Because it’s Black History Month, we think it’s a great time (though any time is a great time) to make an effort to read up on our history, where we come from, what we’ve been through, and the work we still have to do. We also think it’s important for children to know these things as well, but know about them from doing more than just watching the documentary Eyes on the Prize in class. Still, we know that books like The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois, and fiction like Toni Morrison’s Beloved may be a bit much so soon for the young’ns. With that being said, here are seven books, a few new, a few old, that are great gifts for the little ones in your life and also expand their knowledge of Black history and Black stories.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1995
The story was rich enough to be turned into a Hallmark Channel TV movie in 2013 with Wood Harris and Anika Noni Rose. It’s about the Watsons, a family from Flint, Michigan, who in the year of 1963, travel to Birmingham, Alabama to visit matriarch Grandma Sands. They hope it will help the family’s oldest son, Byron, get his act together. But when they get there, the family is impacted by the bombing of a local church. This fictional book shares the story of the actual bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four little girls.
Freedom in Congo Square – 2016
Filled with stunning images, this Caldecott, Coretta Scott King-honored book was a 2016 New York Times Best Illustrated Book. It told the true story of Congo Square in New Orleans, which was a place for slaves to join together, share their music and traditions and just have a great time on their only somewhat free day – Sunday. As the book puts it, in the Square, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they could gather and for at least half a day, feel free from their oppression.
Fancy Party Gowns – 2017
This book, which came out in January, is a must-have for any little girls (or even boys) who are into fashion. It’s a picture book, similar to Freedom in Congo Square, that tells the story of Ann Cole Lowe. She was a fashion designer who did some pretty amazing work even though a lot of that work was not attributed to her at the time because she was Black. Still, the book shows how she was able to overcome great struggles to become a major designer. She created iconic gowns for everyone from socialites and Oscar winners to Jackie O.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – 1976
A Newberry medal-winning book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry delved into the struggles for Blacks in Southern Mississippi by focusing on the Logan family. While trying to maintain their farmland, they have to face a lot of racial injustice and witness great deals of it as well. We follow the attempts made by the family to take a stand for what’s right, the many attempts to throw a wrench in that and how their community is impacted and changes based on the struggles they endure. Though it’s fiction, the book is a great account of social injustices that were very real (and still are) for Blacks. It was made into a film in 1978 that starred Morgan Freeman.
Follow the Drinking Gourd – 1988
Another gorgeous picture book, Follow the Drinking Gourd tells the story of a man named Peg Leg Joe, a White sailor and handyman who makes himself available to plantation owners in an attempt to help free slaves. He teaches them a song that secretly states directions to get to freedom. All the families who make their great escape have to do is keep their eyes on the drinking gourd, also known as the Big Dipper.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – 1987
A classic, the Caldecott-honored and Reading Rainbow book is seen as a retelling of Cinderella that teaches children about Zimbabwe. The book, based on a traditional African folktale, follows Mufaro and his daughters — Nyasha who is sweet, Manyara who is not so sweet. The Great King invites Mufaro’s daughters to vie for his love and affection as he searches for a wife, and even if you haven’t read the book, you can pretty much guess who steals his heart.
House of Dies Drear – 1968
For children who love mystery books, this one is one of our favorites.
Set in Ohio in the late ’60s, we meet Thomas Small, a young boy who moves into a home with his family that was a part of the Underground Railroad. The house is thought to be haunted, possessed by a man named Dies Drear and two slaves that he was hiding in his home until they were all murdered. Crazy things begin to happen, but as Thomas learns, the frightening happenings may not be the work of ghosts after all. It soon becomes time for the Small family, with the help of house caretaker Mr. Pluto, to turn the tables on folks.