As I started putting together fun activities for my two toddlers for Valentine’s Day, I started thinking about a very simple but important question: If they’re old enough to understand holidays, are they also old enough to be introduced to diversity and history during Black History Month?
Of course, I try to keep books and toys in our home that aren’t only representative of people who look and live just like us. Still, I immediately felt uncomfortable with this task, as I do not feel like an expert. I don’t want to ignore or overlook this truth or ignore differences they see and experience each day. So, instead of leaning away from the discomfort, I started doing a little digging.
In an article for PBS, children’s book author Cheryl Willis Hudson provided tips to help parents connect their kids with Black history this month (or anytime):
Buy a book by a Black author or illustrator and make it a part of your child’s permanent collection. Books offer a fun and easy way to introduce your children to new cultures and to help them explore the experiences of people from different backgrounds.
Look for books that are inclusive and reflect the diversity of our communities. Books help illustrate that diversity is a natural part of everyday life.
When and if children ask questions about race, don’t sweep differences under the rug. Give children simple, concrete explanations when they have questions. Select books that affirm a valued place for all children. Try to find books that will help prepare children for the complex world in which they live.
Make sure your selections include contemporary stories. Black History Month is a celebration of not just history but also of culture and experiences, which are readily reflected in picture books, chapter books, and poetry.
Seek the suggestions and guidance from knowledgeable cultural experts, booksellers, and librarians. Coretta Scott King Award-winning titles are always a good place to start for excellence in text and illustrations.
Use Black History Month as a starting point to introduce children to more books that reflect other cultures and ethnicities, but celebrate Black history and cultural diversity all year long.
Ready to find a book that will work for your family? I created a small list below – a starting point – categorized by age-range. Many of the reviews on these books mention that with parental involvement you could read them younger, but I placed them in the most appropriate category based on the reviews I read.
I selected these books after spending a few hours scouring the internet for recommendations and noting which books showed up in several places, most notably, Scholastic and PBS. The links provided should take you directly to the sales page, whether on Amazon or elsewhere, and the descriptions are from their sales pages.
My Daddy and I by Eloise Greenfield
This is a set of four board books that feature African-American characters and cover several experiences a young child might face.
The Quilt by Ann Jonas
Publisher’s Weekly said, “Vibrant colors and an active imagination figure prominently in this tale of an African American girl’s quilt which springs to life overnight.”
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This beautifully illustrated board book highlights true stories of black men in history. The exceptional men featured include artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, lawman Bass Reeves, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, and writer James Baldwin.
Little Legends: Exceptional Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
An important book for all ages, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of forty trailblazing black women in American history. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.
Ana & Andrew by Christine Platt
A series, Amazon says, “Ana & Andrew are always on an adventure! They live in Washington, DC with their parents, but with family in Savannah, Georgia and Trinidad, there’s always something exciting and new to learn about African American history and culture. Aligned to Common Core standards and correlated to state standards.”
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Shetterly introduces the inspiring true story of four black female mathematicians who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers in this adaptation of Shetterly’s #1 New York Times bestseller, the basis for the Oscar-nominated film.
The Dream Keeper and other poems by Langston Hughes
From Publisher’s Weekly: Originally published in 1932, this edition of Hughes’s vibrant poems includes seven additional poems and is enhanced by dynamic scratchboard art. All ages.
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.
If You Were A Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by Gwendolyn Hooks
Follow along with two girls as they find themselves in the middle of a civil rights demonstration and find out how the fight for equality changed the country forever.
White Water by Michael S. Bandy
“Inspirational in tone, this is a strong introduction for young listeners and readers to the American Civil Rights movement.”—Kirkus Reviews
The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
When Byron gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is blown up.
Side note: as a former teacher who taught this at the ninth grade level, I can tell you it really elicited insightful, important conversations.
The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D Taylor
A close-knit Black family experiences firsthand the pain of ignorance, suspicion, and prejudice when they drive their new 1950 Cadillac from Toledo to Mississippi.