Black history book list

Just in time for Black History Month, I have created a list of 65 picture books about Black history, including biographies, nonfiction, and historical fiction, with links to my reviews. You can find the list here or go to “Book Lists” near the top of the blog home page. When you move your cursor over that, a menu of all the book lists I’ve created will appear and you can click on “Black History”. There are so many great books on this list, and I hope you will find something there that inspires you to share!

Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier

Published by Versify

Just Right Jillian: Collier, Nicole D.: 9780358434610: Books

Summary:  Jillian is smart and a talented weaver, but her shyness holds her back from showing others who she really is.  Things have been even harder since her beloved grandmother died, and the promise she made to Grammy to be herself weighs heavily on Jillian.  Deciding to compete in her school’s Mind Bender competition forces her to begin to emerge from her shell, a process that is paralleled by the eggs developing in her classroom’s incubator. When Mama gets sick and Jillian misses a crucial day of competition, she is forced to make a decision to either drop out and fade into the background or to stand up for her right to be part of the tournament.  As the chicks begin to hatch out of their eggs, the real Jillian emerges and gets to enjoy the rewards that come from courageously being herself.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  I’m always appreciative of middle grade books that feature an elementary school kid.  Readers in fourth and fifth grade will definitely relate to Jillian and her classmates, and the more introverted ones will be inspired by Jillian’s journey.

Cons:  Jillian tells us that her school has given up “those scary standardized tests in May” in favor of the optional (and fun) Mind Bender competition…if only this were an actual possibility for any 21st century US public school.

Who Are Your People? by Bakari Sellers, illustrated by Reggie Brown

Published by Quill Tree Books

Who Are Your People?: Sellers, Bakari, Brown, Reggie: 9780063082854:  Books
Who Are Your People? – HarperCollins

Summary:  “When you meet someone for the first time, they might ask, ‘Who are your people?’ and ‘Where are you from?’”  A father sets out to give his two children some answers to those questions, explaining that their people were strong and smart; fighters and activists.  The illustrations show the faces of well-known Black activists, as well as Black people working in cotton and sugarcane fields and participating in protests at lunch counters and marches.  The last few pages celebrate a supportive community that allows the kids to dream about the ways they will change the world.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  My school celebrates Black History Month with guest readers in every classroom, and I’ve been looking for books for the younger kids.  This one is perfect, not shying away from the troubling aspects of Black history, but also emphasizing the strength and resilience of the community.

Cons:  Some back matter with additional information about the people and incidents in the illustrations would have made this a more useful resource for both younger and older kids.

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

Published by Tommy Nelson

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of  Juneteenth: Duncan, Alice Faye, Bobo, Keturah A.: 9781400231256:  Books Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the  Grandmother of Juneteenth eBook : Duncan, Alice Faye, Bobo, Keturah A.:  Kindle Store

Summary:  When Opal Lee’s great grandson asks her for a story, she looks around their Juneteenth celebration and tells the kids the history of the holiday. People in Texas didn’t learn about the end of slavery until almost a year and a half after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  Juneteenth marks the day they found out, and the celebration that happened when they did.  “What was Juneteenth like when you were a kid?” the children then want to know. Opal Lee tells them of her segregated childhood, and how her family’s new house was burned down in 1939. But, she assures them, she has continued and will continue to work for freedom as long as she needs them.  As the children run off to play, she reminds them, “Freedom is for everyone.  Juneteenth is YOU and ME.”  Includes a recipe for Juneteenth Red Punch, a Juneteenth timeline, additional information about Opal Lee and Juneteenth, and a list of sources.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  With Juneteenth being a new national holiday, librarians and teachers will be looking for excellent educational resources like this one.  Opal Lee’s easygoing storytelling imparts a lot of information, aided by the bright, colorful illustrations that portray a diverse crowd of kids at the Juneteenth celebration.

Cons:  The author’s note mentions Opal Lee’s walk across the United States from 2016 to 2020 to collect signatures for a petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.  She was 94 when President Biden signed legislation to make this happen.  I wish there had been more information about that walk, which sounds like a fascinating piece of history.

Evicted! The Struggle for the Right to Vote by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Charly Palmer

Published by Calkins Creek

Evicted!: The Struggle for the Right to Vote: Duncan, Alice Faye, Palmer,  Charly: 9781684379798: Books
Evicted: An Interview on a Timely Topic with Alice Faye Duncan - A Fuse #8  Production

Summary:  When a Black man was falsely found guilty of murder by an all-white jury in 1959, the Black community of Fayette County, Tennessee began a voter registration movement.  Led by John McFerren and Harpman Jameson, their actions led to swift reprisals and families lost their jobs and homes.  Papa Towles, one of the few Black landowners in the county, pitched army surplus tents on his property and invited families to stay there.  Progress was slow, but publicity about the movement began to grow.  College students came to Fayette County to help out in the summer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy sent food and other supplies.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought about the changes that the original protestors had been seeking, and Black candidates began to win elections in Fayette County.  The story includes many different people who played a role and is seen through the eyes of James Jamerson, a boy who spent his childhood with his Uncle Harpman and helped integrate Fayette County High School.  Includes a five-page timeline, photos, and a resource guide.  64 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  There’s a lot packed into these 64 pages.  The story of Fayette County mirrors the larger civil rights movement going on during this time, with an emphasis on the courage and ingenuity of the Black community activists.  The paintings by Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe award winner Palmer (author and illustrator of yesterday’s book, Gravity) beautifully capture the people involved in this struggle.

