The uproar in response to police brutality against Black people has strengthened the Black Lives Matter movement and has forced everyone to (again) recognize and admit how ingrained systematic racism is in our society and the many areas that lack diversity.
An area where this discussion is also happening is book publishing, which is known for its lack of diversity among authors, the types of books published, and even among the professionals who work in this sector — editors, designers, publicists, agents, etc. Recently, the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe popped up on Twitter to discuss the disparity between how much authors of color are paid in contrast to White authors, who more often receive large advances for their books. In this New York Times article, renown author Jesmyn Ward talks about fighting for a higher advance despite winning several awards for her books.
We all need to work harder to stop and prevent racism in our society. To help, many people have turned to books to learn more, which has caused books about racism and Black experiences to now flood the best-seller lists. To encourage more people to read and engage with content by Black creators, media outlets, social media, bloggers, and booktubers are all recommending books by and about Black people and Black experiences.
While I am grateful to see these recommendation lists, they often solely contain adult books. I want to contribute a list of recommendations, but instead of adult books, I’ve decided to feature children’s picture books. Racism affects all facets of society. To combat it, we must also encourage more diverse children’s literature, including picture books.
The following is a list of children’s picture books by Black authors that feature Black main characters.
Often, Black children’s picture books are either about Black history, sports, or music, and although I believe those topics are important to share with children, I think Black children’s picture books are saturated with them. Some of the books below touch on those topics, but I’ve also included many that are just about a kid having fun or are a slice of life.
Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Redd, illus. by Nneka Myers
This joyous and loving celebration of family is the first-ever picture book to highlight Black nighttime hair traditions — and is perfect for every little girl who knows what it’s like to lose her bonnet just before bedtime.
Bedtime Bonnet gives readers a heartwarming peek into quintessential Black nighttime hair traditions and celebrates the love between all the members of this close-knit, multi-generational family. (Goodreads)
I recently bought this. I love that it focuses on the nighttime routine for many Black people and that it features a multigenerational family. Also, check out this NPR post if you’d like to learn more.
Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (illus.)
When Grandma Mimi comes to visit, she always brings warm hugs, sweet treats…and her purse. You never know what she’ll have in there — fancy jewelry, tokens from around the world, or something special just for her granddaughter. It might look like a normal bag from the outside, but Mimi and her granddaughter know that it’s pure magic!
In this adorable, energetic ode to visits from grandma, beloved picture book creator Vanessa Brantley Newton shows how an ordinary day can become extraordinary. (Goodreads)
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illus. Frank Morrison
On a simple trip to the park, the joy of music overtakes a mother and daughter. The little girl hears a rhythm coming from the world around her — from butterflies, to street performers, to ice cream sellers — everything is musical! She sniffs, snaps, and shakes her way into the heart of the beat, finally busting out in an impromptu dance, which all the kids join in on!
Award-winning illustrator Frank Morrison and Connie Schofield-Morrison capture the beat of the street to create a rollicking read that will get any kid in the mood to boogie. (Goodreads)
This is actually a husband and wife team. Frank Morrison is one of my all-time favorite artists. I love his work.
Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke, illus. by Angela Brooksbank
Join Baby and his doting mama at a bustling southwest Nigerian marketplace for a bright, bouncy read-aloud offering a gentle introduction to numbers.
“Market is very crowded.
Mama is very busy.
Baby is very curious.”
When Baby and Mama go to the market, Baby is so adorable that the banana seller gives him six bananas. Baby eats one and puts five in the basket, but Mama doesn’t notice. As Mama and Baby wend their way through the stalls, cheeky Baby collects five oranges, four biscuits, three ears of sweet corn, two pieces of coconut . . . until Mama notices that her basket is getting very heavy! Poor Baby, she thinks, he must be very hungry by now! Rhythmic language, visual humor, and a bounty of delectable food make this a tale that is sure to whet little appetites for story time. (Goodreads)
Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illus. by Daniel Minter
“On reunion morning, we rise before the sun. Daddy hums as he packs our car with suitcases and a cooler full of snacks. He says there’s nothing like going down home.”
Down home is Granny’s house. Down home is where Lil Alan and his parents and sister will join great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Down home is where Lil Alan will hear stories of the ancestors and visit the land that has meant so much to all of them. And down home is where all of the children will find their special way to pay tribute to family history. All the kids have to decide on what tribute to share, but what will Lil Alan do?
In this rich and moving celebration of history, culture, and ritual, Kelly Starling Lyons’ eloquent text explores the power of family traditions. Stunning illustrations by Coretta Scott King Honor-winner Daniel Minter reveal the motion and connections in a large, multi-generational family. (Goodreads)
I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown, illus. by Anoosha Syed
I Am Perfectly Designed is an exuberant celebration of loving who you are, exactly as you are, from Karamo Brown, the Culture Expert of Netflix’s hit series Queer Eye, and Jason Brown — featuring illustrations by Anoosha Syed.
In this empowering ode to modern families, a boy and his father take a joyful walk through the city, discovering all the ways in which they are perfectly designed for each other. (Goodreads)
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illus. by Vashti Harrison
When mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to do his daughter’s hair in this ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters from former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and New York Times bestseller Vashti Harrison.
Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her — and her hair — happy.
Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair — and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere. (Goodreads)
Vashti Harrison is another artist whose work I love. This book was made into an animated short film, which you can watch here.
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry, illus. by Brittany Jackson
A visit to Washington, DC’s National Portrait Gallery forever alters Parker Curry’s young life when she views First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait.
