The African American Experience: Picture Books

The African American Experience blog photo

Representation matters. Studies show that children as young as three begin to show racial preferences.  This list includes books that show black children just being kids (“Jabari Jumps!”), books that showcase the beauty of black skin and black hair (“The Night Is Yours”), and books that reveal the challenges faced by black Americans (“Hands Up!”). 

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

When young Mae Jemison is asked by her teacher what she wants to be when she grows up, African American Mae tells her mostly white classmates that she wants to be an astronaut, a dream that her parents wholeheartedly support.

Off & Away by Cale Atkinson

Jo fears what lives in the ocean but when her father is too ill to deliver messages in bottles, she courageously takes on the job, making new friends along the way.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes 

Celebrates the magnificent feeling that comes from walking out of a barber shop with newly-cut hair.

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes 

Instilled with confidence by his parents, a young boy has a great first day of kindergarten.

What if… by Samantha Berger

A child who likes to draw and write stories imagines what would happen if there were no pencils, paper, or other tools for being creative.

Day at the Beach by Tom Booth

When Gideon decides that he is going to build the most spectacular sandcastle anyone has ever seen without the help of his little sister Audrey, his day at the beach becomes a lesson in sibling bonding.

Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

When Grandma Mimi comes to visit, her granddaughter cannot wait to see what treasures she has hidden in her purse.

My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi Cabrera

After being teased yet again about her unruly hair, MacKenzie consults her neighbor, Miss Tillie, who compares hair care with tending her beautiful garden and teaches MacKenzie some techniques. Includes tips for shampooing, conditioning, and protecting black hair, and recipes for hair products.

Hair Love by Matthew Cherry

A little girl’s daddy steps in to help her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

After he passes his swimming test, little Jabari decides he’s ready to try jumping off the diving board, but when the big moment arrives, Jabari needs to work up the courage to jump. 

Little Orange Honey Hood by Lisa Anne Cullen

Resets the story of Little Red Riding Hood in the South, where Blossom is taking medicine to her ailing Grandma when she meets a hungry alligator. Includes list of North and South Carolina state symbols and recipes.

Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry

Based on the viral photograph of African American toddler Parker Curry, who, during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, became mesmerized by Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, who she thought was a queen. 

I Can Be Anything! Don’t Tell Me I Can’t by Diane Dillon

Zoe is sure that she can be anything she wants to be, despite a little voice of doubt that points out the problems with her ideas–but first she needs to learn how to read.

I Got a New Friend by Karl Edwards

As a little girl plays with her new puppy, they get to know one another. She learns how much work a puppy can be, but she also learns how to take care of it.

Princess Cupcake Jones and the Queen’s Closet by Ylleya Fields

Princess Cupcake Jones loves exploring her mom’s closet and trying on shoes. In the closet, she finds herself in a transforming make-believe world of fun. 

Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin

Tameika is excited to audition for the school’s Snow White musical, but when she overhears her classmates say she is too tall, chubby, and brown to play Snow White, she questions whether she is right for the part. 

Calling Dr. Zaza by Mylo Freeman

Zaza’s animal friends aren’t feeling well today. What do they need? A visit from Dr. Zaza!

Princess Arabella is a Big Sister by Mylo Freeman

Princess Arabella can’t wait to have a younger sibling to play with. But what would be most fun, a brother or a sister? 

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham

On a rainy drive home, an expectant mother and her young daughter stop to wait out the weather and the mother is inspired with a name for her new daughter. 

Princess Truly in My Magical, Sparkling Curls by Kelly Greenawalt

When Princess Truly believes in herself, her curls begin to shine and can magically transport her to the distant past, on an underwater adventure, or to Mars. 

The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker

Ibb, curious about the lone castle in her town, forms a long-distant friendship with the guard and, despite warnings there is something fearful inside, accepts his invitation to enter. 

Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town by A. LaFaye

When Dede sees a notice offering land for black people in Kansas, her family decides to quit sharecropping and become homesteading pioneers. 

Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons

Alan looks forward to the annual family reunion at the farm where Daddy grew up, but everyone is supposed to share something special and Alan worries about arriving with empty hands.

Sing A Song; How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons

Illustrations and easy-to-read text follow a family through five generations as each is inspired by the song written in 1900 to honor Abraham Lincoln.  

Hands Up! by Breanna McDaniel

A young girl lifts her hands up in a series of everyday moments before finally raising her hands in resistance at a protest march

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Aria loves her soft and bouncy hair, but must go to extremes to avoid people who touch it without permission until, finally, she speaks up.

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

Little girls pretending to be princesses celebrate the different shapes, textures, and styles of their black hair.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

When the aroma of Omu’s homemade stew fills the air, her neighbors arrive, one by one, for a taste until all is gone except for her generous spirit.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

When five-year-old Sulwe’s classmates make fun of her dark skin, she tries lightening herself to no avail, but her encounter with a shooting star helps her understand there is beauty in every shade. 

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

James has a bunch of balloons, each of which holds a special memory, but as his grandfather ages and loses his own balloons, James discovers that he is gaining new ones. 

The Bell Rang by James Ransome

A slave family is distressed when they discover their son Ben has run away. 

Astronaut Annie by Suzanne Slade

When Annie has a career day at her school, each member of her family wonders if she will choose their career path–her grandfather the news photographer, her father the mountain climber or her mother the basketball player–until she reveals a dream that is all her own. 

Nighttime Symphony by Timbaland

As a little boy gets ready for bed, the sounds of a wild storm echo around him, lulling him to sleep. From the crash of thunder to the pitter-patter of raindrops to the beat of passing cars, the music of the city creates a cozy bedtime soundtrack

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford

A prayer from mother to son that he will always in safe hands 

The Night is Yours by Abdul-Razak Zachariah

From a vantage point high in their apartment, a parent narrates as Amani plays hide-and-seek at night with her friends in the neighborhood. 


Download a PDF bookmark of this booklist to keep track of titles as you read them. Looking for more reading suggestions? JMRL encourages you to use What Do I Read Next? to receive personal recommendations from JMRL librarians.

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