Pre-K

Growing Reader

Must-Read Picture Books Written by Black Authors

by Charnaie Gordon

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In recent years, more literary works penned by Black authors are being recognized with prestigious awards and well-deserved spots on bestseller lists. While there is still a lot of work to be done, I’m grateful more Black authors are voicing their stories through children’s books to inspire the next generation of readers and writers.

This round-up features Black authors you nay already know, like National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, as well as newer voices in the world of children’s literature. This list encompasses just a handful of incredible works by Black authors. I hope it inspires you and encourages you to expand and diversify your reading library.

  • Max and the Tag-Along Moon

    by Floyd Cooper

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    I remember watching the moon in the car as a child during road trips. I always thought the moon was following us, just like little Max. This book focuses on a heartwarming bond between a boy and his grandfather. There are also underlying messages about trust, keeping promises, and understanding that even when you can’t see your loved ones, they can still hold a special place in your heart.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • Something Beautiful

    by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

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    They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what if the beholder doesn’t know what beauty is? This is the dilemma the protagonist story faces in Something Beautiful. Living in an urban area surrounded by garbage, broken glass, crime, poverty, and homeless people, the little girl finds it hard to see the beauty in her neighborhood. In the end, the girl learns to change her perspective and discovers all things can be beautiful.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • The Night Is Yours

    by Abdul-Razak Zachariah, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

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    This picture book tells the story of a nighttime game of hide-and-seek, while celebrating Blackness and confidence. The lyrical text is narrated to a young girl named Amani by her father, as the moon acts as both a helping hand in finding hiding children and as a spotlight for Amani's beauty and strength. The perfect bedtime read-aloud.
    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • Hair Love

    by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

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    Twist outs. Braid outs. Wash and Gos. Bantu knots. Locs. Afros. Braids. Top Knots. Ponytails. Today’s natural haired beauties are embracing their kinks, coils, and curls more than ever before to express their style. Just ask little Zuri. She wants to have the perfect hairstyle to welcome her mother home. Armed with an iPad, hair products, and her dad, she ends up finding the perfect look.
    (Ages 4- 8)

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  • The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

    by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora

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    Born enslaved in 1848, Mary Walker didn’t know how to read or write. When she was 20 years old she was gifted a Bible that she longed to read, but it would take Mary 116 years to finally learn to read, write, add, and subtract. In 1964, she was certified as the nation’s oldest student. Readers of all ages are sure to admire Mary’s determination, strength, and her willingness to learn despite her age.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Hands Up!

    by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

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    This charming picture book takes an often-charged phrase and puts a positive spin on it. The story follows a young Black girls as she puts her hands up for hugs, in class, and at church service. The story culminates in a community protest march, where those around her lift their hands up in resistance. This book is timely and meaningful.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Just Like Me

    by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

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    Filled with bright and vivid collage-style illustrations, Just Like Me is a beautiful poetry picture book that invites girls to find themselves within the pages. While the poems are relatable to girls, they aren’t just for girls — they are for everyone to enjoy. Each poem has a universal theme that readers will relate to and want to read over and over again.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • What Is Given from the Heart

    by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison

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    The last picture book from Coretta Scott King and Newbery Honor winner Patricia C. McKissack is magnificent. This picture book tells the story of a mother and child who have had a rough go of it recently. During a church service, their reverend announces they'll be collecting things for the Temples, who have lost everything in a fire. Young James initially thinks he doesn't have anything to give, but he soon learns that what is given from the heart is the most special gift of all.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Preaching to the Chickens

    by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B Lewis

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    This book focuses on John Lewis’ formative years growing up on a farm in southern Alabama. Before he became a prominent civil rights leader, John Lewis dreamed of being a preacher when he grew up. As a child, his church was his family's farm, and his congregation was a flock of 60 chickens. Readers will appreciate the overall messages of hard work, love, kindness, and speaking up for yourself.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • The Day You Begin

    by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

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    I think The Day You Begin is a beautifully-illustrated and powerful story that is meant to empower children who feel different from others. Using poetic text, Jacqueline Woodson delivers a timely and universal message that allows children to see themselves in her powerful words. Readers may come away with a better understanding of self-acceptance, empathy, and respect for one another.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Firebird

    by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers

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    Misty Copeland pens this gorgeous picture book, which follows a young girl unsure if she can reach the level of success that Misty has. Aspiring ballerinas everywhere will appreciate this book, as Misty encourages the young girl that with hard work and dedication she, too, can become a Firebird. For more from Misty Copeland, be sure to check out her latest picture book, Bunheads.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Freedom Soup

    by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

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    This story of how Haitian independence came to be is told as a family makes their traditional New Year's soup. As Ti Gran teaches young Belle how to make the soup, they dance and clap and Belle learns about her family's history. A celebration of culture, this lyrical picture book is a sensory delight.
    (Ages 5 - 9)

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  • Ron’s Big Mission

    by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, illustrated by Don Tate

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    Do you know the story of Ron McNair and how he desegregated his public library? During the 1950s in South Carolina, it was forbidden for African Americans to have their own public library card. Ron McNair didn't like that rule, so he decided to do something about it and take a stand. Ron later went on to become an astronaut who tragically lost his life in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The library where Ron received his own library card is now a museum and community space dedicated to his life. The Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center opened in 2011 on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.
    (Ages 6 - 8)

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