When Parker Curry came face-to-face with Amy Sherald’s transcendent portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery, she didn’t just see the First Lady of the United States. She saw a queen — one with dynamic self-assurance, regality, beauty, and truth who captured this young girl’s imagination. When a nearby museum-goer snapped a photo of a mesmerized Parker, it became an internet sensation. Inspired by this visit, Parker, and her mother, Jessica Curry, tell the story of a young girl and her family, whose trip to a museum becomes an extraordinary moment, in a moving picture book.
Parker Looks Up follows Parker, along with her baby sister and her mother, and her best friend Gia and Gia’s mother, as they walk the halls of a museum, seeing paintings of everyone and everything from George Washington Carver to Frida Kahlo, exotic flowers to graceful ballerinas. Then, Parker walks by Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama…and almost passes it. But she stops…and looks up!
Parker saw the possibility and promise, the hopes and dreams of herself in this powerful painting of Michelle Obama. An everyday moment became an extraordinary one…that continues to resonate its power, inspiration, and indelible impact. Because, as Jessica Curry said, “anything is possible regardless of race, class, or gender.” (Goodreads)
Check this NPR post about Parker’s experience that led to the making of this book.
Tallulah The Tooth Fairy CEO by Tamara Pizzoli, illus. by Federico Fabiani
Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is not only the founder and CEO of the largest teeth collecting organization on the planet, Teeth Titans, Incorporated, she’s a clever and wildly successful business woman with an affinity for all things dental.
A natural innovator and problem solver, Tallulah finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow. What’s a Tooth Fairy to do when there’s no tooth to take? (Goodreads)
Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, illus. by Laura James
Anna fetches water from the spring every day, but she can’t carry it on her head like her older brothers and sisters can.
In this charming and poetic family story set in Jamaica, Commonwealth Prize-winning author Olive Senior shows young readers the power of determination, as Anna achieves her goal and overcomes her fear. (Goodreads)
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illus. by Vashti Harrison
From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty. (Goodreads)
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illus. by Gordon C. James
The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.
A fresh cut makes boys fly.
This rhythmic, read-aloud title is an unbridled celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair — a tradition that places on their heads a figurative crown, beaming with jewels, that confirms their brilliance and worth and helps them not only love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a high-spirited, engaging salute to the beautiful, raw, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror. (Goodreads)
Boonoonoonous Hair! by Olive Senior, illus. by Laura James
In this vibrant and exquisitely illustrated picture book, written by Commonwealth Prize-winning Jamaican-Canadian Olive Senior, and with pictures by the acclaimed artist Laura James (the team that created Anna Carries Water), a young girl learns to love her difficult-to-manage, voluminous and boonoonoonous hair. (Goodreads)
Check this NPR post for more about the book.
Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illus. by Ebony Glenn
“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.
Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.”
A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life. (Goodreads)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina, illus. by 13 illustrators
These short, vibrant tanka poems about young men of color depict thirteen views of everyday life: young boys dressed in their Sunday best, running to catch a bus, and growing up to be teachers, and much more.
Each of Tony Medina’s tanka is matched with a different artist–including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients. (Goodreads)
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illus. by Kadir Nelson
“Go back to bed,
baby, please, baby, please.
Not on your HEAD,
baby baby baby, please!…”
From moments fussy to fond, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee and his wife, producer Tonya Lewis Lee, present a behind-the-scenes look at the chills, spills, and unequivocal thrills of bringing up baby!
Vivid illustrations from celebrated artist Kadir Nelson evoke toddlerhood from sandbox to high chair to crib, and families everywhere will delight in sharing these exuberant moments again and again. (Goodreads)
Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Thunder Rose vows to grow up to be more than just big and strong, thank you very kindly–and boy, does she ever!
But when a whirling storm on a riotous rampage threatens, has Rose finally met her match? (Goodreads)
Natalie’s Hair Was Wild! by Laura Freeman (illus.)
Natalie’s hair is really wild — and she likes it that way! A host of friendly animals agree, and they move right in. At first it’s just butterflies and birds that take up residence atop Natalie’s head, but soon there are zebras, elephants, even a tiger! With all the roaring and squawking and snorting and burping, poor Natalie can hardly sleep. She needs to find someone to help coax those critters out . . . but who?
Inspired by the author’s own childhood adventures with her hair, this playful fantasy will delight all girls and boys who resist having their tresses tamed. (Goodreads)
Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Debbie Allen’s contemporary retelling of the classic tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses with illustrations from Kadir Nelson!
Reverend Knight can’t understand why his twelve sons’ sneakers are torn to threads each and every morning, and the boys aren’t talking. They know their all-night dancing wouldn’t fit with their father’s image in the community. Maybe Sunday, a pretty new nanny with a knack for getting to the bottom of household mysteries, can crack the case. This modern, hip retelling of the classic tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses bursts with vibrant artwork and text that’s as energetic as the twelve toe-tapping Knight brothers themselves. (Goodreads)
Sweet Music in Harlem by Debbie A. Taylor, illus. by Frank Morrison
J. needs to act fast. A photographer from Highnote magazine is on his way to photograph Uncle Click, a well-known jazz musician, but Uncle Click’s signature hat is missing. Now it’s up to C. J. to hunt down the hat in time for the photo shoot. Little does C. J. know that his whirlwind search through Harlem sets in motion the making of a magical moment of friendship and music.
Illustrated with exuberance by fine artist Frank Morrison, Sweet Music in Harlem is an action-packed romp inspired by an historic photograph from Harlem’s jazz heyday. Readers everywhere will rejoice in the power of music to bring people together in wonderful, fun-filled ways. (Goodreads)