Black and African Communities and Cultures
People who identify as Black hail from a vast variety of locations: America, Africa, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba and more, with many of those countries containing native cultures and people as well as influences from European and Middle Eastern cultures, bringing stories and histories as diverse as the people themselves.
*Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Colin Bootman; American. Written from the perspective of a handmade doll, she tells the story of a young freedom seeking enslaved girl’s journey on the Underground Railroad. Warning: the child is whipped in the story. The moment is not shown, but after is (no blood). Author’s note at the end tells about handmade dolls of the enslaved and the Underground Railroad. Recommended for late elementary and older.
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold; American – Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman takes young Cassie on a flight through the trials of the Underground Railroad, where she experiences some of what her great-grandparents went through on their own journey to freedom. A brief biography of Tubman and history of the U.S. at the time follows the story. Elementary and older.
Back of the Bus by Aaron Rynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper; American. This is a fictional perspective of a young boy sitting in the back of the bus when Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat. Elementary and older.
Barefoot by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole; American – Underground Railroad. Animals help an freedom seeking enslaved man, a Barefoot, find his way to the safe house and hide from his potential captors. Elementary and older.
blues journey by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers; American. Written in the format of a blues song, utilizing the two defining features of a blues song, as described by Myers in the forward, Myers bring the readers through the journey of an American musical form with it’s foundations in African American culture. There is a glossary at the end of the book which will help the reader navigate some of the terms and phrases used in blues lyrics. Recommended for late elementary and older.
Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; American. Written in the form of a blues song, a guitar-playing dog tells the story of Rosa Parks, Jim Crow and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 – 56 that Parks inspired. Late elementary and older.
Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper; American Reconstruction. A history, written in verse, about the people, mostly enslaved people, who built the original White House for George Washington. Author’s note at the end gives clarity to some of the verses. Middle elementary and older.
Class Act written and illustrated by Jerry Craft; Graphic Novel; Drew is one of a handful of students of color at his private prep school, and their white counterparts do not understand life from their perspective. When the school starts to acknowledge its lack of diversity sensitivity, will their efforts be worth it and actually help? Can Drew overcome his own preconceptions? Late elementary and older.
Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis; American. During one of the world wars, Ada’s mother goes to work on the trains in Chicago, leaving Ada with her grandmother until she can return home, writing letters when she can. Elementary and older.
Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James; American. Poetic homage to the culture of the African American barber shop, an amazing haircut and how it raises one’s self up. Recommended for all ages.
The Drinking Gourd by F.N. Monjo, illustrated by Fred Brenner; American – Underground Railroad. A short chapter book/early reader story told from the perspective of the son of an Underground Railroad conductor who learns about slavery, the railroad, and how his family is helping freedom seeking enslaved people. Though published in 1970, this book is historical and respectful. Elementary and older.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez; Cuban. A biographical poem about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the girl who broke the Cuban taboo on boy-only drummers. Author’s note at the end of the story. Elementary and older.
Follow the Drinking Gourd written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter; American – Underground Railroad. Freedom seekers follow the directions in a song taught to them by a one-legged sailor named Peg Leg Joe, who would meet them at the final destination of the song on the Underground Railroad and take them to freedom in Canada. Author’s Note before the story. Elementary and older.
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves and their Dreams Brought to Life written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan; American. Based on estate documents given to Ms. Bryan listing 11 enslaved persons owned by the estate, Ms. Bryan creates life stories and work for each of the people. This book gives insight into what life may have been like before and during enslavement. Recommended for late elementary and older.
Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier; American – Underground Railroad. Based on the true story of John Parker, a free Black man who risked capture to cross the Ohio River and help an enslaved family reach freedom from a plantation in Kentucky, grabbing the family’s infant from their enslaver’s bedroom. Elementary and older.
Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter; American. Alan and his family travel to their family’s annual reunion, where everyone brings something to share (a story, a song, etc.), but Alan doesn’t know what to share. Elementary and older.
Harriet and the Promised Land written and illustrated by Jacob Lawrence; American – Underground Railroad; Artwork of Jacob Lawrence accompany a verse storytelling of Harriet Tubman and her leading others to freedom. Author’s note before the story. Middle elementary.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; American Underground Railroad. Historical fiction account of Henry “Box” Brown, an enslaved man in Virginia. In 1849, after his wife and children are sold, Henry decides to ship himself to freedom in Pennsylvania. Elementary and older.