Cons:  The book has the look of a picture book, but it’s a complicated story with a large cast of characters that includes information about a lynching.  Definitely more of an upper elementary and middle school book.

The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale by Charly Palmer

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale: Palmer, Charly, Palmer,  Charly: 9780374313289: Books
The Legend of Gravity

Summary:  A girl tells the story of Gravity, a mysterious kid who shows up at the local playground basketball court and soon becomes a legend.  His real name is never told, but the other kids give him the nickname Gravity since he seems to defy it.  Soon Gravity has turned the team into champions, and they’re excited to go to the Best of the Best, Milwaukee’s pickup basketball tournament.  They easily defeat one team after the other until they face perennial champions the Flyers.  Gravity does his best, but by halftime, he’s exhausted.  He tells the rest of the team how they can work together to win, and each one uses their unique talents to defeat the Flyers by 17 points.  Gravity insists that they share the trophy, and “twenty-five years later, we still do.”  Includes an author’s note celebrating championship basketball players who never made it into the NBA.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  If stories about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are feeling a little tired, here’s a new tall tale that kids will love, with colorful illustrations and plenty of basketball action.

Cons:  The somewhat abstract paintings made it occasionally difficult to distinguish one player from another.

A History of Me by Adrea Theodore, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

Published by Neal Porter Books

A History of Me: Theodore, Adrea, Robinson, Erin: 9780823442577:  Books

Summary:  “I was the only brown person in class.” The narrator feels the stares of her white classmates when they learn about slavery and civil rights.  Her mother tells her of ancestors who were enslaved or who only got to go to school for a few years, reminding her to be grateful for her own education.  She loves to learn but doesn’t like feeling like her race is what the other kids see about her.  The girl grows up to become a doctor with a daughter of her own.  When her daughter tells her of similar experiences at school, she encourages her to feel proud of herself and her ancestors, and to focus on what she sees when she looks in the mirror.  Includes notes from the author and the artist.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This book opens up interesting questions about how Black history is taught in schools and how to do it in a way that empowers children of color.

Cons:  The author’s note was in a font size that strained my middle-aged eyes.

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Random House Studio

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice: Weatherford,  Carole Boston, Freeman, Laura: 9780593306505: Books
The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice: Weatherford,  Carole Boston, Freeman, Laura: 9780593306505: Books

Summary:  Elijah Cummings’ parents worked as sharecroppers on a South Carolina farm before moving to Baltimore to give their seven children a better life.  Elijah struggled in school, but with the help of his parents, the librarians at his public library, and his first employers, he went on to Howard University and eventually became a lawyer.  He served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983 until 1996, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Elijah was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2003; when he died in 2019, he became the first African American legislator to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.  Includes remarks by Nancy Pelosi and an excerpt of a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus following Elijah’s death as well as a timeline, a bibliography, and a list of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The first part of the book about Elijah’s early life is an inspiring testimony to the power of hard work and having mentors.  The writing is engaging, and the illustrations are a kid-friendly enhancement of the text.

Cons:  I don’t want to diminish Elijah Cummings’ considerable achievements, but to me, the second part of the book was less interesting than the first. If I were reading this to elementary kids, I would want to supplement it in some way to make it more engaging for them.

Awards 2022

I just watched the livestream of the ALA awards announcements. It’s a humbling experience, as there are always a bunch of books I’ve never heard of, much less read and reviewed. This is far from a complete list of all the awards given, but here are a few. I’ve linked to my reviews where applicable.

Caldecott Award


Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin


Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Newbery Award


The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera


Watercress by Jason Chin

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocha

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Too Bright to See by Kyle Luyken

Coretta Scott King Award

Illustrator winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Illustrator honors

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We Wait for the Sun by Dovey Johnson Roundtree, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C. G. Esperanza

Author winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Author honors

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Loveis Wise

Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Published by Calkins Creek

Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of  Slavery in America: Castrovilla, Selene, Lewis, E. B.: 9781635925821:  Books

Summary:  May 26, 1861: George Scott, living in a cave in the woods after escaping slavery two years earlier, sees other Black people entering Fortress Monroe and not being returned.  He learns that the commander of the fort, Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, has declared the Black people “contrabands of war”, which means he doesn’t have to return them to the Confederates.  When Scott tells Butler he can find the Confederate hideout, Butler sends him on a mission back into the woods where he’s been hiding.  Scott finds the Confederates gathered at a church, and the Union army attacks, thwarting the threat to the fortress.  As a reward, Butler writes a letter to President Lincoln making the case for Scott and the other contrabands.  His words play a part in what eventually becomes the Emancipation Proclamation.  Includes four pages of additional information about George Scott, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Fortress Monroe, and the contrabands, as well as a bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This well-written and engaging narrative tells a little-known Civil War story, illustrated with sepia-toned paintings that evoke the photographs from that era.  Seems like more should be written about Benjamin Franklin Butler, who went on to become governor of Massachusetts and was a leader in civil rights on many fronts.

Cons:  Apparently, “contrabands” was the term used for those who found refuge at the fortress, but it seems like a somewhat dehumanizing expression.