Books by Black Authors
As we write this, and as you read it, our world is on the precipice of change. For centuries we have seen people of color in the United States and around the world trying to exist in a society that actively works against them. Across the generations there have been layers of work in an attempt to overcome these problems, and what we are experiencing now is yet another layer being peeled back in the struggle toward true justice and equality.
We know that many white families are looking for ways to help. Some of the most important things to be done are listening, learning, and following the lead of people of color. But another important task is to teach our children. One concrete way we can do this is to support black artists, and specifically, to purchase and read books written by black authors.
Below is a list of just some of the incredible work available to families. We know you’ll enjoy the stories, and we would love to hear if there are any more you would add to the list!
Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke and Lauren Tobia
This sweet picture book is perfect for children in the primary years, although some lower elementary-aged children may enjoy it as well. Anna Hibiscus is a young girl living in Africa with her family. On this particular day, she is feeling so full of happiness that she doesn’t know quite how to express it. After asking each member of her family what they do when they’re happy, she discovers her own way to show how she’s feeling.
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
The original Anna Hibiscus book, this early chapter book is the first in a series of three. In it we learn about Anna’s daily life with her family, follow her along on a family vacation, learning an important lesson about privilege and helping others, and get excited with her as she prepares to visit Canada and see snow for the first time!
Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter
This is a book about a family reunion, but it’s so much more than that. Rising before the sun, two children and their parents make the long drive to their grandmother’s house. When they arrive, they soak in the familiarity and enjoy the time with their relatives. There’s traditional family food, family memories, solemn talks about ancestors, and a special sharing of talents.
Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Julie Maren
Once upon in a time in Havana, Cuba, there was a young girl who sang like a bird. She grew up poor alongside her family and the others in her neighborhood, but everyone agreed there was something special about her voice. This beautiful book (with equally beautiful illustrations) teaches readers the true history of acclaimed singer Celia Cruz and how she spread a love of salsa music across the globe.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The Undefeated is the winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal, A Newbery Honor book, and this year’s Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Alexander’s poem, coupled with Nelson’s artwork, takes readers through the history of early enslaved African Americans, while also highlighting the incredible contributions of some of history’s most significant heroes.
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Virtual Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
This creative picture book is divided into “tracks”, rather than chapters, and it follows the life of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. From a young girl dancing with her friends on the sidewalk in Harlem, to teaming up with the Chick Webb Orchestra to play at Yale, to an infamous battle of the bands at the Savoy Ballroom, Ella’s story is enchanting for both children and adults.
Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Another jazz biography brought to us by the Pinkney couple, Duke Ellington was the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award. Her writing is almost lyrical, and his artwork dances across the pages. Every book they create together is outstanding. For a peek into their process, check out this great article.
Remember by Toni Morrison
Remember is a book that will stand the test of time. In words that read like a picture book, it recalls the moments in history during the time before, during, and after segregation and school integration. The history is powerful enough on its own, but Morrison’s words are accompanied by actual photographs from the 1950s. Sometimes sweet, sometimes shocking, but always an important part of our collective past.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. White
Another Coretta Scott King Award winner, as well as a recipient of the Jane Addams Peace Award, this is a story about bullying, and it is not a story with a happy ending. Told from the perspective of the child who is unkind, we learn about a new girl at school who is repeatedly rejected and outcast. Once the narrator realizes her error and the opportunity, she has to form a positive relationship, it’s too late. The new girl never returns to school. Powerful and important, this is a great read.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Another book by Woodson (who, by the way, has won so many awards we’ll just link to a list here), Brown Girl Dreaming is a poetic memoir. She shares her experiences growing up in ways that are relatable to children - especially for children of color and children who are seeking their place in the world. Though they shed light on her struggles, they are filled with hope as well. This book is best for children ages ten and up.