I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarphy, illustrated by E.B. Lewis; American. A young girl talks about her hair: caring for it, how versatile her hair styles can be and how her hair makes her feel. Recommended for all ages.
*If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold; American. The story of Rosa Parks’ life leading up to, including and following her monumental bus ride as told by the bus she rode on. Lynching is mentioned. Late elementary and older.
Islandborn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinoza; Dominican Republic. A bright and engaging story of a young girl who was given a class assignment to draw a picture of her memories of the country of her birth. She was born in the DR (although it does not explicitly state this in the story, there are clues that, if researched, give that answer) but does not remember her home country, so she interviews those who do remember. Elementary and older.
Jamaica Tag-Along by Juanita Havill, illustrated ty Anne Sibley O’Brein; American. Ossie is going to the playground to play basketball and Jamaica wants to go too, but Ossie doesn’t want her to tag-along. Elementary and older.
Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier; American. A young boy writes a letter to his father, who suddenly leaves one day, and his father writes back, encouraging him to be all that he dreams for him. Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes at the end of the story, give further meaning and depth. Elementary and older.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrations by Christian Robinson; American. A young boy learns to see, hear and imagine the beauty and good around him from his grandmother and others on the bus ride across town. Pre-K and older.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to be Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabezz, illustrated by Ag Ford; American. A biography of Malcolm X for children, written by his daughter. The main focus of this picture book is Malcolm’s childhood, from his parents’ meeting through Malcolm’s middle school years. It gives the foundation of who Malcolm was based on the events in his childhood. Recommended for middle elementary and older, with prior knowledge of the Civil Rights movement and prior historical events (Jim Crowe, KKK, etc).
Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Africa – Kenya. A story about Wangair Muta Maathai and her efforts to encourage women to plant trees to help regrow Kenya. Afterword. #OwnVoices illustrator. Elementary and older.
*March – Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; American. Autobiographic graphic novel of Congressman John Lewis’ early life and how it influenced his involvement in the civil rights movement. Book one covers his early involvement and the lunch counter protests. Due to language and violence, this title recommended for late middle school and older, with guidance.
*March – Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; American. Continuation of Congressman John Lewis’ autobiographic graphic novel. Book two follows Lewis’ growth and rise through the ranks of the civil rights movement leadership ranks and covers the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. Due to language and violence, this title is recommended for late middle school and older, with guidance.
*March – Book Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; American. The final installment of the March trilogy, this volume focuses on the planning and implementation of the events surrounding and including the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. Due to language and violence, this title is recommended for late middle school and older, with guidance.
Mary McLeod Bethune by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; American; This is a biography of Mary McLeod Bethune, a woman born free in South Carolina to formerly enslaved parents. Mary was the first in her family to receive a formal education and went on to start and run schools for Black children and was a voice for Black people, the youth and women in particular, in the early 20th century. Middle elementary and older due to length.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; American – Underground Railroad. The story of how Harriet Tubman freed herself from slavery and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman was deeply spiritual, so this story is framed within her conversations with God. Author’s Note at the end. Elementary and older.
*Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; American – Underground Railroad. This is a fictionalized recounting, with historical facts, of Harriet Tubman’s childhood. Harriet is whipped in this story, but it is not shown. Older elementary and older.
My Teacher written and illustrated by James Ransome; Multicultural. A young girl loves her teacher, who also taught her mother and her grandmother, but she wonders why she is still teaching after all these years. Pre-K and older.
New Kid by Jerry Craft; American, Graphic Novel. Jordan is a new kid at an exclusive private school, he’s also one of the few students of color. Jordan learns to navigate through making new friends (and finding out who your friends really are), discrimination, classism, acceptance, and finding out who he is and where he fits in. Recommended for late elementary and older.
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; American Abolitionist. This is the life story of Isabella, who became Sojourner Truth, a former enslaved woman who spoke out against slavery, successfully used the law to get her son back and championed women’s rights. Elementary and older.
The Paperboy written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey; American. A morning in the life of a paperboy and his dog on their paper route. Pre-K and older.
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, illustrated by Don Tate; American. Historical fictionalization of astronaut Ron McNair’s library experience at the age of 9 when he was denied the opportunity to check out books because he is black. Author’s Note at the end of the story. Elementary and older.
*Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier; American. The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Emmett Till’s murder and lynching are mentioned. Late elementary and older.
