special day goes wrong but the mom and child acknowledge it’s all okay still because they’re together. What an important message about spending time with someone you love. Also, the ART — I can’t get enough of Mora’s collage artwork, it’s vibrant and beautiful.
Lullaby (For a Black Mother) a poem by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Sean Qualls transforms Langston Hughes’s poetic lullaby with swirls of blues, purples, and pinks of nighttime. “My little black baby, My dark body’s baby, What shall I sing For your lullaby? / Moon, Moon, Great diamond moon, / Kissing the night.” The poem captures a mother’s love as she sings her baby to sleep. Pure magic!
Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Redd, illustrated by Nneka Myers
Getting ready for bed means preparing hair and putting on her hair covering but it takes this little girl a lot of looking around the house to find her bonnet…and it’s on her grandpa’s head! Black culture, a loving family, and a sweet nighttime ritual combine into a winning storybook.
B is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
This story brilliantly celebrates the letter b as well as the culture and people of West Africa. Baby is going to take a basket of bananas to baba’s bungalow. (See all those “b” words?!) Big Brother doesn’t notice that he has a little stowaway in the basket — but we do. Readers will delight at seeing Baby’s little face peeking out of the basket while Brother rides his bike, passing a baobab, baboon, bus, and other words that start with the letter b before arriving at Baba’s. When Baba looks in the basket, out pops Baby! I’m in love with this book’s concept and the gorgeous illustrations.
Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
LEARNING DISABILITIES / STORYTELLING THROUGH ART
I love all the books in this series but this is my new favorite because it shows that having a learning disability doesn’t prevent you from communicating! It’s about a boy named Aaron, an artist and storyteller, who struggles with reading. When his teacher Miss Greer assigns the students to write a story, Aaron draws his story instead. He uses his artwork to help him tell his story to the class — which both the teacher and his classmates love. His art helps him find the words while he works hard to improve his reading little by little.
Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome
A beautifully done story of a black boy’s experience with segregation and a first train ride! Michael boards a train heading north and sits in the colored section. We feel his excitement to be riding a train for the first time — the sights and sounds are all very exciting. “Then we sped through tunnels. We practically flew over bridges…It was like I was seeing a movie, but it was real.” Just after the train leaves Atlanta, the conductor takes down the “Colored Only” sign. With that freedom, Michael befriends a boy named Bobby Ray in the White section. Together they explore the entire train and play with Michael’s toys. When they are separated again by the “Whites Only” sign, Bobby Ray gives Michael a meaningful drawing showing white folks and black folks sitting together in the same train car.
Time for Bed, Old House by Janet Costa Bates, illustrated by AG Ford
NIGHTTIME FEARS / SLEEPOVER
So sweet! When Issac stays overnight, Grandpop shows Issac how to put the house to bed. To help with his fears, Grandpop explains what is making the noises. Understanding reassures Issac and helps him not to feel afraid. Grandpop explains the dog walking on the hardwood, the wind blowing the swings, and the house’s stretching noises. Then, Grandpop asks Issac to read the house a bedtime story reading the pictures– and then, Issac listens to the noises and goes to sleep.
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison
CULTURAL PRIDE / AFRICAN HERITAGE
Zura feels nervous about Nana Akua visiting her school for Grandparents Day because Nana has permanent African tribal marks on her face. When the day arrives, Nana Akua shares with the other students that she’s from Ghana, the marks were a gift from her parents, and she feels proud to wear them. Zura’s classmates love it and so do the other grandparents. It’s a beautiful moment that transforms Zura’s worry into pride for her family’s heritage.
Boo Stew by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
A clever and brave heroine named Curly Locks saves the town with her unusual cooking! When Mr. Mayor’s house is overrun with Scares from the Toadsuck Swamp, the townspeople try to help. But every attempt just makes more Scares appear. Until Curly Locks wonders if violence isn’t the answer — but making them food might be the trick. And sure enough, Curly Locks give them a taste of her famous Boo Stew, makes them clean up, and gets them to agree to a trade: they’ll stay in the swamp if she cooks for them.
