20 Must-Read Children’s Books By Black Authors
It’s no secret that introducing children to books at a young age is crucial to learning new concepts, words, and sounds. However, there needs to be more diversity in the books children read.
For example, it’s often difficult to find children’s books written by Black authors. This lack of diversity prevents young children, especially young African American children, from feeling seen, like they have a voice, or that their culture matters.
The good news is many Black authors write excellent children’s books that help Black children feel better understood, appreciated, and loved. To help parents, teachers, and kids find these great books, this article offers the 20 must-read children’s books by Black authors.
- Top 5 Wonderful Books By Black Authors for Kids
- Top 5 Picture Books By Black Authors
- Best 5 Middle School Books by Black Authors
- Best 5 Books by Black Authors for High School
Top 5 Wonderful Books By Black Authors for Kids
From picture books about monsters to epic adventures featuring heroic Black kids, Black children’s authors know what kids want to read in school and at home.
To help choose the best books by Black authors for kids, check out this list of top 5 picks.
1. ‘The Good Turn’ by Sharna Jackson
Inspired by the story of Josephine Holloway, who formed the first Girl Scout Troop for Black girls in America, a young girl named Josephine Williams decides to start her own. She turns to her friends Margot and Wesley for help. They decide to sleep close to an abandoned factory to earn their camping badges.
But that night, something strange happens. They discover strange possessions in the abandoned factory. It seems someone is living in the building!
Together, the trio decides to uncover the factory’s secret and maybe learn a little something about activism and kindness along the way.
Filled with action, adventure, and lessons about friendship and real-life injustice, The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson will leave readers spellbound.
- Book Genre: This book is for mystery lovers
- Recommended Age: 9+
2. ‘We’re Going to Find the Monster’ by Malorie Blackman & Dapo Adeola
Where’s the mighty monster? Adventurers Eddie and Charlie take off on an epic journey to find Marty Monster (aka their big brother)!
But this journey isn’t for the faint of heart. Eddie and Charlie must trek through dark jungles, up mountains, and across oceans, and face other creatures along the way.
With stunning illustrations and a catchy spoken refrain, We’re Going to Find the Monster is a joy to read together as a family.
- Book Genre: This book is for action & adventure-loving kids
- Recommended Age: 2–5
3. ‘Sulwe’, by Lupita Nyong’o
From award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, this picture book is about a little girl named Sulwe with skin the color of midnight. She dreams of having lighter skin to look like her mother, sister, and schoolmates.
One night the night sky takes Sulwe on an incredible journey that changes everything.
This beautifully illustrated book is a heartwarming story that teaches kids to embrace their unique, natural beauty.
- Book Genre: This picture book is for kids learning about self-love
- Recommended Age: 3–7
4. ‘Mae Among the Stars’ by Roda Ahmed
Young Mae dreams of dancing in space, surrounded by billions of stars.
Mae’s determination, curiosity, and intelligence, combined with her parent’s encouragement, help her earn a place at NASA. Eventually, Mae becomes the first African American woman to travel in space.
Based on a true story, this beautifully illustrated book is perfect for young Black girls and young readers who aim to reach for the stars.
- Book Genre: Children interested in historical fiction and space will love this book
- Recommended Age: 2–6
5. ‘Skin Like Mine’ by Latashia M. Perry
Skin Like Mine is the second book in the Kids Like Mine series by Latashia M. Perry.
This lyrical picture book explores and celebrates diversity in a creative and fun way. Skin Like Mine is guaranteed to make readers smile—and get a little hungry!
- Book Genre: This book is about self-esteem and is perfect for young readers
- Recommended Age: 4–8
Top 5 Picture Books By Black Authors
Picture books by Black authors help introduce concepts of diversity while touching on important family, love, and cultural themes.
Interested? Without further ado, here are the top 5 picture books by Black authors.
1. ‘Hair Love’ by Matthew A. Cherry
This New York Times best-seller is a story that has captured the attention of Black children across North America.
Hair Love approaches the struggle that families can encounter through the eyes of a father who goes to great lengths to try and tame the kinks, coils, and curls in his daughter’s beautiful hair.
This award-winning story celebrates natural hair and is an endearing reflection of beautiful daddy/daughter relationships. Recently, Hair Love was made into a short film. Watch it below!
- Book Genre: This book is for children exploring self-esteem and self-respect
- Recommended Age: 2–7
2. ‘Daddy Speaks Love’ by Leah Henderson
Another fantastic picture book by a Black author featuring a father’s relationship with his children is Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson.
This picture book answers an important question: what does a daddy do?
The answer is a daddy does so many things! From his words and actions to answering questions and filling the day with joy, fun, and hugs, daddies encourage their children to build a better world while standing by their side.