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbot; American – Underground Railroad. A variation on the author’s family history from her enslaved 4th great-grandmother to her own child by way of sewing a “show way”, a directional quilt used during the Underground Railroad. Middle Elementary and older.
Snapdragon: written and illustrated by Kat Leyh; GN, normalized LGBTQ+ and American. Snapdragon’s dog goes missing and is found by an old woman who lives outside of town. Little do the two know how connected they are, but friendships can be found in some unusual places. Middle school and older.
Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet; American. A young girl is discouraged by the ugliness of her neighborhood (litter, graffiti, broken things) and, at the encouragement of her mother, looks for things around her that are beautiful. Elementary and older.
Stevie written and illustrated by John Steptoe; American. A young boy’s mother agrees to watch a friend’s very young son throughout the week while she is away working. The boy views the younger child as a pest: always causing trouble, tagging along and being annoying. This book had a major impact on the reading life of author Jacqueline Woodson, as it was the only book (or one of the only) at her local library that featured a child that looked like her. Elementary.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford; American Civil Rights. The story of Ruby Bridges, her first day of school as the only Black student at an all White school, and the months that followed. Afterward included. Elementary and older
The Storyteller written and illustrated by Evan Turk; Moroccan. A storyteller tells of a time when a simple story saved Morocco from a Djinn and a sandstorm. Late elementary and older.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, paintings by James Ransome; American – Underground Railroad. Clara isn’t even 12 years old when she is taken from her mother and moved to another plantation. Another enslaved woman takes her under her wing and teaches her how to sew. Clara hears about the Underground Railroad and creates a quilt map to help herself and others find their way to freedom. Elementary and older.
*The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; American. Written in verse, this is a look at notable Black figures across the arts, athletics, politics, popular culture, current events, literature and more. Excellent conversation starter and detailed identification of individuals in the artwork is listed in the back pages of the book. Due to the violent nature of some events that are alluded to by way of the figures named (i.e. shooting victims), precautions should be taken when reading this book aloud. Recommended for late elementary and older.
Unspoken illustrated by Henry Cole; American – Underground Railroad; A wordless picture book, Unspoken tells the story of a young girl who discovers a freedom seeking enslaved person in her family’s barn. Author’s note at the end of the story. Elementary and older.
Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by E.B Lewis; American. During Reconstruction, a young girl from a formerly enslaved family longs to attend a school set up for freed African Americans with her brothers. This is a true story based on the author’s grandfather and his sister. Recommended for middle elementary and older, with prior knowledge of the Civil War. Recommended for elementary and older.
*Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer – Sprit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes; American. Illustrated biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the most influential people of the civil rights and African American voting rights movements in Mississippi, the south and America. Due to language and violence, recommended for late middle school and older, with guidance.
Available on MelCat:
A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. This is the true story of Katherine Johnson, the woman whose mathematical prowess and determination to overcome racial and gender obstacles helped put the first man on the moon. Elementary and older.
Freedom Ship by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Curtis James; American Freedom Seekers. Based on the true escape store of Robert Smalls and the families he helped escape on the gunboat “Planter” during the Civil War. Told from the perspective of one of the young boys who was on the boat, but never named in the history stories. Author’s Note and additional resources at the end of the story. Elementary and older.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; Haitian American. This story explores the tradition and history of Freedom Soup, a soup born of the Haitian Revolution, as a grandmother teaches her granddaughter how to make their family’s recipe. Elementary and older.
Just Jaime written and illustrated by Terri Libenson; Graphic novel; Middle schooler, Jaime, and her childhood BFF deal with relational agression, and their friendship may not survive it. Late elementary and older.
Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. A poem, narrated by several individual young girls, each celebrating their own unique shade of brown. Elementary and older.
Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Simone Agoussoye. The true story of Ona Judge, a talented and highly skilled enslaved woman of George and Martha Washington, who escaped Mt. Vernon and was able to maintain her freedom and avoid being recaptured, though there were several close calls. Late elementary and older, due to length.
The School is Not White: A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Curtis James; American – Civil Rights. The true story of the Carter family, a share cropping family in Mississippi who sent 8 of their children to the local White school after segregation was ended. Author’s Note and mini biographies of the parents and the children after the story. Elementary and older.
The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter. A poetic tribute to the history and training of African and African American midwives, combined with stunning artwork of Daniel Minter. Late elementary and older.