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Black Boy Joy: 29 Picture Books Featuring Black Male Protagonists

by Charnaie Gordon

When searching for books that serve as mirrors for my two children, I’m always mindful of exactly which books we choose to read. While we don’t discriminate when it comes to literature, I do make it a point to select books that reflect my children and our family. Why?  Because I know if I don’t expose my kids to these books, they might not see them otherwise.

Let’s face it, finding good, quality books featuring people of color is hard! It’s a lot easier today than it used to be years back, but the struggle is real. This is especially true when it comes to books that feature Black boys as the main character.

As a parent, my goal is to present my children with a full spectrum of Brown and Black characters in a variety of books. I want their experiences of story and representations of the world to include people of color, people they can imagine being like — people like Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Misty Copeland, Michelle Obama, and Michael Jordan — or fictional characters with whom they can identify.

Of course, I believe all children should be exposed to a wide range of people, experiences, and cultures. We still need greater diversity in children’s books to make this happen. But we also need people to buy and read the great books that are out there so publishers will continue to publish them.

Here are more than 20 picture books featuring Black males as the main protagonist to enjoy with the little ones in your life.

  • I’m a Big Brother Now

    by Katura J. Hudson, illustrated by Sylvia L. Walker

    This book is great for boys who are about to become big brothers. Although there are some unpleasant things about babies, like “stinky diapers,” nothing beats the love and affection you feel towards a new little bundle of joy. I adore this loving middle-class Black family, especially the responsible older brother and how he welcomes his new sibling into the family.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Jabari Jumps

    by Gaia Cornwall

    Little Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board, at least he thinks he is. He passed his swim test and completed his swimming lessons. So jumping off the diving board should be easy, right? With a little encouragement and a pep talk from his dad, Jabari overcomes his fear and works up the courage to make a big splash. I love the fact that this book features a father with the kids instead of a mother. Perfect for the summer season or Father's Day!
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • The Ring Bearer

    by Floyd Cooper

    Told from the perspective of the ring bearer Jackson, this book shows little readers that getting married symbolizes the start of something new. It also shows children how families grow and change and teaches them about responsibility and commitment. I think it’s the perfect book to gift to a little ring bearer or flower girl for an upcoming wedding, as it may help them cope with feeling nervous about the wedding or adding new people to their family.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

  • The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World

    by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Just like representation, play matters! Based on a true story, The Banana-Leaf Ball is the perfect example to showcase the importance of play for children of all ages. The thing I like the best about this book is the amazing organizations listed in the back, which are all centered around the importance of play! The organizations use soccer and other forms of play to build compassion and confidence in boys and girls. Each organization also lists different games (complete with directions) that you can play with your kids. There are themes of sports (soccer), teamwork, bullying, refugees, community, war, confidence, social change, overcoming differences, and friendship.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

  • Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

    by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

    I hate to admit that I had no clue who actually invented the Super Soaker until reading this book. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was invented by a Black man named Lonnie Johnson! Who knew? This book teaches kids about things like creativity, problem-solving, tenacity, grit, patience, rejection, and hard work. I’d highly recommend this book for kids who have a love for rockets, inventions, water guns, and a mind for creativity. Also great for studying Black inventors. I think kids will enjoy learning about the many challenges Lonnie faced and how he solved his problems. A fun summertime read!
    (Ages 7 - 10)

  • Ron’s Big Mission

    by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, illustrated by Don Tate

    This is an inspirational true story about a young boy named Ron McNair and how he desegregated his library. In the 1950's in South Carolina it was forbidden for African Americans to have their own library card. Ron McNair didn't like that rule so he decided to do something about it. He loved going to the library to read books about airplanes and space, but he wanted to be able to read his books at home. Read this book to find out what Ron did in order to take a stand. Ron later went on to become an astronaut who unfortunately lost his life in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The library where Ron got his library card is dedicated to astronaut McNair.
    (Ages 6 - 8)