Daddy Speaks Love is full of inspiration for kids learning about the relationship they have with their fathers.
- Book Genre: This book is perfect for kids that love picture books about family
- Recommended Age: 4–8
3. ‘Welcome to the Party’ by Gabrielle Union
Welcome to the Party is a book by Black author, activist, executive producer, and actress Gabrielle Union.
Inspired by the arrival of Union’s daughter, this picture book is a glorious love letter to parents welcoming a new family member.
- Book Genre: This book is an incredible resource for kids learning about adoption and extended families
- Recommended Age: 4–8
4. ‘Me & Mama’ by Cozbi A. Cabrera
An award-winning book, Me & Mama, takes place on a rainy day and explores how a mother and daughter interact and love each other.
This lyrical picture book celebrates the bond between a daughter and mother as they spend time together
- Book Genre: This is an excellent book on the topic of parents.
- Recommended Age: 4–8
5. ‘Soul Food Sunday’ by Winsome Bingham
Soul Food Sunday, by Winsome Bingham, is a delightful story about a child who is now old enough to help prepare Granny’s dishes for the first time.
He primes the meat, cleans the greens, grates the cheese, and even makes his own offering! This mouth-watering story is a beautiful celebration of family tradition.
Children will finish Soul Food Sunday understanding that families can come together every week and show love for one another through something as simple as food.
- Book Genre: This book explores multigenerational family life
- Recommended Age: 4–8
Best 5 Middle School Books by Black Authors
Middle school readers love a good story about slightly more complicated topics like divorce, history, identity, and more.
So take a look! This article’s got the best 5 middle school books by Black authors listed right here.
1. ‘Blended’ by Sharon M. Draper
Blended by Sharon Draper is a story about 11-year-old Isabella, whose parent’s divorce makes her feel like she’s living two lives.
She spends one week with her dad, his girlfriend, and her son in a large home in an affluent neighborhood, but they are one of the only Black families around. Then she spends one week with her mom and her boyfriend in a much smaller, less fancy house that she loves.
Not only does Isabella switch homes, but she also realizes she switches identities. Her mom is white, and her dad is Black, which leads to inappropriate questions from classmates, neighbors, and friends.
Worse yet, after a huge fight with her dad, Isabella and her stepbrother are stopped by the police.
Blended is an award-winning New York Times bestselling book with a dramatic ending that will leave hearts pounding and readers wanting more.
- Book Genre: This middle school book touches on many topics, including police brutality, violence, step-families, marriage, and divorce
- Recommended Grades: 4–8
2. ‘Betty Before X’ by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson
11-year-old Betty doesn’t feel welcome at home. Deep down, she knows her mother loves her. But she can’t quite explain the feeling that she’s not wanted.
Going to church helps Betty work through some of these feelings, and the speeches she hears help to build resilience within the African Americans in her community. Soon, Betty finds confidence in volunteering, and eventually, Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.
As educational as it is moving, reading Betty Before X will help younger readers better understand the Black history events that led up to the civil rights movement.
- Book Genre: This book is historical fiction and touches on prejudice and racism
- Recommended Grades: Grade 4/5 & Up
3. ‘Bud, Not Buddy’ by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud, Not Buddy is a Newbery Award-winning story about a motherless young boy named Bud who is on the run in 1936.
It might not seem like Bud has a lot going for him, but he has a suitcase full of essentials. One of those things is a clue from his mother, a flier advertising a band called the Dusky Devastators of the Depression featuring a man named Herman E. Calloway.
Hopeful that the flier will lead to his father, nothing can stop Bud from solving this mystery.
Bud, Not Buddy is a funny and poignant read that grips readers’ hearts and is beloved by kids across North America.
- Book Genre: This fiction book is about boys’ and men’s issues
- Recommended Age: 9+
4. ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson
Using a mesmerizing verse, Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her childhood in Brown Girl Dreaming, an award-winning middle school book.
In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson touches on African American history and what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s. In her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement, each poem offers insight into a child searching for their place in the world.
Even though Woodson struggled with reading, this story ends in triumph as she describes her love of stories and how they inspired her to find joy through writing.
This book is also a beautiful representation of Brown books and is suitable for Brown boys.
- Book Genre: Historical fiction with themes of family and race
- Recommended Age: 10+
5. ‘The Crossover’ by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is about 12-year-old, dread-locked Josh Bell, a fantastic basketball player (but he’s also got mad beats!).
Josh and his twin brother Jordan need to work through growing up on and off the court and understand that breaking the rules can come at a cost. Told entirely through verse, this book’s gripping climax becomes a total game-changer for Josh’s entire family.
