In one of my last posts, I argued that White children need to read Black children’s books as much or more than Black children, and more importantly, need to read lots of good children’s books with Black language, culture and heroes. They also need to read about other non-White cultures, but given the beginning of Black History month, I’m going to stick with Black books for today. Note, this is not a fully comprehensive list, merely a list of our family’s favorites. I’m going to do this in two parts, the first covering picture books for younger kids, the second “read aloud” or “read independently” books for older kids. These are books we like and recommend not so much because they have Black protagonists, but because they are wonderful.
Babies and Very Little Kids – Board Books and Easy Picture Books (0-3 years)
_It is the Wind_ by Ferida Wolff – We’ve had this book since my first batch was little, and all of them love it. A little boy gets up and listens to the country noises in the night, figures out what each one is (It is the owl/the calf/the frog in the pond) and comforts himself with the knowledge that it is the wind, only the wind in the night in his room. Among the best of all the bedtime books my children have ever enjoyed.
_Charlie Parker Played BeBop_ by Chris Raschka – one of the best board books for little people, it is all about the Be-bop sound and language. Zion could end the rhythmic sentences by the time he was 18 months, and there’s something just awesome about hearing your child, in response to “Charlie Parker played…” yell “Alto Saxophone!”
_Ellington Was Not a Street_ by Ntozake Shange. Even though my littlest ones didn’t necessarily know who the people in this story are at first, they were fascinated by Kadir Nelson’s gorgeous illustrations. Malkiah at 2 was convinced that the little girl in the images (Shange) was her (and she does kind of look like Malkie). A wonderful read out loud, that still fascinates for years, all of my older children can recite this poem from memory now.
_The Snowy Day_ My kids LOVE Peter, the first black children’s book hero. You probably already have this one, but if you don’t, run, do not walk to get this and the rest of the Peter series of books. I read them as a child and they still hold up beautifully.
_Daddy Calls Me Man_ by Angela Johnson. You’ll be seeing Johnson’s name again here, and that’s no accident – she’s the author of many wonderful children’s books. This Judah’s favorite. The illustrations by Rhonda Mitchell are fabulous, the text is warm and delightful, about a loving family where Daddy is an artist. Her “Joshua” series of board books are also lovely.
_So Much_ by Trisha Cooke. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury,, this book is a huge hit with every toddler I’ve ever seen. While waiting for Daddy to come home on his birthday, the entire family shows up, and all of them love the Baby So Much, but all of them show it differently.
_The Neighborhood Mother Goose_ by Nina Crews. Transferring Mother Goose rhymes to an urban setting with a very diverse pool of children – it is a gorgeous book and a nice selection of rhymes including some of the less commonly reproduced ones. _The Neighborhood Songbook_ is also excellent.
_I Love My Hair_ Natasha Anastasia Tarpley. I include this book because it is a family favorite and a wonderful book about the loving way Black parents do hair, but also because my kids get more unintentionally troubling comments about their hair than almost anything else from white kids who simply don’t understand the complicated history, culture and reality of caring for Black hair. More than once my daughters have come home in tears or in a fury because someone said something over the line about their hair – simply because they have no clue about what a big deal hair is in the Black community, or how it is cared for or styled. Seriously, hair is big. There’s a companion book for boys _Bippity Bop Barbershop_ also worth reading.
_Girl of Mine_ by Jabari Asim – all of his books are wonderful, but this one has been a huge hit with my littles for a long time. It is one of the best bedtime books bar none.
_More, More, More Said the Baby_ by Vera Williams. I mourned the late great Vera Williams when she died recently. This was always my children’s favorite of her books – racially diverse babies with racially diverse families are chased around, played with and finally after exhausting their parents and caregivers, collapse. I will admit to hiding this one occasionally so I didn’t have to READ IT AGAIN, but that’s the mark of a good book.
_Ten, Nine, Eight_ by Molly Bang – like _Goodnight Moon_ its ilk, the perfect bedtime book. Just right, a gentle countdown.
