This selection of historical picture books for Black History Month is tailored to read aloud to your preschoolers, kindergartners, or early elementary age kids. In this annotated booklist I have selected compelling stories that will both educate and inspire.
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This picture book booklist is by no means exhaustive. Instead, these are just a few of my favorite historical non-fiction picture books to read aloud for Black History Month. Or any time of the year of course. In their storytelling, these books are powerful and thought-provoking. You will likely be familiar with Harriet Tubman, or even Lonnie Johnson (of Super Soaker fame), though some of the other names may be unfamiliar. But each book tells an incredible story. They are stories of hard work, perseverance, hope, and especially freedom.
Historical Picture Books for Black History Month
- A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
- Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito, illustrated by Laura Freeman
- Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
- Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated James E. Ransome
- Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
- Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate
If you have young kids (or are reading to preschoolers/kindergartners) then I would suggest picking up Before She Was Harriet. The poetic rhythms and relatively shorter text make it easy to add to your reading agenda. For older kids (say 6 years plus) with longer attention spans any of the other titles will be perfect.
Historical Picture Books for Black History Month
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
“Make a picture for us, Horace!”
That request resounds through Horace Pippin’s life. But circumstances, and later a devastating bullet wound to his right shoulder during WWI, prevent him from pursuing his art. His persistence after discovering he could use his left arm to support and strengthen his right hand led to his artistic dreams coming true as he went on to paint many great works of art. This picture book does an excellent job at illustrating his life in a style that supports and honors Pippin’s own artistic bent. I especially love the way Melissa Sweet lettered quotes of Pippin’s throughout her artwork. Ages 5-8.
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito, illustrated by Laura Freeman
It’s 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, and Georgia Gilmore is a black woman who makes incredible-stop-you-in-your-tracks-delicious food. She uses her culinary talents to lead a group of women to cook, bake, and bake some more–all to fund raise for the Alabama bus boycott. Later in life, Georgia starts her own business, cooking her delicious food and doing so much more at the same time. The book explains, “She was providing good food for her community, but she was also bringing the people of Montgomery together—black and white.” Ages 6-9.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
Lonnie Johnson is persistent, hard-working, and creative. In a quest to improve the cooling systems of refrigerators and air conditioners, Johnson realized he had unexpectedly engineered a way to create the most phenomenal water gun. But even with this amazing new creation in hand, toy company after toy company denied him the chance to mass-produce it. However, (not for the first time in his life) his persistence won out. You’ll love hearing just how the famous water gun came to be in this non-fiction picture book filled with compelling illustrations (including a fold-out page of the Super Soaker in action) and the stories of Lonnie’s inspiring inventions! Ages 7-10. 32 pages.
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated James E. Ransome
Poetry and watercolor paintings tell Harriet Tubman’s story in this powerful picture book tribute. The book begins with Harriet, “an old woman, tired and worn” and then flies swiftly back in time to when, “she could walk for miles, and see clearly”. We see Harriet in her various roles, with her various names and titles as times passes. She’s a suffragist, General Tubman, a Union Spy, a nurse, Moses. We continue all the way back to Harriet’s childhood and learn her very first name…a name she left behind, just as she left behind slavery. The poem closes with an elderly Harriet, thankful that she has lived long enough to be achy, worn, and free. A masterful picture book by husband-wife duo who have a gift for causing their readers to think deeply. Ages: 4-8. 32 pages.
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman and illustrated by Daniel Minter
It’s spring in 1889 and William, “Doc” Key watches his beloved mare Lauretta give birth to a sickly spindly-legged foal. Though prospects look dim, his kind heart prompts him to use his veterinarian skill nurse the colt to health. He names him Jim, and Jim turns out to be a very, very smart horse. Doc begins to teach him reading, writing, and…arithmetic?! It’s amazing! When Doc decides it’s time to show the country what Jim can do, they head out on a tour across the United States. On the tour they break through racial barriers, teach people about kindness, and amaze audiences with Jim’s talents. There is much more to their story, so don’t miss reading this picture book. Includes a detailed historical afterward. Ages 8-11. 48 pages.
Don Tate’s picture book captures what is indeed a remarkable story. From his youth, George Moses Horton–a slave–begins to teach himself to read. By dim light after long hard days of labor, he learns letter by letter. Soon, he composes his own poetry. Eventually his talent is discovered and Horton earns money from people eager to pay for his poetry—while still enslaved. Though he tries to buy his freedom, it’s not until slavery ends and the war is over that he is finally free. A powerful story you won’t want to miss. Also includes an excellent author’s note where Don Tate shares his heart and thoughts behind creating this picture book. Ages 6-10. 36 pages.
Hope you enjoyed this short list of historical picture books to read aloud during Black History Month. I’d love to hear if YOU (or your kids!) have any favorite read-alouds to pair up with these books, so share with me in the comments!