With young children, stories are a great way to engage them in a topic and teach. I tend to go a little crazy with books, and check out way too many from our library - I just keep finding more and more titles that seem like they potentially might be a good fit with whatever topic we are covering. Below, I've listed some of the books that I have read to my children in the past or plan to read this year that could fit in with teaching themes during African American History month. I can't speak to the accuracy or quality of all of these books (I am neither a historical or literary expert, and some books I have not read yet, but they are sitting on my shelf), nor am I making any recommendations on whether the books are appropriate for all ages of children. The latter is a determination which caregivers will have to individually make for the children in their care. Because I have so many titles to list, I won't provide synopses, but clicking on a title will link to the Amazon.com description of the book. Again, I plan to use these books not just during February but throughout the year, as they are appropriate to other lessons we are having. For example, in a lesson centered on the Summer Olympics, I can include books on Wilma Rudolph, Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali; when focusing on inventors, I can find books on George Washington Carver, Madam C.J. Walker, Elijah McCoy and Benjamin Banneker; in lessons on astronomy, we can talk about Neil deGrasse Tyson and Mae Jemison; I can create separate lessons on the U.S. Constitution or civil rights in general and include discussion on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the leaders of the African American Civil Rights Movement...and so on. Furthermore, many of the texts listed can be used to teach children lessons on character-based qualities, such as empathy, courage, determination, perseverance despite hardship, creativity, ingenuity and innovation - these can be great texts for teaching units on those and other characteristics.
by Charles R. Smith, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
This is a nice book to have for African American History Month, as there is one event to briefly review for each day in February (excluding February 29th during leap years). Descriptions are not detailed, but it is good for quickly introducing people and events that can be explored more in depth in other texts or follow-up discussions.
by Craig Thompson
This book can serve to introduce very young children to African American history in simple language with lots of pictures.
by Kadir Nelson
This book has won several awards, including the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award. It is recommended for ages 6 to 10/grades 1 to 5, so likely won't hold the interest or be appropriate for very young children. It is not a picture book, but does have nice illustrations to accompany the more wordy text.
by Michelle Cook
This is a good book for young kids to kick off African American History Month - it offers a glimpse of a few important people in African American history.
by Nancy I. Sanders
I haven't actually seen this book in person since our library system does not carry it. I'm waiting to receive it via InterLibrary Loan, and am hoping that it has some useful activities.
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
After reading this book, the kids and I discussed how much many slaves valued education and risked their lives just to learn to read and write; how we often take our access to education for granted; and how and education gives one more power over their own lives, and conversely, how trying to keep others from a good education can be a took in keeping them powerless.
by Tonya Cherie Hegamin, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
This fictional account about a daughter of a secret agent on the Underground Railroad was a book that my younger son picked off of the shelf at the library and wanted to check out. This book also provides an opportunity to discuss how quilts were sometimes used to provide secret messages that helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad.
by Deborah Hopkinson
Another book dealing with the Underground Railroad and the use of quilts to contain messages or maps.
by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Though it has been a year since I read this book to my kids, my sons on occasion talk about the story where the boy shipped himself out of slavery.
Another story about the Underground Railroad.
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This is a poetically written book with wonderful illustrations.
by David A. Adler, illustrated by Samuel Byrd
This book is more of a factual account of Harriet Tubman's life, rather than the poetic portrait of Tubman presented in the above title.
by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
This is a telling of the lives of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, each great in their own way.
by David A. Adler, illustrated by Samuel Byrd
by Pat Sherman, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
I got this book as a way of introducing my kids to the term "Emancipation Proclamation" and what that document meant at a high level. This is based on the true story of Benjamin Holmes, a slave who taught himself to read and write.
by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood
This book is geared more towards the middle school to junior high school age group, but some of the poems can be read to younger children and the illustrations inspired by traditional American quilt block patterns are interesting to look at.
by Janet Halfman and Duane Smith
This story is for a bit of an older child, recommended for grades 3-7. I haven't read this particular book, but read another story about Robert Smalls written by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. - this latter story took a lot of explanation for my kids, but Robert Smalls' story is so engaging that I'd like to read Seven Miles to Freedom, hoping it might be more understandable to my kids.
by Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd
This book about the March on Washington, told by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sister, is a bit wordy for young kids. My kids will listen to it, particularly my oldest, especially if I use an animated voice.
by Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kathleen A. Wilson
This book is essentially Martin Luther King, Jr.'s entire "I Have a Dream" speech from the March on Washington, with illustrations from various artists. This might be a bit too much of a read for young children, but is a nice way to review and discuss one of the most famous speeches in United States' history that remains relevant today. My kids will listen to parts of the speech but not the entire speech, so until they are older and can stay engaged for a longer time, I just highlight certain parts. They are at least able to reference the speech and are able to (kind of) quote it, which can be amusing given their inaccuracy. (Sometimes, when they wake up in the morning they tell me they had a dream like Martin Luther King, Jr....they don't quite get the difference between dreams at night and dreams as hopes and ideals just yet.)
by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colon
A child's perspective on the African American Civil Rights Movement, told by the daughter of an activist in the movement.
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
This book can be used to talk about the African-American Civil Rights Movement, discrimination and racism, and using non-violent means of protesting injustice.
by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Sometimes after talking to my kids about race, discrimination, the Civil Rights Movement, et cetera, I get the sense that they have the past and present mixed up in their minds (which is understandable given their young minds), and I have to be clear that we no longer have legally segregated restaurants and pools and buses and so on. However, I also feel it necessary to discuss that we continue to see inequalities and discrimination, albeit in often less obvious ways. I feel this book is at least one way to address how the abolition of a discriminatory law doesn't mean that people's hearts and they way they view and treat others have changed much...there is still more work to do.
by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford
This is the story of the first African American child to integrate a New Orleans school.
by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
We have this one on order from the library, so haven't read it yet. My hope is that the book's depiction of children's role in the African American Civil Rights Movement can serve as an example of how children, though small, can take a stand to make our world a better place too.
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
A story of friendship across a racial divide.
by Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson
A performer during the Harlem Renaissance, Florence Mills shattered many racial barriers, and her song "I'm a Little Blackbird" was a plea for racial equality.
by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
A story about Melba Liston, a world-class trombone player, composer and arranger.
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
A story of the first African American Arctic explorer, and one of the first people to (disputedly) reach the Geographic North Pole.
by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger, illustrated Teresa Flavin
A story of the first African American female pilot.
by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Francois Roca
My kids love this book - I think they like the idea of boxing since they get into trouble if they hit each other at home. They remember the book and (somewhat) quote it even a year later: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; you can't hit what you can't see." The book talks not only about Ali's boxing greatness, but also about how he stood up against racism and war.
by Peter Golenbock, illustrated by Paul Bacon
Centered around Jackie Robinson, this story was another that my kids really enjoyed. I like the example it provided of Pee Wee Reese, a white baseball player, showing public support for Jackie. However, I also hope to find a good book solely about Jackie, as he displayed great courage and dignity as the first black baseball player in the American major leagues.
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz
My kids and I have previously read a children's biography book about Wilma Rudolph (Wilma Rudolph by Victoria Sherrow) that we found inspiring, but it was geared towards children a bit older than mine. I'm hoping this picture book will be a bit better suited for the age of my kids. This will also be a good book to use when we learn about the Summer Olympics later this year.
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James. E. Ransome
A story about the first African American world champion cyclist, who overcame racial discrimination to achieve great success as a cyclist in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
by Debbie Allen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
We haven't yet read this book since all copies have been checked out from our library system, but I plan to check it out when it is available. My understanding is that this book doesn't specifically deal with the main character being of color, but centers on the ballet world and has themes such as being confident despite teasing from others. I think it is important that I read general books to my children with diverse main characters, but unfortunately such books are not all that easy to find. To tie this book in specifically with African American history month, it could be followed by talking about Misty Copeland, the first female African American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history.
by Virginia Hamilton
The tales in this book focus on strong female characters.
by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Daniel Minter
This book can be followed by a discussion of Kwanzaa, the first specifically African American holiday. I usually read this or other Kwanzaa-related books or stories to my kids in December, since that is when Kwanzaa begins.