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The 12 Best Books for Celebrating Black History At Every Age

Black history is American history, and while February shines a spotlight on the subject, we’ve pulled together some titles you’ll be reaching for year-round.

Sarah Burns · 10 months ago

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“History” typically calls to mind stuffy high-school textbooks, dry facts, and lists of dates; Black history shifts the imagery to include figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks — as well it should. But history is so much more than a boring school subject, Black contributions extend well past these two trailblazers, and learning about them is important at any age!

Ages 0-5

Babies’ brains soak up information like a parched sponge submerged into a bucket of sudsy knowledge, but they need tools to help them understand and process all that brain-wrinkling intelligence. These titles will introduce and normalize antiracist language and concepts to kids and parents because you’re never too old to learn and lead by example.

The ABCs Of Black History will introduce important concepts to young minds while also helping them learn the alphabet! You might be saying, “An ABC book? My kid is so advanced, they learned their ABCs in the womb, just popped out, and started saying them!” Well, this isn’t your typical book of ABCs; your child (and maybe you?) will learn words like Diaspora, Juneteenth, and Tuskegee. For older kids, try flipping through this alphabetical album of awareness, choose a page at random then delve deeper into the subject. Making this a habit is a fantastic way to encourage discovery and investigation.

Born out of a need for a tool to talk about anti-racism with his four-year-old daughter, author Ibrim X. Kendi wrote Antiracist Baby to have a jumping-off point in starting those conversations. The words and ideas introduced may be new to many toddlers, which in turn may prompt them to ask questions. Critical thinking is essential in the fight against racism, and preschoolers are just beginning to flex those new thinking muscles. This book is a great way to give your chatty three-nager some new words to play with!

For the month of February, Vashti Harisson took to her Instagram account to highlight the historic and groundbreaking efforts of Black women in science, sports, the arts, and civil rights. Her pet project planted the seed for what became Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History; a children’s book which depicts these extraordinary leaders as children themselves, to help embolden your own little leader to do big, life-changing things of their own!

Ages 5-10

Around this age, our brains are working on developing emotional skills, and learning empathy, so we don’t end up as mean, uncaring little jerkfaces later in life. With this budding capacity for emotional awareness, and natural curiousness about the lives of others, biographies and autobiographies make naturally compelling options for young readers.

Henry’s Freedom Box makes the top of almost every list on the internet. This Pulitzer-winning tale highlights some of the worst of what our nation's history has to offer, and tackles the difficult subject matter in a way that’s easy to empathize with and process.

Henry was a young boy living as a slave in the deep south, his story inspired by actual lithographs from the 1830s. We learn how Henry was stolen from his family and forced into slavery, how he is treated by his masters, his harrowing upbringing, and his out-of-the-box plan that leads to his eventual freedom as a young man. It’s an inspiring tale of courage, endurance, and hope in the face of ultimate adversity. Plus, your kid’s social studies teacher will be super impressed with their reading choices.

It’s 1963, and Audrey Hendricks is nine years old. After a dinner with a family friend named Mike, she is inspired to stand up for her family, herself, and her future, resulting in the youngest known arrest in the Birmingham Children’s March. A thoughtful celebration of the very real contribution and sacrifice of one little girl, The Youngest Marcher is an inspiring reminder to young readers — and families — that systemic change is a community effort, and doesn’t happen overnight. You’re never too young to make a difference. 

Part of a series of biographies about people “you should meet,” this is the incredible story of farm-girl turned mathematician, Katherine Johnson, whose enigmatically genius calculations helped put a man on the moon. In addition to showcasing an exemplary role model — especially for kids interested in engineering and space — this book goes the extra mile by providing an index of resources for more information about careers related to math and science.

Ages 11-13

The 11 to 13 years are a time of discovering one’s individuality, struggling to connect with others, and bulking up on some serious problem-solving skills. Middle school is an age where we developmentally level-up, all while learning how to deal with peer pressure, bullies, and struggling with the primal, impulsive need to challenge any authority. Here are several titles that tap into the action-oriented, compassionate reasoning centers of the brain that helps middle schoolers thrive.

June 12th marks the nationally recognized celebration of the end of the ban on interracial marriages, but it all started with one couple in love. Loving Vs. Virginia recounts the events leading up to the historical moment in beautifully heartbreaking prose. With seemingly insurmountable odds against them, Mildred and Richard’s touching tale is one of love, bravery, and hope for the future.

A New York Times bestseller adapted for younger readers, author, activist, and Super Bowl Champion Michael Bennett provides raw, unfiltered, and hilarious commentary on topics ranging from police violence to the exploitation of student-athletes. While these aren’t the hallmarks of a traditional knee-slapper, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable doesn’t just entertain — it expertly uses humor to make a point and challenges the reader to think differently.

Poignant, compelling, and inspiring, author and activist Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom is a multi-layered coming-of-age story where both the protagonist and the nation are at the mercy of brutal growing pains. Jailed at least nine times before her 15th birthday, Lowery’s straightforward, vivid tale grips you from the get-go. This one will make you want to run out literally right now and change the world.

Ages 14-18

Don’t let their blasé expression or the fact you need to repeat yourself fifty times deceive you — teenagers do actually listen. While their independence is proudly on display, a teenager's brain is capable of processing complex problems, like distinguishing right and wrong, but often struggles with foreseeing consequences. The following reads focus on events and taking action, and the subsequent short-term and long-term consequences of those actions.

Stamped is not a history book per se; this gripping novel provides insight and historical context for political and socio-economic injustices of the past in a way that draws lines straight to the most pressing issues of the day. This is the young adult adaptation of the National Book Award-winning, New York Times bestseller, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which may be better suited for kids in their late teens, as well as adults. Set an example, educate yourself, and open up conversations about history and race with your child by having a family book club!

An astonishing read, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a poor tobacco farmer whose DNA was taken — without her consent or knowledge — and used for medical research. Her story highlights the abuses of the scientific community and asks the reader to consider the moral and ethical implications of how some of the most life-altering medical advancements of the century came to be, and at what cost. 

Being the first at anything comes with its own worries and insecurities, and part of being a teenager is dealing with a lot of firsts. An inspiring and relatable tale, A Most Beautiful Thing is about the first all-Black high school rowing team, the hardships they faced in finding acceptance to compete, and their triumph in the face of systemic adversity. This uplifting story reminds the reader how far we’ve come, how far we have to go and evokes hopefulness for the future.