Black History Month is an extremely important month to celebrate not only Black historical figures, but also Black Excellence and Black Joy. Although February is the only month specifically set to recognize Black History, all months of the year should be opportunities to celebrate and learn.
As an elementary school teacher, picture books are a crucial resource that I use to start conversations with my scholars. Specifically, I seek to read books to my scholars that are written by BIPOC authors and include BIPOC characters so that each of my scholars can see themselves represented. Throughout Black History Month, I seek to showcase books that celebrate Black Joy and Black Excellence, however, I will not stop reading and featuring these books in my classroom after February. As a white teacher, it is my responsibility to teach my scholars how to be critical of the systems around them and to have courageous conversations about how to create a more just society for all.
No matter what age your child is or what grade you teach, picture books are incredible opportunities to start conversations with scholars, specifically due to the astounding way that picture books not only have meaning in the words written, but also the illustrations. Picture books can share multiple messages that can be interpreted by each reader.
Picture Book Recommendations
1. You Matter by Christian Robinson
Written by the incredible author and illustrator, Christian Robinson, You Matter is a beautiful picture book that shares all the different ways that children are important no matter who they are or what they do. I love this book in that it is a great way to start a conversation about why you should love yourself and others, and how it is okay to love yourself even as you make mistakes.
Also available in Spanish as Tú importas!
2. I am Enough by Grace Byers
I am Enough by Grace Byers is based on Byers’ own experiences growing up and is written as a love letter to children everywhere to find the beauty in themselves.
3. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Written about the four incredible Black women mathematicians who helped NASA reach its goals of going to space, Hidden Figures is a picture book that teaches readers about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden.
4. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
By the astounding author Jacqueline Woodson, The Day You Begin is a relatable story about a young girl looking for a way to connect with those around her even in a place where she may feel alone.
Also available in Spanish as El día en que descubres quién eres!
5. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a celebration of the joy that comes from getting a fresh cut and how Black boys can feel so special when they are in the barbershop chair. A book that helps young Black boys see how special they are and that they should be confident in their reflection.
6. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Hair Love is a beautiful celebration of Black joy and the relationship between a father and daughter through the trial and errors of doing hair. Also made into a short film, Hair Love is a story that children will be able to relate to and find happiness in the pages.
Also available in Spanish as Amor de pelo shipping May 2021!
7. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton
Whoosh! is a kid approved book that tells the story of Lonnie Johnson, perhaps one of the coolest inventors who was originally looking to create a cooling system but instead invented the Super Soaker! A beautiful story of a Black inventor that children will be able to relate to, Whoosh! is a great story of the engineering process and what it means to not give up.
8. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
The Undefeated is a love letter to the Black people of the United States and their history. Prompting children to think about the words we use to describe Black history, The Undefeated will teach children about Black history throughout the years while also celebrating the triumph and perseverance.
9. Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Mae Among the Stars is a gorgeous telling of Mae Jemison’s life and how she went from being a science and math loving young girl to becoming a teacher, doctor, scientist, and astronaut! A beautiful story of a Black woman and her aspirations, Mae Among the Stars is an amazing read for young children everywhere to see that they can do anything they put their mind to.
10. Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris
Ambitious Girl is a celebration of the strength of women and their power that should be celebrated. Written by Meena Harris with inspiration from her aunt, Kamala Harris, Ambitious Girl reminds young girls that they should not let anyone tell them who they are because they are in charge of their own ambition and strength.
11. Parker Looks Up by Jessica Curry & Parker Curry
Parker Looks Up is one of my favorite books on this list because it tells the true story of Parker Curry, a young Black girl who was visiting the National Portrait Gallery with her family. When Parker came across the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, Parker stood still in her tracks realizing the beauty and strength of Black women and how she can do anything she would like.
12. All Because You Matter by Tami Charles
Named one of the best books of 2020 All Because You Matter is an ode to Black children everywhere to recognize their power, beauty, and strength as well as making sure children everywhere know they are loved.