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African American Literature and History for Children

Updated: February 28, 2015

A selected list of notable books for children about African American history and the African American experience, chosen by LAPL librarians.

by Frazier, Sundee Tucker, 1968-
Call Number: x
Mixed-race Brendan loves science, Tae Kwon Do and his family, and he's very surprised to learn that the president of the local rock collectors' club is the white grandfather he's never met.

by Curtis, Christopher Paul.
Call Number: x
Gr. 4 and up. 10-year-old Bud escapes a bad foster home and sets out in search of a man he believes is his father, renowned bandleader, H.E. Calloway. Winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal.

by Shelton, Paula Young.
Call Number: x 323.1 S545

Paula Young Shelton, daughter of Civil Rights leader and later U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, presents an intimate, moving story of a child’s experience living under racist, Jim Crow laws and participating in the Civil Rights movement. Raul Colón’s bright, warm illustrations complement Shelton’s free-verse poems to convey both the comfort of family and a tight-knit community of caring adults, and the gravity and danger of the work of these uncles and aunts who were also leaders in the struggle for Civil Rights. Grades K-3.

by Hill, Laban Carrick.
Call Number: xz
Gr. 2 and up. The inspiring true story of a man who, though a slave, was able to create beautiful pottery and decorate it with original poetry. Gorgeous illustrations by Bryan Collier, including one fold-out page.

by Shange, Ntozake.
Call Number: x 811 S528 folio
Gr. 3 and up. Shange's poem "Mood Indigo" pays tribute to several African American men who made important contributions to 20th century culture: Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Ray Barretto, Dizzy Gillespie, "Sonny Til" Tilghman, Kwame Nkrumah, and Duke Ellington. Includes brief biographies of each.

by McKissack, Pat, 1944-
Call Number: xz
Gr. 3-5. In segregated 1950s Nashville, TN, a young African American girl braves a series of obstacles to get to the public library, one of the few integrated places in the town.

by Greenfield, Eloise.
Call Number: x 811 G812-12
Gr. 2-5. Shines a spotlight on The Great Migration in the United States, where over a million African Americans moved to the North, with free verse poetry and intricate, mixed media illustrations.

by Levine, Ellen.
Call Number: xz
Gr. K-3. An extraordinary story based on real events about Henry Brown, a slave who mails himself to freedom. Stunningly illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

by King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968.
Call Number: x 323.1 K53 folio
All ages. The entire text of one of the most moving speeches ever made, gorgeously interpreted by fifteen amazing artists.

by Pace, Lorenzo.
Call Number: xz
K-Gr. 2. Introduces the concept of slavery through the simply told story of how Jalani was taken from Africa, then made to work all day and never play again until he was finally set free. Colorful childlike illustrations soften the harshness of his situation without making light of it.

by Paulsen, Gary.
Call Number: x
Born a slave, Bass grows up to be the most successful federal marshal in the West.

by McQuinn, Anna.
Call Number: xz
PreK-K. Both parents are shown playing an integral part in helping a young child become ready to read.

by Shapiro, J. H.
Call Number: x 92 G992Sh
Gr. 1-5. Lovely picture book biography of artist Tyree Guyton, who changed the face of his East Detroit neighborhood with his playful community art projects. Nice read-aloud, fine illustrations.

by Hartfield, Claire.
Call Number: xz
Gr. 2-5. A fictional story of a young North Carolina boy going to spend the summer with his uncle, a famous artist in New York City. At first he is uneasy about being away from his own parents, but he is welcomed, introduced to many new things, and has a good time. Includes instructions and ideas for creating collages, plus information about the real Romare Bearden.

Call Number: x 796.8 L888Pe
Gr. 2-5. Picture book biography focusing on Joe Louis's two fights against Max Schmeling, the second of which brought black and white Americans together to celebrate. Gorgeously illustrated by award-winning artist Kadir Nelson.

by McKissack, Pat, 1944-
Call Number: x 811 M158
Gr. 4 and up. Free verse poems and incredible artwork describe a father's grief after his son is taken from their home in Mali and sold into slavery in America. Heart-wrenching and inspiring.

by Rhodes, Jewell Parker.
Call Number: x
Gr. 4 and up. Twelve-year-old Lanesha has a gift for communicating with the dead. She survives Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with help from her caretaker, the elderly Mama Ya-Ya, who can see the future.

