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New Reads to Celebrate Black History Month with Kids and Teens

by the Brightly Editors

From illustrated biographies to seldom-seen profiles to stunning prose, there are many wonderful and varied new reads to help young readers celebrate Black History Month. Filled with important histories, timely narratives, and rich traditions, these books help bring history to life and into the now. These stories are great to share with kids and teens not only this month, but throughout the year.

  • Picture Books

  • Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

    by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Inspired by an interview with Lillian Allen — who in 2008, at age 100, voted for Barack Obama — Lilllian's Right to Vote is a steely tribute to the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. As the Lillian in the story climbs the hill to her polling place, she reflects on the many hardships generations of African Americans have faced as well as the importance and the power of the right to vote. This book is a valuable introduction to the Civil Rights Movement and a wonderful tool for starting a dialogue with kids about this part of American history.

  • Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood

    by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

    A collection of McKissack's favorite childhood games, songs, poems, and stories, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout is an informative and fun collection of cultural history. Clap along to "Miss Mary Mack" or read aloud the author's retelling of Aesop's fables, all while learning about the background of each. Parents and educators who recognize the games, songs, and stories from their own childhood will delight in passing them on to younger generations. The collection also makes for a great gift or treasured keepsake.

  • A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day

    by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

    Before he was the little boy in a red snowsuit, "Peter" was a photograph clipped from Life magazine that spent decades pinned to Ezra Jack Keats's wall. In this picture book, Andrea Davis Pinkney celebrates Keats's life, not as a simple biography, but instead by tracing Keats's "path to finding The Snowy Day's Peter." Keats made history by making Peter the first African American child to star in a mainstream book. Pinkney's book is a love story to Peter and an ode to what it meant and still means for kids to see themselves reflected within the pages of a book.

  • Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis

    by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

    We know John Lewis as a celebrated Freedom Fighter and respected U.S. Congressman, but in this book we get to see him as a young child "feeding the flock" on his family's farm. Young John dreams of being a preacher and soon finds that his family's flock of chickens makes for an attentive congregation. In caring for those chickens, rescuing them from dangers, and even speaking on their behalf, John learns how to become a voice for change.

  • Middle Grade

  • Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls

    by Tonya Bolden

    Critics are raving about Pathfinders, a new book that highlights the lives of 16 American people of African descent who fought against adversity in a variety of ways and, ultimately, changed the world. Many of the names featured will be new to young readers, such as Richard Potter, a dazzling magician who preceded illusionists like Harry Houdini, and Katherine Johnson, whose math and physics calculations enabled astronauts to enter space.

  • Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

    by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

    Get in the spirit of song with Jazz Day, a picture book based on Art Kane’s famous photograph, “Harlem 1958.” With the help of Orgill’s delightful poems and Vallejo’s gorgeous illustrations (plus a large foldout of Kane's picture at the back of the book!), kids will get to know each of the 57 musicians who appeared on a stoop in Harlem, home of the Harlem Renaissance, on that historic day.

  • Flying Lessons & Other Stories

    edited by Ellen Oh

    This diverse middle grade collection is simultaneously moving, heartbreaking, and laugh-out-loud funny, and features short stories by some of the biggest names in kids’ lit, including Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson. A Brightly Bookshelf Must-Have selection, Flying Lessons & Other Stories seeks to embody the principles that prolific author Walter Dean Myers represented.

  • How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

    by Tonya Bolden

    Can’t take a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture? Well, not to worry — flipping through this book will transport you there in no time. Full of great visuals and lots of information, kids will learn how the first national museum dedicated to highlighting the vivid and rich history of African Americans was built, and discover many of the fascinating objects inside its collections.

  • Midnight Without a Moon

    by Linda Jackson

    An African American girl living in mid-1950s Jim Crow era Mississippi, 13-year-old Rose Lee Carter is a compassionate, smart, and lovable protagonist. Readers will follow along as Rose and her family learn that an African American boy about Rose’s age (the real-life Emmitt Till) has been murdered in her town, and decide whether they should stay and fight for equality or escape to the North. A stunning work of historical fiction by a debut author that will resonate with older middle grade readers and adults alike.

  • Young Adult

  • The Hate U Give

    by Angie Thomas

    Angie Thomas's debut novel — a timely look at racism, police violence, justice, and community, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement — has already garnered heaps of critical praise. It its starred review, Booklist called it "[a]n inarguably important book that demands the widest possible readership." The story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old who sees her childhood best friend fatally shot by a police officer, is compelling, thought-provoking, and conversation-enabling. Already slated for movie treatment, it's one readers are sure to be talking about for a long time.

  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

    by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, illustrated by PJ Loghran, retold by Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley

    Now available in paperback, with an all-new discussion guide, this beautifully illustrated memoir brings readers inside the Civil Rights Movement and shows us what it looked like from a young person's perspective. Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person to take part in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. She was jailed eleven times before her fifteenth birthday, fighting for the rights of African Americans alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others. Personal and accessible, this book provides an excellent teen-to-teen perspective for high school readers.

  • American Ace

    by Marilyn Nelson

    An engrossing novel in verse from three-time National Book Award Finalist Marilyn Nelson. Inspired by her father's experiences as a Tuskegee Airman, Nelson tells this compelling story of family, history, and identity. As Connor works to uncover his grandfather's identity, he discovers a new, richer understanding of his own.

  • March

    by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

    John Lewis makes his second appearance on this list — this time older and in graphic novel form. This year's National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature (for the third and final installment), the March trilogy follows Congressman Lewis on his lifelong struggle for civil rights. These vivid novels depict some of the most pivotal, turbulent, and searing moments in the Civil Rights Movement and in American history. With John Lewis as a throughline, readers can connect the events of the past to the events of today, reflecting on where we've been and where we're headed.

What other books would you recommend to help young readers celebrate Black History this month and every month?

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