The African American Experience: Fight For Your Rights (Ages 5 and Up)

The African American Experience blog photo

While it can be difficult to explain large issues like racism or protest to children, there are books that help make these issues approachable.  This list offers picture books that feature Black American history from Post-Civil War to the present.  They explain how life was different in tangible ways, from not being able to try on shoes before buying them (“New Shoes”) to dealing with segregated classrooms.  It seeks to empower children by showing them that kids have marched in protests and started community changes to help this fight. Also included is a book written specifically about racist policing by three psychologists (“Something Happened In Our Town”). The authors also provide tips on how to talk about these issues with children and gave advice to the Charlottesville community when they visited the Central Library. You can listen to that talk on JMRL’s podcast.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree

Follow me Down to Nicodemus Town: Based on the History of the African American Pioneer Settlement 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. 

Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson

Carter G. Woodson was born ten years after the end of the Civil War, to parents who had both been enslaved. Their stories were not the ones written about in history books, but Carter learned them and kept them in his heart. C

Fearless Mary by Tami Charles

The true story of Mary Fields, aka “Stagecoach Mary,” a trailblazing African American woman who helped settle the American West.

Thurgood by Jonah Winter

Before Rosa Parks, before Martin Luther King Jr., before the civil rights movement there was Thurgood, fighting for African Americans – and winning. Here is the powerful story of the trailblazer who proved that separate is not equal.

What do you do with a voice like that? by Chris Barton

A picture book of lawyer, politician, and civil rights leader Barbara Jordan.

New Shoes by Susan Meyer

In this historical fiction picture book, Ella Mae and her cousin Charlotte, both African American, start their own shoe store when they learn that they cannot try on shoes at the shoe store

If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by Gwendolyn Hooks

Mark Jenkins has recently moved to a new town with her family, and he will soon be attending a segregated school for the first time. Meanwhile, Connie Underwood is trying to figure out what her twin brothers are planning in secret. Follow along with the two children as they find themselves in the middle of a civil rights demonstration, and find out how the fight for equality changed the country forever.

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

Two young sisters participate in a civil rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King. 

Seeds of Freedom: the Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, children and teenagers march against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson

Presents the life of nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks who became the youngest known child to be arrested for picketing against Birmingham segregation practices in 1963.

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

As an elderly woman, Lillian recalls that her great-great-grandparents were sold as slaves in front of a courthouse where only rich white men were allowed to vote, then the long fight that led to her right–and determination–to cast her ballot since the Voting Rights Act gave every American the right to vote. 

Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko

The story of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, who got married in Washington, D.C., and were arrested after they returned to Virginia, and took their legal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy

Traces the history of the inspiring anthem and explains how it has come to represents the right for equality and freedom around the world.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano

After discussing the police shooting of a local Black man with their families, Emma and Josh know how to treat a new student who looks and speaks differently than his classmates.

Download a PDF bookmark of this list to keep track of titles. Looking for more suggestions on this and other topics? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations by JMRL librarians.

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