by Obama, Barack.
Call Number: x 973 O12
Gr. K-3. In a lovely letter to his two daughters, President Barack Obama writes about thirteen groundbreaking Americans, including both obvious examples (Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, Abraham Lincoln) and those less obvious (Billie Holiday, Cesar Chavez, Maya Lin).

by Williams-Garcia, Rita.
Call Number: x

Grades 4-8. During the summer of 1968, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters travel to Oakland, California to visit their mother, who abandoned them as babies. While there, they reluctantly spend time at a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.

by Rockwell, Anne F.
Call Number: x 92 T734Ro
Gr. 3-5. Rockwell tells the remarkable story of the 18th century hero who led the first triumphant slave rebellion in history on the island of St. Domingue (now Haiti). Paintings in bright, Caribbean-inspired colors illustrate the action.

by Battle-Lavert, Gwendolyn.
Call Number: xz
Gr. 2-4. To prepare for the first county election in which "colored folk" are allowed to vote, Simms helps his father learn to write his own name so he can sign for his ballot instead of just making an X.

by Polacco, Patricia.
Call Number: xz

K – Grade 3.  Say Curtis describes his meeting with Pinkus Aylee, a black soldier, during the Civil War, and their capture by Southern troops. Based on a true story about the author's great-great-grandfather.

by Dillon, Leo.
Call Number: xz
K-Gr. 1. This delightful rhyming chant-along introduces Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the great tap dancer who was the highest paid black entertainer during the Great Depression.

by Woods, Brenda
Call Number: x

After a hurricane kills Leah and Ruth's parents in 1954, the sisters move to Los Angeles to start a new life with their aunt and uncle.

by Morrison, Toni.
Call Number: x 370 M882
Grades 3 - 8. Archival photographs focus on the children and teens and the role they played in school integration, with text imagining how the participants must have felt.

by Giovanni, Nikki.
Call Number: x 323.1 G512
Gr. 3-5. Sometimes the smallest act galvanizes people into decisive action. In this case, it was a woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus and a bus boycott that lasted nearly a year before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was illegal. Includes one fold-out spread. A handsomely illustrated look at a watershed event.

by Vernick, Audrey.
Call Number: x 796 M2793Ve
Gr. 2-5. Charming picture book biography of one of the unsung heroines of baseball and the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for her civil rights work and for getting the major leagues to treat Negro League players with respect.

by Woodson, Jacqueline.
Call Number: xz
Gr. 1-5. Quilts tell the story of one family's experience with slavery, emancipation, and triumph.

by Pinkney, Andrea Davis.
Call Number: x 323.1 P655 folio
Grades 2-5. Presents the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement.

by Mason, Margaret H., 1954-
Call Number: xz
K-Grade 4. This grandfather's hands weren't allowed to touch the dough in the Wonder Bread factory, but they could join with other hands to write petitions, carry signs, and change the world.

by Bridges, Ruby.
Call Number: x 370 B851
Gr. 3 and up. Ruby Bridges tell her own story of what it was like, as a six-year-old child, to be the first black student to attend a formerly segregated school in New Orleans in 1960. An inspiring first-hand account from someone on the front line at a very early age.

by Evans, Shane.
Call Number: xz
K-Gr. 3. A family uses the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. Sparsely worded but powerful.

by Myers, Walter Dean, 1937-
Call Number: x 811 M996-6
Gr. 3 and up. Award-winning father and son team create a lovely, if often painful, tribute that celebrates America and the people and events that make up her complicated, crazy history. Illustrations celebrate the famous and the infamous, and teachers and parents will find plenty to share and discuss.

by Nelson, Kadir.
Call Number: x 796 N4269
Gr. 3 and up. An elderly ball player regales his audience with the trials and triumphs of determined athletes and fans, beautifully enhanced by Nelson's glorious art. Includes a forward by Hank Aaron, himself once a player in the Negro League.

by Bond, Victoria, 1979-
Call Number: x
Gr. 5 and up. A coming of age novel about the life of a young Zora Neale Hurston as told from the perspective of her best friend Carrie. Zora uses folkloric stories to explain what she does not yet fully understand - class struggles, racial tensions, murder, and death while growing up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the nation's first all-black towns.