Pre-K

Growing Reader

Characters of Color:
7 Must-Read Picture Books Featuring African American Characters

by Ashley Foxx

Image credits: Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by James Ransome; Summer Jackson: Grown Up by Teresa Harris, Illustrated by AG Ford; Summer Sun Risin’ by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Don Tate; Do Like Kyla by Angela Johnson, illustrated by James Ransome; Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J Muth.

Classroom libraries and children’s bookshelves sometimes fail to reflect a true reading rainbow. As a teacher, I sometimes struggled to find books that featured a diverse group of characters with rich, varied backgrounds. This lack of diversity has a direct impact on how our little readers develop, especially as they begin to shape their view of the world around them. In fact, less than 3% of children’s books published in 2013 featured characters of color, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.

Here are seven must-read books that feature memorable characters of color that your little one will love.

  • The Patchwork Quilt

    by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

    This heartwarming tale presents a realistic portrait of a multi-generational family. Tanya and her grandmother work together to create a quilt that’s part fabric, part family history. When her grandmother gets ill, Tanya decides to finish the quilt herself and her whole family pitches in! The lush watercolors bring the heart of this story to life. This book can help you talk about the universal themes of love, legacy, and loss.

  • Summer Jackson: Grown Up

    by Teresa E. Harris, Illustrated by AG Ford

    Teresa Harris’s first children’s book introduces us to Summer Jackson, a stylish, sassy seven-year-old who is ready to be an adult, or so she thinks. Summer tackles “adulthood” with confidence — donning blazers and high heels, reading the newspaper, and talking on her cell phone. However, Summer soon learns that being a grown-up is not all it seems, and returns to the joys of being seven.

  • Peter’s Chair

    by Ezra Jack Keats

    This story by celebrated illustrator and author Ezra Jack Keats is one of my favorites. Peter has a new baby sister on the way and is not happy about it! All of his belongings are being painted pink and he knows his favorite chair is next. He decides to run away with his chair and faithful sidekick and pet, Willie. However, he soon realizes he’s too big for his chair and maybe a baby sister is not so bad after all.

  • Summer Sun Risin’

    by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Don Tate

    Simple poetic lines and vibrant illustrations take us from early morning to dusk on a family farm. The book’s main character loves to help and doesn’t mind a good dose of hard work. This delightful tale is perfect for early readers and can help them decode new, tricky words.

  • Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)

    by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by James Ransome

    Sarah and Susan love visiting their Aunt because they know they’ll experience an afternoon of adventure. They always get to try on Aunt Flossie’s hats and learn the rich history behind each one — from WWI to a big Baltimore fire. Stunning oil paintings portray the warmth and rich experience of an African American family.

  • Do Like Kyla

    by Angela Johnson, illustrated by James Ransome

    Kyla and her sister have a special bond that shines through every page of this touching tale. Kyla’s little sister starts the day wanting to be just like her big sister. However, that evening Kyla realizes her little sister is special and wants to be like her, too! This story illustrates the strong relationship between siblings that lasts a lifetime.

  • Come On, Rain!

    by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J Muth

    With summer just around the corner, this book is perfect to pull out on the beach or on the front porch. As the city sizzles, Tess and her grandmother try their best to summon the sky for rain. Just when it seems the heat will go on forever, the raindrops begin to pour. The gorgeous illustrations and musical prose will jumpstart any reader’s imagination.