Black history month picture books are for big kids, too! Picture books aren’t just for young children. Middle grades and teens benefit, too.
Sometimes, a picture book is the perfect way to introduce a sensitive topic, offer a window in a particular time period, or enrich existing curriculum and reading choices.
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Black History Month Picture Books for Tweens and Teens
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. Philomel, 1994. 48 pages.
This book is written in memory of Pinkus, also known as “Pink.” The author? A descendent of “Say’s.” The story? Two unlikely soldiers meet up during the Civil War. They share Union colors but not the same skin colors. And their fate is determined more by their skin color than their soldier uniforms. Deeply moving, this is a book not to be missed if you are studying the Civil War. It would make a good accompaniment to Soldier Song. Buy from amazon.
January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco. Philomel, 2009. 96 pages.
In this visually arresting book, Polacco recounts the true story of the Crosswhite family who escaped from Kentucky to Michigan on the Underground Railroad. This is an especially good choice as a companion to The Journey of Little Charlie, particularly if your students aren’t ready for that harrowing novel. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Buy from amazon.
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Neal Porter Books, 2019. 48 pages.
Not as “heavy” or meaty as the other picture books on this list, A Place to Land offers insight into the behind-the-scenes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech (and, by extrapolation, speech-writing in general!). Along the way, the creators introduce many more Civil Rights figures, linking them all together. Hayley and Betsy discussed this title in more depth during our Newbery Buzz discussion series in January. Buy from amazon. Ages 10 and up.
*Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride in 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner. Calkins Creek, 2017. 112 pages.
Brimner vividly portrays the progressively harsher treatment from the famous Freedom Ride’s beginning to end. Additionally, he includes key Civil Rights legislation from before the tumultuous 1960s, helping place the Freedom Ride in its larger context. The book’s layout reinforces the gravity and pacing of the events. Read our starred review. A terrific, but longer, companion title is We’ve Got a Job. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Buy from amazon.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick, 2015. 56 pages.
Fannie Lou Hamer was a key figure during the Civil Rights, especially in Freedom Summer. Weatherford movingly tells Hamer’s story through poetry, and Holmes’s collage illustrations are simply magnificent. Carole Boston Weatherford has written many Black history related titles; do check out her other works, particularly How Sweet the Sound and Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library. Recommended for ages 12 and up. Buy from amazon.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005. 48 pages.
Nelson memorializes Emmett Till in powerful and sobering sonnets. The brevity and artistry of the text accentuate the harshness of Till’s experience. Striking illustrations add to the overall effect. Recommended for ages 14 and up. Buy from amazon.