Black History Month is underway, offering an ideal opportunity to teach young children about the ways in which African-Americans have shaped America’s cultural, artistic, athletic, and political landscapes. From an anthology of classic playtime traditions, to a poetic recounting of the landmark Loving v. Virginia civil rights case, to beautifully illustrated looks at the childhoods of Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and John Lewis, here are some of the best newly released kids’ books to add to your shelf this Black History Month.
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!
By Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
All ages; Jan. 10, 2017; Random House Children’s Books
“Our earliest toys are our hands, feet, and voices,” writes Newbery Honor-winning author Patricia C. McKissack in her introduction to Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout. And she puts hands, feet, and voices to play with her new collection of African-American playtime traditions, including classic hand-clap and jump-rope games, songs inspired by the Underground Railroad, timeless folktales, and more. McKissack provides enlightening historical context, and Caldecott Honor-winning artist Brian Pinkney’s evocative illustrations seem to dance off the page.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
By Javaka Steptoe
Ages 4 to 8; Oct. 25, 2016; Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers
Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Javaka Steptoe introduces kids to a young Jean-Michel Basquiat, the neo-expressionist artist whose success heralded an era of diversity in the fine arts world. With bold, colorful illustrations inspired by Basquiat’s work, Steptoe tells a story about hope, tenacity, and coloring outside the lines — while gently touching on themes of trauma, mental illness, and healing.
The Golden Girls of Rio
By Nikkolas Smith
Ages 4 to 8; Nov. 15, 2016; Sky Pony Press
Nominated for an NAACP Image Award, Golden Girls celebrates the historic achievements of Team USA during last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with uplifting prose and vibrant illustrations. Among the athletes featured are Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to medal in an individual swimming event; Michelle Carter, the first American woman to win gold in shot put; and Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast of all time.
Preaching to the Chickens
By Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Ages 5 to 8; Oct. 11, 2016; Penguin Young Readers
Before John Lewis was a U.S. congressman, before he marched in Selma, Alabama, before he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, before he was a Freedom Rider, he was a boy growing up on his family’s farm in Pike County, Alabama. He dreamed of becoming a preacher, and he practiced his sermons before a congregation of chickens. Jabari Asim’s gentle story, accompanied by serene watercolor illustrations by Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis, shows how the young boy who would become the famed Civil Rights leader learned to speak for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Maya Angelou (Little People, Big Dreams)
By Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Leire Salaberria
Ages 5 to 8; Aug. 9, 2016; Frances Lincoln Children’s Books / Quarto
This little biography of Maya Angelou may feature adorable illustrations, but it packs an emotional punch. The book describes in kid-friendly terms how Angelou overcame her traumatic childhood and defied injustice to become a dancer, singer, actress, director, Civil Rights activist, teacher, writer, and ultimately one of the most beloved and inspirational voices in America.
By Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
Ages 5 to 8; June 7, 2016; Disney / Hyperion
“Mama says that sometimes courage is just an ordinary boy like me doing a small thing, as small as picking up a pencil.” So begins this tale inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum, who was born into slavery, purchased his own freedom, and ran a school for enslaved and free children in his church’s basement. The school was forced to close after Missouri enacted a law against educating black people, but Meachum continued teaching children in a steamboat on the Mississippi River, which was considered federal territory and outside the boundaries of the law. Accompanied by crosshatch-style illustrations by Ron Husband, Disney’s first African-American animator, Steamboat School follows a fictional child whose courage leads him to Meachum’s “Floating Freedom School.”
When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates
By Mark Weakland, illustrated by Patrick Ballesteros
Ages 6 to 12; Aug. 1, 2016; Picture Window Books / Capstone
With a focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s early years, this biography serves as a good reminder that every hero begins as a child. Charming, colorful illustrations depict young Martin rollerskating with other children in his Atlanta neighborhood, playing basketball at the local fire station with kids of all races, riding the bus and attending church with his mother, quoting scripture for his father at the dinner table, and learning the lessons that would set him on the path to become a minister and one of the most prominent and influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case
By Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Shadra Strickland
Ages 8 to 12; January 2017; Chronicle Books
The film Loving has cast a spotlight on the landmark civil rights case that led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing mixed-race marriage. This 260-page volume introduces kids to Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, who fell in love, had children, married outside the bounds of Virginia law, and fought against the discrimination they faced. Loving vs. Virginia is written in dramatic verse, alternating between Richard and Mildred’s perspectives, and includes photography from the era and dreamy illustrations. The book tackles some mature themes; younger readers can learn about the Loving family’s bravery in Scholastic’s picture book The Case for Loving, written by Selina Alko and beautifully illustrated by Alko and her husband Sean Qualls, released last year.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
By Nikki Grimes
Ages 10 to 14; Jan. 3, 2017; Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Every page of One Last Word seems to offer a new treasure. Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Nikki Grimes has expertly woven the voices of Harlem Renaissance poets, like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Gwendolyn Bennett, with original poetry inspired by their work. In addition to an introduction about the Harlem Renaissance and brief biographies of each poet, Grimes has included gorgeous, full-color artwork by contemporary African-American illustrators.
Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls
By Tonya Bolden
Ages 10 to 14; Jan. 3, 2017; Abrams Books for Young Readers
Tonya Bolden shines a light on some lesser-known black pioneers, who have often been overlooked by history. Among the 16 trailblazers Bolden profiles in this informative and inspiring compilation are opera singer Sissieretta Jones, magician and ventriloquist Richard Potter, race car driver Charlie Wiggins, Civil War spy Mary Bowser, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose work was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. The carefully designed book also includes timelines, photography, posters and advertisements, and sidebars with historical context.