_Please, Baby, Please_ by Spike Lee. I HATE celebrity-written books, and generally avoid them like the plague, but after several people recommended this one to me, I relented. Kadir Nelson’s amazing illustrations make the book, and it is laugh-out-loud funny.
_Summertime_ by George Gershwin and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward: The illustrations of the classic song are unbelievably beautiful.0
_Elizabeti’s Doll_ by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen A wonderful book. Elizabeti, a girl in rural Africa has no doll, so she makes one from a rock, and cares for it. The rock becomes real to her, and when it goes missing, she grieves her “Ava.”
_Feast for Ten_ by Cathryn Falwell Lovely book about a large family shopping and cooking together – everyone helps out.
Picture Books for Bigger Kids (4-8 years)
_Uncle Jed’s Barbershop_ Margaree King Mitchell Set during the Great Depression in the Segregated South, Uncle Jed is saving for his own barbershop, but in the meantime, is an itinerant barber. When his niece gets sick, he doesn’t hesitate to devote his savings to her and defer his dream. Lovely book.
_Flossie and the Fox_: My Kids love this southern rural variation on the old “trick the fox” story. Flossie is funny and smart and the language is great.
_Her Stories: African-American Folk Tales, Fairy Tales and True Tales_ by Virginia Hamilton. Hamilton is THE premier collecter of Black Folk tales, and this is a wonderful read-aloud filled with strong heroines you may not know. I also strongly recommend her classic _The People Could Fly_.
_Let’s Talk About Race_ by Julius Lester. THE biggest mistake white parents make is making race a subject everyone is uncomfortable to talk about, emphasizing “colorblindness” (which doesn’t exist – we all see skin color) and pretending we can’t talk about it. Lester opens the conversation with “I am a story. So are you.” A VERY important book for kids.
_The Girl Who Wore Snakes_ by Angela Johnson. This is my six year old daughter Rimonah’s favorite book in the whole world – she loves snakes too. It is about a girl whose whole family fails to understand her passion for these animals until she goes to visit an aunt who loves them too.
_Amazing Grace_ by Mary Hoffman – One of our family’s favorites, Grace has the quality of the very best children’s book heroines – realness. There are several sequels. _Boundless Grace_ is my children’s favorite!
_Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters_ by John Steptoe – A glorious and beautifully illustrated version of the Cinderella story.
_Mama Panya’s Pancakes_ by Mary Chamberlin – a wonderful story about mother and son out for the day. The son wants to invite everyone to dinner. The mother worries there won’t be enough to go around if everyone comes. The problem is resolved by the instinctive generosity of everyone in the story.
_Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie_ by Robbin Gourley. This superb child’s biography of Edna Lewis focuses on the lore and life of Black farmers in Freetown. It is a great read aloud and evocative of delicious food.
_Little Melba and Her Big Trombone_ – A fun read and a true story, the illustrations of the tiny girl and her trombone have inspired many wanna-be players at my house.
_Come On, Rain!_ – by Karen Hesse and Jon J. Muth – A hot day. Everyone and every thing is wilting. And then a tiny rumble…. evocative and beautiful.
_Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales_ by Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney. Gorgeously illustrated in Pinkney’s inimicable style, modernized and very funny classic Uncle Remus tales. Necessary for any family. The two have also collaborated on a superb _John Henry_ and Pinkney has illustrated many fairy tales with diverse characters.
_Beautiful Moon_ by Tonya Bolden. A lovely book with mild religious content that focuses on social justice and a child’s prayers for all those under the moon with him.
_Mirandy and Brother Wind_ by Patricia McKissack – another gorgeously illustrated book by Jerry Pinckney, Mirandy wants the wind to be her dance partner. She tricks the wind, but decides on another path.
_Last Stop on Market Street_ by Matt De La Pena – really nice book about a Grandmother and her grandson travelling by bus to a local soup kitchen. The grandson is frustrated by what they don’t have, and without denying his perspective, the Grandmother helps him see what he does.
Next, Black Books for Older Children (I’ll do a later series on other multicultural books as well).