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Essential Children's Books for Black History Month 2021

Feb-08, 2021

Two African American kids smiling and reading a picture book under a blanket.

Hi, everyone, it's Practical Pam! We're celebrating Black History Month this year by honoring historical Black Americans of the past and present on our Facebook page. These features are meant to inspire our students to engage with the history of the US and Canada through a very important lens.

To help our students in this endeavor, we've compiled a reading list to supplement these features. We hope that they will provide education, insight, and spark curiosity to seek out more media from Black artists of all types. A person's culture, heritage, and struggles always inform their art, regardless of the color of their skin. It's important for parents to recognize the value in all art, and the positive impact it can have on children to be exposed to different cultures and experiences.

Let's take a look at our Black History Month 2021 Reading List!

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (Ages 9-12)

At just 6 years old, Ruby Bridges was one of the first African-American children to attend a desegregated school after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1960. She suffered bigotry, threats of violence, and shunning from her peers just because her parents wanted to give her the education she deserved. This book, penned by Ruby herself, is both an account of her experience as well as a call to action to all children to contribute to her legacy by being strong, brave, and kind.

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline Ransome (Ages 9-12)

As a teenager in 1950's Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin made history when she refused to comply with segregation laws which required Black citizens to give up their seats to White passengers when sharing public transportation. Her act of non-violent defiance inspired Rosa Parks, which gave the NAACP the perfect case to begin dismantling segregation nationwide. As part of the "She Persisted" series, this profile of Claudette Colvin is written for a 21st century audience who is socially minded and ready to make a stand for true equality.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington (Ages 4-8)

Mae C. Jemison is a living legend in STEM. Trained as a doctor who served with the Peace Corps, Dr. Jemison decided to honor her childhood love for astronomy by applying for NASA, eventually becoming the first African American astronaut. Mae Among the Stars is a gorgeous picture book which follows her from a child dreaming of the stars to an astronaut floating among them.

Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America's First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree and illustrated by Kathleen Kemly (Ages 4-8)

A New York City legend, Molly Williams is credited with being the first Black firefighter way back in the early 1800's. Molly, by Golly! tells her tale, featuring a time and place in history which is rarely discussed. It is set against a frightful blizzard and a fearsome fire, packing plenty of action for young readers!

Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks and illustrated by Faith Ringgold (Ages 4-8)

A prolific poet and author, Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the definitive American authors of the 20th century, inspiring generations of artists with her honest and electrifying writing. While there are several children's books written about Brooks, like We Are Shining and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, we've chosen a collection of poems from the author herself, originally published in 1956. This edition features illustrations by Faith Ringgold, an award-winning artist, author, and teacher.

Explore Black History with Wee Pals by Morrie Turner (Age 6-12)

A trail-blazing artist, Morrie Turner was a self-taught cartoonist who developed the comic strip Wee Kids, the first nationally syndicated, racially integrated comic strip. Unlike the situation young Ruby Bridges had lived through which dominated headlines only a few years before, the Wee Kids lived in an aspirational world, where kids of all races learned and played together. Turner also wanted to use his strip to teach young people about Black History, as well as be a model for racial harmony. Explore Black History with Wee Pals is a collection of strips featuring important figures in Black History and the then-contemporary Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and 70's.

Thurgood by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Bryan Collier (Ages 5-9)

Thurgood Marshall is a titan of Black History, with a historic career which led to his appointment as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Books have been written about the contributions of Justice Marshall for decades, since his list of accomplishments and impact on history and culture is so large. For our list, we've chosen Thurgood, a picture book biography written by the multi-award-winning duo of Winter and Collier.

Shirley Chisholm is a Verb! By Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker (Ages 4-8)

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is probably one of the most recognizable figures we're featuring this month, and for good reason. Her self-assurance and fierce championing of civil rights, women's rights, and income equality created a blueprint for women and minorities to follow as they entered public office. As the first African American elected to US Congress, Shirley was the ideal of a politician, representing her voters in Congress through word and action. The purity of her mission inspires us today, to reclaim the government of the people for her people. This book is a tribute to her inspiring legacy, charging its young readers with the task of carrying on in her name.

Superheroes Are Everywhere by Kamala Harris and illustrated by Mechal Renee Roe (Ages 3-7)

Kamala Harris is the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American Vice President of the United States. From a young age, Kamala and her sister were encouraged by their Indian-American mother to be involved in community activism and work towards progress. Like her mother before her, Vice President Harris uses Superheroes Are Everywhere to empower young readers to feel capable of effecting positive change, contributing to the good of their community, and working together to do incredible things!

I hope your kids enjoy this reading list. Even if you don't get to all these books this month, remember that we should celebrate Black History all year long!