Through exploring the differences between Josh and Jordan, and their relationship with their father, The Crossover deals with themes of loneliness and loss.
- Book Genre: This fiction book is perfect for kids learning to overcome challenges, including moving to a new school
- Recommended Age: 11–13
Best 5 Books by Black Authors for High School
As Black children enter high school, it’s important to provide them with books that tackle more serious and mature subjects.
Curious to know which 5 books made the cut for best books by Black authors for high school? Check out this list.
1. ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi
Nigerian-American novelist Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is the first book in a trilogy series.
Children of Blood and Bone follows heroine Zélie Adebola. She belongs to a class of magic practitioners known as the maji. However, the ruling class, the kosidáns’ have brutally suppressed the maji.
Throughout the novel, Zélie attempts to restore magic to the kingdom but is forced to deal with issues like violence, class discrimination, and abuse of power. This coming-of-age story is packed with action, adventure, and real-life lessons.
- Book Genre: This book is a young adult fantasy novel
- Recommended Grade: 9–12
2. ‘Concrete Rose’ by Angie Thomas
17-year-old Maverick Carter is the son of a former gang legend. From a young age, he learned that a real man takes care of his family, but he only knows how by dealing drugs for the King Lords.
For a while, everything seems to work out for Maverick. He can help his mom, who works two jobs, has a fly girlfriend and a cousin who’s always there for him.
Until Maverick learns he’s a father.
The responsibility of a baby weighs heavily on him, and when offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. However, it’s difficult to walk away from the King Lords, and after a brutal murder, Maverick will need to figure out what being a man truly means.
- Book Genre: This book is perfect for young adult urban fiction lovers
- Recommended Age: 14–17
3. ‘White Teeth’ by Zadie Smith
White Teeth by Zadie Smith is about Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and Englishman Archie Jones, two veterans of World War II and best friends.
This book follows these two friends in their present lives while intertwining elements of the past. Together, and for their children, they must navigate across changing beliefs of the former empire and explore what this means for the future.
This book made First Lady Michelle Obama’s list of 12 book recommendations.
- Book Genre: This book is for high schoolers who love historical fiction
- Recommended Grade: 9–12
4. ‘Black Brother, Black Brother’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Author Jewell Parker Rhodes offers a novel about identity and race, where one brother, Donte, presents as Black, and the other, Trey, presents as white.
Donte is constantly swimming in whiteness. As one of the only Black boys at school, he wishes he were invisible. Of course, it doesn’t help that no one looks like him or likes him. Everyone calls him the ‘Black Brother’. They wish he were more like Trey.
After an incident with the ‘king of the school’ Alan, Donte is arrested and suspended. The only way to get even is to beat Alan—at fencing. Determined to earn a spot on the fencing team, Donte receives help from a former Olympic fencer and embarks on a journey that teaches him about more than just winning at a sport.
Black Brother, Black Brother, is a powerful coming-of-age novel that touches on how one teen learns how to fight for equality and navigate a world where he is treated very differently.
- Book Genre: This book is a gritty read about family
- Recommended Age: 13+
5. ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison
This historical fiction novel takes place shortly after the civil war.
Sethe’s dysfunctional family is a direct result of the destructive legacy of slavery, a theme that is also deeply present in the form of a malevolent spirit that haunts the house they live in.
Beloved is a compelling story meant to highlight how the past shouldn’t impede the present and how slavery represents a horror from which the nation needs to rise above.
- Book Genre: This is a historical fiction novel with magical realism themes
- Recommended Age: 15+
Looking for more information on Black authors, the books they write, and why books for Black children are so important? Check out these frequently asked questions.
Why are Black Сhildren’s Books Important?
Many Black children grow up rarely (or without) seeing themselves or their culture reflected in children’s literature. Therefore, it’s critical to introduce Black children to children’s books by Black authors. Black authors write stories that help kids feel like they have a voice and that their identities are important.
Who was the First Black Children’s Author?
Two Black men became the first Black children’s author. Arna Bontemps (1902–1973) and Langston Hughes (1902–1967).
What was the First African American Children’s Book?
Arna Bontemps (1902–1973) and Langston Hughes (1902–1967) wrote a children’s book about Black people called Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti.
Who is the Greatest Black Writer of All Time?
The list of great Black writers is lengthy, and so here are the top three: Langston Hughes (1902–1967), Maya Angelou (1928–2014), and Toni Morrison (1931–Present).
Who is the Best-Selling Black Author?
Maya Angelou (1928–2014) is a best-selling Black author. Her non-fiction autobiography earned her the first non-fiction best-seller from an African American woman.
The picture on the front page: Samuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock.com
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