My favorite picture books by Black authors make wonderful read alouds for story time!
Children must be allowed to see themselves represented in picture books experiencing the joys of life and not always depicted as part of a marginalized group, as too often happens. These 15 books are a great place to start!
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Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
I absolutely love this book and its energetic illustrations. A strong, rhythmic text describes a boy going into the barbershop and the experience of getting a new, fresh haircut, and all the excitement that surrounds the possibilities of what a new haircut might bring–like a glance from a girl, or acing an exam.
My Block Looks Like by Janelle Harper, illustrated by Frank Morrison
This buoyant, poetic book reads like a musical celebration of neighborhood joys like street art, corner stores, playgrounds and spontaneous, friendly meet-ups. A great read aloud choice, this book will prompt your kids to head outdoors to explore their own communities.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper
This story reminds me so much of my childhood, when I would watch the moon from the car window just like Max! After he says goodbye to his Grandpa, Max watches the moon following him during the car ride home. The moon passes behind trees, over bridges, along the ridge of hills. He wonders if the moon will always be there for him, just like his Grandpa told him it would be. Floyd Cooper's illustrations are gorgeous.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringold
One hot summer evening, a family picnics on the roof of their Harlem apartment. A young girl imagines coasting through the starry sky on a blanket with her brother over the George Washington Bridge, which her father helped build. The girl optimistically dreams of her own future and the possibilities ahead. Ringgold’s gorgeous illustrations are quilts come to life.
The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
I love this joyous book about the pleasures of an old fashioned summer in the city. Fire hydrants spray water in the streets, kids play tag, jump rope, and get treats from the ice cream truck. Set in Brooklyn, the bouncing refrain and the smiles on the children's faces are pure delight.
Nigel and the Moon by Antwan Eady, illustrated by Gracey Zhang
Nigel loves to look at the moon and imagine the person he could become, but he fears that he might not be able to achieve all that he hopes. With career day on the horizon, Nigel worries that his parents' jobs aren't glamorous enough. However, he is pleasantly surprised when his classmates show a keen interest in his parents' jobs and Nigel gains the confidence to share his own dreams with others. A wonderful, wonderful book!
Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
These exuberant poems are narrated by a young girl, Zuri Jackson, about her best friend, Danitra. It's a joyful ode to a friend. It would be a great writing project for kids, too -- to have them write poems about their friends.
Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
I adored this picture book about a girl named Rocket who aspires to be the universe's greatest astronaut. Rocket is especially enthusiastic about the upcoming Phoenix meteor shower. She invites the community and prepares for the event, sharing astronomical information with the reader. When the big day comes, her brother is charged with looking after her, but he spends most of his time during the story looking down at his phone. Will he ever look up from the enticing device?
Keep Your Head Up by Aliya King Neil, illustrated by Charly Palmer
I was blown away by this book. The narrative teaches kids that even when we have extra lousy days and our moods seem to control us, we can show ourselves grace and forgive ourselves. D is having a bad day. Everything seems to be going wrong and his frustrations eventually leads to a meltdown at school. But D reminds himself to "keep his head up" because everyone can have a bad day. A fantastic book for social emotional learning. Truly wonderful and a must for every child’s bookshelf.
Looking for Bongo by Eric Velasquez
This book, featuring an Afro-Latino family, is absolutely delightful. A boy is looking for his missing stuffed toy and he asks everyone around him for help. His family's answers are sprinkled with Spanish words and the decor of the house reflects the cultural background of the family. Preschoolers will love spotting clues to find the real culprit of Bongo's disappearance.
Just Us Women by Jeannette Caines, illustrated by Pat Cummings
I love this book so much. The story follows a girl and her aunt making a road trip, just the two of them. The girl describes the joyful experience of being about to make stops and see the sights on their own schedule. They can buy all the "junk" they want at flea markets, and eat dinner at the restaurant of their choosing. The pace of the book is leisurely and it may just make your kids want to head out on the road.
My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Mackenzie's classmates tease her about her unruly hair, but she finds comfort and direction from her neighbor, Miss Tillie. I love the way Mackenzie learns to treasure her black hair. In the endnotes, there is even a hair care guide and recipes for natural hair products.
Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Find it: Amazon
A young girl admires the scarves her mother wears. She takes joy in looking through the closet, dancing with them, trying them on and imagining the possibilities of how she will wear her own. No matter what the reader's background, every child will see themselves in the young narrator as she celebrates the khimar and the loving relationship she has with her mother.
Shortcut by Donald Crews
Crews is best known for his iconic Freight Train book. I love this picture book about a group of kids who decide to take a shortcut by the train tracks on their way home. They have fun playing along the tracks, all the while acknowledging that they perhaps should have gone the usual way!
Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney
Show your kids than anyone can create a rhythm. A boy starts to beat out musical patterns with two sticks he finds during a breezy day. He taps out the sounds he hears around him in rhythmic patterns. Read it aloud to kids and encourage them to tap out or voice their own musical patterns. Pinkney is primarily known as an illustrator and often partners with his author wife Andrea Davis Pinkney who has many several spectacular history picture books (her books are on the lists featured below).
Book Lists about Black History:
Note: Most, but not all, of these books also have Black illustrators. I wrestled over whether or not to include the ones with non-Black illustrators, but just loved them too, too much not to put them on the list. It wouldn't have been a list of favorites without them.