Celebrate Black History and Authors with Reading Lists for Every Grade Level

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A young boy reading a book on the floor

Black History Month is an important celebratory month highlighting Black experiences, contributions, history, and culture. We encourage you to read more about the origins of this month, and take this time to engage in resources and practices that can extend beyond the month of February.  

One of the best ways to learn is to read books about Black history and the Black experience. There are many books to choose from, ranging across all reading levels. 

Black History Month Books 

Reading is an essential skill, especially for students. Not only does it help them learn and explore the world, it can improve their mental health. That’s why books are such a great learning resource. It allows us to engage in our own past, learn more about the state of current events, and imagine the future. It can also help us engage with cultures that we are not a part of in meaningful ways and learn how we can contribute to a better, more inclusive society. For Black History Month, books can help us do a deep dive into the richness of Black culture and strengthen the connection to heritage or learn something new.

Here are some of our favorite books that celebrate Black history for students at different grade levels. Consider using these recommendations for a Black History Month reading list, and to create guided discussions.

Books about Black History for Grades K-2

Whether your child is an independent reader or you plan to do Black History Month read-alouds, these are some great books written about the Black experience.

  • Knockin’ On Wood, by Lynne Barasch: Based on the life of the famous Black tap dancer Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, this book tells a story as entertaining as it is educational.
  • Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison: A celebration of Black women, this beautifully illustrated book tells the stories of Black women who have helped shape the nation and world.
  • Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed: This book shares the true story of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space.

Books about Black History for Grades 3-5 

The following books are appropriate for older students in the latter half of elementary school as they handle more complex themes. The topics are addressed in an age-appropriate way.

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, by Gaylia Taylor: This story tells the tale of George Crum, and how he invented the potato chip. 

  • The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Olaudah Equiano: This book tells the true story of a prince from Benin who was kidnapped and forced into slavery—and how he found his freedom.

  • Life Doesn't Frighten Me, by Maya Angelou: Combining Angelou’s poetry with illustrations by renowned modern artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, this book looks at the scary things in a child’s life as a way to celebrate courage. 

  • One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia: Set in 1968, this book tells the story of three sisters whose mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers. 

Books about Black History for Middle School 

By middle school, most children have left picture books behind and enjoy reading longer stories with fewer images. The following books are written for middle-grade readers. 

  • All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds: Centered on a violent act that divides a community, this book tells the story of two teenage boys—one Black and one white—and the ways they deal with the aftermath of the incident.

  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas: This highly decorated novel tells the story of a Black teenage girl who lives in a poor neighborhood but attends a prep school. One day, she experiences a violent act that impacts her life forever.

  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore: Considered a modern classic, this novel tells the story of a Black boy in Harlem dealing with the death of his brother.

  • Victory Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice, by Tommie Smith: This autobiography tells the story of Tommie Smith, the Olympic gold medalist who famously protested racial injustice by raising his fist in the Black Power salute at the 1968 games.

Books about Black History for High School

Many of these books involve stronger themes, so they would be appropriate for high school students.

  • Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly: This book tells the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaugh and Mary Jackson, the Black women mathematicians who were instrumental in making the U.S. space program a success.
  • Passage: A Novel, by Khary Lazarre-White: Set in 1993, this novel tells the story of a young Black man living in New York City who is forced to confront both the natural and supernatural world around him.
  • Their Eyes Are Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston: Considered one of the definitive works of the 20th century, this novel is a Southern love story featuring a Black female protagonist.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson: This nonfiction book tells the stories of three Black Americans, Ida Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, who left the South between 1915-1970 and headed to the North in search of better opportunity and less injustice.

Other Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

Reading a book is just one way you and your student can celebrate the important contributions of Black people during not only Black History Month, but all year long. There are other other ways to engage and celebrate.

You can:

  • Watch a movie or documentary about the Black experience.

  • Explore the exhibitions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian.

  • Learn about Black inventors, scientists, and researchers.There have been many contributions from Black people that often go unsung.  

  • Listen to a TED Talk or a podcast focused on the Black experience. 

  • Attend a Black cultural festival in your area. 

  • Learn more about racial injustice. Discuss with friends, family and community members about how you can contribute to equity efforts.  

  • Explore Black art, literature, music and culture, especially works created by Black creators. 

Whatever way you and your child choose to recognize Black History Month, remember to model curiosity, open mindedness and discussion. Celebrating Black history month can be about recognizing the historical and contemporary contributions of Black people, but it also should be a time of reflection and understanding about where we are in regards to racial inequalitiy.

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