This February marks the 40th celebration of Black History Month in the United States, an annual celebration of the achievements, contributions, and accomplishments of black Americans in history and culture. If you're a parent, educator, or someone else looking to share the month-long observance with the children in your life, you're in luck, because there is a wealth of beautiful, imaginative, and inspirational picture books for Black History Month that are perfect tools to help celebrate and educate all month long.
Black History Month started in February of 1976, but 50 years before that, a professor from Harvard, Carter G. Woodson, organized and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) as well as Negro Week, a week-long event that recognized and celebration the history of black men and women in America. The first celebration was held in the first week February of 1926, a timing that was chosen so that the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass could be included in the celebration.
Over the next 50 years, the week-long observance began to be recognized by not only black history clubs, schools, and activists, but city town and city governments nationwide. It was President Gerald Ford who encouraged the country to expand the holiday and "honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans," and in 1976, to coincide with the country's 200th anniversary, ASNLH held the first Black History Month, and the entire nation participated.
Now, 50 years later, Ford's work still ring true. February is a month that is meant to celebrate and honor the contributions of black Americans, and to educate the rest of the country about those achievements that are so often overlooked. So whether you are a parent looking for bedtime stories or a teacher trying to pick out a class reading book, here are 12 picture books to help celebrate Black History Month:
1. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
A poignant story about the strength of friendship in the face of segregation,The Other Side is a beautiful picture book to share during Black History Month. The stunning watercolor illustrations of E.B. Lewis and the incredible storytelling of Jacqueline Woodson come together to create a moving book that will inspire children of all ages.
2. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
The inspirational life and career of this opera legend is illuminated in Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century. Poetic, spirited, and beautiful, this picture book is a delight to read and even more delightful to look at.
3. Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The story of Martin Luther King Jr., is probably one you know well, but how much do you know about his wife Coretta? More than a mother and wife, Coretta Scott was an activist and a visionary all on her own, and her story is brought to life in this warm, colorful, and inspiration picture book perfect for Black History Month reading.
4. I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson
You know how the speech goes "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" Watch it come alive with the artistic talents of Kadir Nelson in I Have a Dream, which puts King's unforgettable words alongside breathtaking paintings to create a wonderful, moving picture book.
5. The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald
You may not know who Mary Lou Williams is, but you'll want to listen to her music and get to know even more about her incredible life after you —I mean, your kids— read The Little Piano Girl. The story of her childhood in Pittsburgh, this picture book illustrates how one little girl grew overcame adversity and followed her dreams to become one of the most powerful women in jazz.
6. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
A tribute to the legend of Harriet Tubman, a truly inspirational woman who risked everything for the freedom of her people, Moses is a must-read. A fictional account of the very real and empowering life of one of the most important freedom fighters, God's voice plays a major part in this story.
7. Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raúl Colón
The daughter of civil rights activist Andrew Young, Paula Young Shelton has an interesting perspective on her childhood growing up in the deep South which she shares in the emotional, insightful picture book. Child of the Civil Rights Movement features activists like Shelton's father and her uncle, Martin Luther King, as well as some of the most important historical moments of the Civil Rights movement, including the march from Selma to Montgomery.
8. Just Like Josh Gibson by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Beth Peck
Black History Month is meant to celebrate not only culture and history, but dreams, too. Just Like Josh Gibson is at once a history of Josh Gibson, legendary Negro-League baseball player, and a heartwarming story of a little girl with big dreams to play just like him. A sweet, sentimental story, this is a great selection for Black History Month reading.
9. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
A truly unbelievable story of the life and struggles of Henry Brown, a young slave who mailed himself to freedom, Henry's Freedom Box is a tragic yet ultimately hopeful picture book. An emotional true tale filled with drama and dreams, Ellen Legine's words and Kadir Nelson's illustrations come together to create a truly moving reading experience.
10. The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
The voice of the Harlem Renaissance comes to life in this beautifully illustrated version of one of his master works. The Negro Speaks of Rivers is a bold and powerful poem turned picture book that captures the history of African Americans in Langston Hughes's original voice with the help of rich, detailed paintings of E. B. Lewis's master artistry. A must read for Black History Month.
11. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Since the day he could hold a pencil, Horace Pippin spent his time sketching everything he saw, from his family to his work to the trenches of World War I. After he was shot and lost use of his arm, Pippin dedicated his life to pursuing his passion until he because a recognized artist in galleries coast to coast. A truly inspiration story about a young black man who rose from rags to follow his dreams, A Splash of Red is a beautiful, vibrant story worth sharing.
12. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
The description is right in the title: Josephine is a dazzling picture book, and the perfect choice to help celebrate Black History Month. The life story of civil rights activist and legendary performer Josephine Baker is played out in this expertly illustrated and beautifully written picture book biography that is just as vibrant as the woman herself. Creative, playful, and upbeat, Josephine is a musical delight and a fun and inspiring read for kids of all ages.
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