My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World by Malcolm Mitchell, illustrated by Michael Robertson
READING / WRITING / PERSONAL NARRATIVE
Henley finds reading hard — and when his teacher gives the class an assignment to find their favorite book in the whole wide world, he struggles to find anything that he doesn’t hate. After asking his librarian and bookstore owner for help unsuccessfully, his mom helps him realize that inside he has his own story. What he brings to school, his favorite book in the world–is a story that he writes about himself! Use this as an introduction to writing personal narrative.
Off to the Sea by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
BATHTIME / IMAGINATION
A playful, exciting story of the wonderful possibilities in the bathtub–when you use your imagination! Watch out for the monster rubber ducky! Dive deep searching for treasure. Kick your legs and watch the tugboats crash against the waves. Like the previous story in the series, Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, this is a sweet story of a loving family and daily ritual illustrated in mixed-media collage.
The Whole Hole Story by Vivian McInerny, illustrated by Ken Lamug
Zia falls through the hole in her pocket. She makes the hole into whatever she needs — a fishing hole, a swimming hole, a watering hole (for the cloud animals), and even an elephant trap. It’s a twisty-turney, creative adventure of imagination!
Saturday at the Food Pantry by Diane O’Neill, illustrated by Brizida Magro
Molly’s a little girl with a generous and bubbly personality, even when she and her mom don’t have enough food and go to the food bank. When she’s at the food bank, she colors pictures for the people she meets there. That helps her befriend a classmate who feels embarrassed to be there. Molly reminds her new friend that everybody needs help sometimes and that we can also help others, too.
What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures by Heather L. Montgomery, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
A delightful introduction to both collecting and to famous scientists when they were curious children and their later contributions as adults. Gorgeous illustrations and clear text will captivate readers as they learn about kids like Diego who collected snails as a child and later became a herpetologist, Mary who collected caterpillars and eventually wrote a book on metamorphosis, or Bonnie who collected sea slugs and later helped discover a new kind of sea slug. Readers will be inspired to start their own collections and see where their curiosities take them!
We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier
The words of this powerful gospel song known often sung during the Civil Rights Movement are illuminated through Bryan Collier’s powerful, oversized illustrations. The illustrations show a young Black girl during her day. She remembers the history of those who have gone before her, like Rosa Parks and ending school segregation, depicted in grayscale. A powerful book that exemplifies the pictures telling most of the story.
My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles, illustrated by Sara Palacios
In Haiti, a little girl wants to carry the payne on her head just like her mother. Her mother tells her that little by little, she’ll get strong enough to carry it, too. And when they arrive home, the girl tells the same thing to her little sister. It’s a heartwarming story of family, culture, and perseverance.
Zoey Has an Allergy by Anisha Angella, illustrated by Rachel Batislaong
A little girl explains all about allergies to readers in a kid-friendly way including anaphylaxis and epinephrine. Her story is a fantastic way to share information with non-allergy kids. I really like how allergy positive the book is — she knows that she’s special and having allergies is one way she’s special.
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
My kids LOVE this book so much — and repeated readings were no problem because so did I. The parents implore their spunky young child to please behave, PLEASE. Great use of repetition and so relatable.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Grace is a girl with a big love for stories and an even bigger imagination. She confidently tries out for the role Peter Pan despite her classmate’s assertion that Grace couldn’t possibly get the role because of her gender and skin color. Will she get the role? Also read: Princess Grace.
A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Mike Lowery
This children’s picture book with a Black main character proves that all of us are writers — even when we can’t write letters or words quite yet! And this determined young diverse main character writer proves it.
Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings
FRACTURED FAIRY TALE
Little Red is an ice skater in need of a partner in this fractured fairy tale with a main character of color. She’s determined to win the pairs skating competition and win a new pair of skates. Will wolf be the perfect partner?
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley and Katie Berube
Nick, our main character, does everything with his cats — except read books. That’s why Nick decides to teach his cats to read, too. Verne, the cat, is interested but Stevenson, the cat, is not. Until . . . Nick discovers Stevenson’s drawing. All Stevenson the cat needs are words and he’ll write his own story to read!
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
My favorite picture book from childhood still endures today as a classic! It has finally snowed and the little boy can’t wait to go play…
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J Muth
Tess is hoping for rain. And when it rains, it pours! She and her family welcome the rain with their own dance celebration. Beautifully written with glorious language.
Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
We love this book about a little girl and her mom’s library ritual. It’s simple and absolutely wonderful. (I’m partial to the coffee at the library!)
Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer
A boy walks through his neighborhood talking to neighbors about what makes a “good” day. From the neighbor painting to the nanny pushing a stroller to a gardener and even his Grandma, Daniel listens and observes…and has a good day, too. Exquisite artwork plus a beautiful message about finding joy in the little things make this a wonderful, memorable story.
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Don’t miss this delightful book showing a sequential day filled with the many happy possibilities at school including storytime, recess, playing with new friends, and a kind teacher. Because today you’re going to be the King of Kindergarten! Rich imagery filled with hyperbole and metaphors harmoniously complement the lush illustrations, creating a festive atmosphere filled with exuberance and bravery.
Another by Christian Robinson
In this exuberant celebration of imagination, a little girl is asleep in her bed when an oval door opens into the wall. She follows her black cat and the new cat into what seems to be another world of topsy-turvy colorful dots and rectangles, more oval doors, many diverse kids, and another girl and her cat that look exactly like them. The white space and repetition of shapes feel playful and fresh. A feast for the eyes and mind!
Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan, illustrated by Mercè López
Counting, rhyming, culture, and community in a playful rhyming story with stunning illustrations, this is a fantastic book that celebrates the country and people of Zanzibar. A boy named Musa travels by bus to the beach. But even though the bus feels full to him, his Dada says there’s always room for more people. As the daldala continues the trip, more people, animals, and things climb aboard. The passengers wiggle and squish to make room for more.
The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
WATER / AFRICA
Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is the African sky the dusty earth– she can play hide and seek with the wind and dance in the wild grass but can’t make the water run clearer or come closer. So, every day, she wakes to walk with her Maman to collect water. They sing and laugh and stop at a giant Karite tree for snacks– then continue to the river. Soon it’s time to fill their pots and return home shoulders aching. Finally, Gie Gie gets a small drink of water. Helpful back matter explains the plight of communities with no access to clean water.
Fly by Brittany J. Thurman, illustrated by Anna Cunha
GROWTH MINDSET BOOKS
Africa believes in herself so much that she knows she’ll be able to learn double-Dutch in a week. Her brother doesn’t think she can do it because she’s never done it before. She tries to learn on her own but realizes it will be better to ask others. She learns stepping, cartwheels, hand claps, and soon she shows what she can do, just like her birthmark in the shape of Africa represents what she’s made of.
Carrimebac: The Town that Walked by David Barclay Moore, illustrated by John Holyfield
Brilliant storytelling with a classic folktale feel…Rootilla Redgums and her peculiar grandson, Julius strolled into Walkerton, Georgia on a hot, sweaty afternoon. Surrounded by White towns that wouldn’t do business with the Black townsfolk of Carrimbac, Rootilla changes that by teaching the Black townspeople to weave rugs that never wear out, to bake ceramic jugs that never empty of sarsaparilla, and to carve wooden walking sticks that somehow never get you lost in the woods. Outsiders grow fearful and angry– and soon a mob of Fearful Folk arrive in white sheets with blazing torches. What happens next is nothing short of magic and righteousness but you’ll have to read the story to find it out how Julius and his duck save the town.
When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley, illustrated by Keith Mallett
Inspired by Alvin Ailey, this is a story about a boy who wants to dance — not tap or hip hop but to dance ballet. He tries a class in basketball clothes which is okay but he needs the proper shoes. His teacher gives him black ballet shoes and tells him that he’ll have to work hard. Which he does. And he dances! BEAUTIFUL.
Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robi
Milo travels on the subway with his sister, observing the people around him, then draws and writes stories about them in his notebook. At the jail, he’s surprised to see a boy that he noticed before is there, also– a boy wearing a fancy suit. Then, he and his sister get to hug their mom and visit with her. Milos gives her a drawing of their family together eating ice cream on the front stoop.
The Worst Teddy Every by Marcelo Verdad
Why is Noa’s Teddy the worst ever? Because he’s always too tired to do anything–which is boring. What Noa doesn’t know (but the readers learn) is that Teddy is tired because he’s staying up all night protecting his boy from unwanted nighttime visitors like a ghost, the Boogeyman, the Tooth Fairy, and the Tickle Monster.