  • Last Stop on Market Street

    by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

    I love the overall message of this wonderful book! Little CJ is so lucky to have a grandmother who teaches him to see things from a different perspective. If only all children could be so fortunate.
    (Ages 3 - 5)

  • Those Shoes

    by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

    Jeremy just wants" those shoes." A pair of black high-tops with white stripes. The same pair that all his friends have. When Jeremy finally gets a pair of "those shoes" what he does with them is very touching. This book delivers powerful lessons on topics like being grateful, sharing, kindness, friendship, and generosity.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

  • A Beach Tail

    by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

    Gregory and his father are spending a day at the beach. Gregory manages to travel down the beach quite a long way, losing sight of his dad and the blue umbrella. On his journey back to find his dad he encounters a jellyfish, a sand castle, a ghost crab, and more. A great book to read during the beach days of summer.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

  • Mixed Me!

    by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Meet Mike, a mixed-race kid who has an awesome head of thick, curly hair and lots of energy! He's the perfect blend of both of his parents, but not everyone feels that way. That doesn't bother Mike though because he thinks he's just right. Written by actor Taye Diggs who has a mixed-race son named Walker.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

    by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

    Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George was born on Christmas Day in 1739 on the tiny island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. He was the son of a white plantation owner and a black slave. Joseph went on to become a very talented violin player and musician in France. During one of his performances young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in the audience. This was before Mozart was well-known. In the end, Joseph does indeed perform for the King and Queen of France and is invited back on several occasions. In 2001, a street, Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George, was named in his honor. An awesome historical nonfiction book for children and music lovers.
    (Ages 5 - 9)

  • When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

    by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

    Born in Kingston, Jamaica, DJ Kool Herc had a passion for music from a very young age. When he was 13 years old he left Jamaica to go live in New York City. One day his father buys him a monster sound system with giant six foot speakers. Once he finally got it working, he decided to have a huge party and invite lots of people. That's when he became known as DJ Kool Herc, the creator of hip hop music. His music made everybody happy. Even street gangs wanted to dance, not fight. This is the story of hip hop.
    (Ages 6 - 10)

  • Leo Can Swim

    by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson

    Join Leo, his daddy, and several other babies as they all go to swim class. Watch them as they get ready for the pool, sing songs, and kick and splash in the water. What I love most about this book is the fact that it’s Leo’s father who accompanies him to swim. You often hear of many Black fathers being absent from their children’s lives, so it was refreshing to see Leo and his father bonding — so precious. I also love how well this book showcases diversity. There are babies and caregivers of all different skin tones and hair types/colors featured throughout. A great book for the littlest readers!
    (Ages 0 - 3)

  • More-igami

    by Dori Kleber, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

    Joey loves things that fold: maps, accordions ... he even sleeps in a foldaway bed. One day, his classmate Sarah Takimoto's mother comes to school and folds a plain piece of paper into a crane right before Joey's eyes. Joey is amazed! He decides he wants to become an origami master. Follow little Joey on his quest to master the art of folding paper (origami). At the back of the book you’ll find origami ladybug instructions. Great for kids who love creativity and of course, origami! Also ideal for teaching children about patience, hard work, and discipline.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey

    by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

    This is the story of how Robert Battle became the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Dance enthusiasts ages 5 and up may enjoy this one.
    (Ages 5 - 10)

  • Kevin and His Dad

    by Irene Smalls, illustrated by Michael Hays

    Kevin loves spending time with his dad. It's Saturday morning and with mom away, Kevin and his dad begin their day by cleaning the house together. Next they go to a local park, followed by the movies, before heading back home. The perfect way to spend a Saturday! We love this book for so many reasons: the rhyming text, the lovely illustrations, and most importantly, it shows a father and son spending quality time together. This book evokes excitement, pride, and perfectly shows the love a boy can experience with his father through work and play.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

    by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

    We absolutely adore this book about a humble man, Cornelius Washington, who was a sanitation worker in the French Quarter. Cornelius was instrumental in helping to clean up the city of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Adult and younger readers alike will enjoy the rhythmic, lyrical text and kid-friendly folk-art illustration style. I think this book does a great job capturing a city and culture as if they are characters.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

  • Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library

    by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Andy Elkerton

    This rhyming picture book is adorable! It’s about a little boy who wants to bring his dragon to the library to enjoy books like everyone else. However, there is just one rule: Dragons aren’t allowed in libraries!
    (Ages 3 - 7)

  • My Kicks: A Sneaker Story

    by Susan Verde, illustrated by Katie Kath

    I like the overall messages and themes of this story. It touches upon topics like letting go and moving on, growing up, making decisions, friendship, and the joys of playing and being a kid. There is also a fun surprise for kids when you remove the dust jacket of this book: a handy step-by-step shoe-tying guide.
    (Ages 5 - 7)

  • Dear Dragon

    by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo

    I think this is a fun book about a boy and a dragon who are pen pals. It’s great for teaching children to look past physical differences and appreciate the person underneath.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Full, Full, Full of Love

    by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Paul Howard

    This tender story will warm your heart. The unbreakable bond between little Jay Jay and his grandmother is so sweet and definitely full of love!
    (Ages 2 - 5)

  • Peekaboo Bedtime

    by Rachel Isadora

    In this story, a toddler boy plays peekaboo with everyone from his grandparents to his puppy, until it’s finally time to snuggle into bed with his blankie. When my kids were younger they loved having this book read to them over and over again.
    (Ages 2 - 5)

  • Jump!: From the Life of Michael Jordan

    by Floyd Cooper

    Did you know Michael Jordon wasn’t very good at playing basketball as a kid? In fact, everyone in his family thought Michael’s older brother Larry would turn out to be the professional athlete. Based on the true story of how Michael Jordan grew up as an ordinary boy in the heart of a North Carolina suburb, this book will leave little readers feeling empowered and inspired.
    (Ages 6 - 9)

  • You Can Do It!

    by Tony Dungy, illustrated by Amy June Bates

    We absolutely adore this book! After Linden has a bad day at school, he receives lots of positive encouragement from his older brother Tony, other family members, and God. This book sends the message to little readers that they truly can do anything.
    (Ages 4 - 7)

  • Max and the Tag-Along Moon

    by Floyd Cooper

    After a visit to his grandpa’s house, Max is told by his grandpa that the moon will follow him all the way home. On the car ride back home, Max watches the moon as it tags along. But what happens when the sky starts to get cloudy and Max can no longer see the moon? Was his grandpa telling him the truth? An adorable story that shows a beautiful bond between a boy and his grandpa.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

  • I Love My Haircut!

    by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

    Getting your first “big boy” haircut is a big deal. It’s considered to be a rite of passage into boyhood by many. This book perfectly captures the experience of a little African American boy getting his first haircut at the barbershop.
    Ages (2 - 5)

  • Tea Cakes for Tosh

    by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

    This was one of my favorite books to read growing up. It’s a beautiful story that showcases the special bond between a little boy, his grandmother, and yummy vanilla-scented tea cakes.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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

    by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

    Read this amazing book to get a glimpse into the childhood of Civil Rights Leader John Lewis. John knows early on he wants to be a preacher. So when he’s put in charge of the family’s flock of chickens, he soon discovers they are the perfect audience to practice preaching to.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

  • Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born

    by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison

    This is a high-quality children’s biography that little readers are sure to enjoy. There are themes of hard work, determination, overcoming obstacles, boxing, sports, persistence, and confidence — something Muhammad Ali clearly had plenty of. Perfect for boxing lovers or sports fans in general. The back matter includes some additional facts about Ali’s life, a bibliography, photos, and other resources for further reading.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

What other books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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