Wanda by Shile Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali, illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne
HAIR / IDENTITY
Wanda leaves home with one hairstyle but changes it before school so her teacher will think she’s tidy. Then, one day, she doesn’t have time to redo her hair and Wanda’s grandma helps her find pride in her hair, her crown, and she stands up to the teacher and her classmates with new confidence and pride in her appearance. I love how it teaches kids that sometimes they have to stand up to authority figures.
Firefighter Flo! by Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Firefighter Flo is a brave firefighter who leads the other firefighters. They rush off on the big red truck to a fire that they put out and rescue the family’s pet. Eye-catching bold artwork and fun-to-read sound words will make this a great book to read aloud to your 2 and 3 year olds.
Twelve Dinging Doorbells by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Ebony Glenn
HOLIDAY (THANKSGIVING OR CHRISTMAS)
Every time the doorbell rings (12 times), someone new comes for a holiday visit starting with Granny and the sweet potato pie she brings to the main character. Then more relatives with kids and tons of food (macaroni and cheeeeese, chitlins, side dishes) fill the house and the many tables. It’s a festive celebration! I adore the cut-out paper collage illustrations so much!
Mary Had a Little Plan by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
In rhyme, read an updated story of Mary, a girl with agency and plans. With help from others, Mary cleans up an abandoned lot and makes an inviting common space for the neighborhood.
Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Andy Elkerton
Just in case, you better learn all the reasons why it’s not a good idea to bring your pet dragon to the library. Better read to him at home.
A Blue Kind of Day by Rachel Tomlinson, illustrated by Tori-Jay Mordey
Coen feels sad in his body — a murky kind of blue that made him feel gloomy and trapped. His body feels prickly and tense, and he doesn’t want to do anything with his family. So, his family gives up trying to cheer him up and stays nearby until Coen’s ready to emerge from his cocoon of blankets.
Let’s Go for a Walk by Ranger Hamza, illustrated by Kate Kronreif
Ranger Hamza invites you to go for a sensory nature walk! He asks you to notice the colors and then to find things that are red, big and small things, different shapes, bugs, and letters and numbers. Then, he asks you to feel the textures, smell the smells, and so forth. Brightly colored illustrations and text scattered around the pages, this book really engages readers and will teach them to notice the world with all their senses.
An American Story by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dare Coulter
HISTORY OF SLAVERY
How do you tell the story of slavery? You start in Africa and end in horror with chains and working for free and families torn apart. And when the students don’t want to listen because it’s sad and it still hurts, you speak bravely and lift your voice “holding history in one hand and clenching hope in the other.” Exquisite, emotional illustrations and lyrical, stunning writing.
I Am Okay to Feel by Karamo Brown with Jason “Rachel” Brown, illustrated by Diobelle Cerna
On a walk, a son shares his feelings with his dad — from happy to scared. His dad listens and reassures his son that all his feelings are okay. He shares helpful strategies like breathing and moving to feel safe or express the feeling in the body. I like how the dad affirms his son’s feelings in a gentle, loving way.
A Poem Grows Inside You by Katey Howes, illustrations by Heather Brockman Lee
FINDING IDEAS / WRITING POETRY
Teachers, you will want to use this book as a read aloud or mentor text when teaching students about finding ideas and writing poetry because it’s a true inspirational gem. The rhyming verse affirms us that we have a seed inside just waiting to awaken, grow, and bloom into something true; into a verse of poetry that nurtures us and reflects who we are.
The Electric Slide and Kai by Kelly J. Baptist, illustrated by Darnell Johnson
FAMILY / CONFIDENCE
Kai’s entire family dances — but not Kai. They try to help him with advice and videos so he can get ready for his aunt’s upcoming wedding. It doesn’t work. But, at the wedding, his aunt’s new husband helps Kai find his groove. This earns Kai a new dancing nickname — Lil’ Slide — and he feels so proud and accepted.
Race Cars by Jenny Devenny, edited by Charnaie Gordon
RACISM AND WHITE PRIVILEGE
Two best friends enter a race and discover that the white car is treated differently than the black car who has different rules and even a different track. When the white car realizes what’s happening, he goes back for his best friend and apologizes for not noticing. The back contains discussion points for adults to work through with children. This book will be a helpful teaching tool for bias and racism.