Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, they will help us keep this site up and running AND keep it ad-free! Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your support!
I can’t believe Christmas season crept up on me yet again! My favorite thing to gift anyone for the holidays is books. So, I got my oldest daughter, Bean, a ton of books for cheap this year from her school’s book fair. (Like, some were $.25. I was so geeked!) She also will rack up from her grandparents. As I attempt to solve the first-world problem of where to house the incoming literary loot, I thought it might be fun to catalog Bean’s favorite books by Black authors (or books that feature Black characters). But first, let me give you a profile of five-year-old Bean.
Bean, a reader!
Bean started reading at age four on the auspicious day that her sister was born–on their shared birthday. Ever since then, much to her mother’s delight, my daughter has become a voracious reader. I feed her appetite for books as often as I can. When my husband sees me coming through the door with yet another small book haul, he ruefully shakes his head. He gets it, though. Our family reads a bedtime story each night; Bean’s elementary school doesn’t give homework, only asking that families read together. We also require Bean to read at least one book before we allow her to watch media or play on her iPad. Sometimes she will sprawl across the living room with a book without us telling her to. She truly loves to read.
I am grateful and blessed to have in my family and friends a team of people who support my daughter’s literacy. My mother sends stacks of books on days that are not Bean’s birthday or Christmas. Books are a just-because event all by themselves. My stepmom and mother-in-law send books by Black authors local to their homes of Houston, TX, and Jacksonville, FL. My friends come from out of town and bring gifts from indie illustrators. Collectively, we have built Bean and Button (who is one year old and loves to be read to) a beautiful children’s library.
What kind of books does Bean like?
Bean is a bubbly, energetic, sensitive five-year-old girl whose first language is laughter. But she also likes pretty things and tales about adventures. As a reader, she gravitates toward books that make her giggle or gasp in surprise or that speak to her fancy side. She is playful and talkative–seriously, this girl doesn’t hush until she conks out at night–and likes witty characters. She digs a good monster tale, but stories about real life invoke her sense of empathy. The books that make her stop and think also draw her back to them, even if they do not feature a rollicking good time.
Let me tell you about Bean’s List.
Most of the books are by Black authors, but a select few were written by non-Black folks. For the purpose of defining “Black children’s books” for this list, the stories all feature Black people (mostly children) or people of color including Black people. They are mirrors in which my daughter has literally seen herself, saying, “She looks like me!” A few in this list are classics. One of my biggest sources of pride is having saved so many of my own children’s books to pass down to her. She reads what I read when I was young. (She also tears the book jackets on these 20-year-old pristinely kept books and breaks my heart. LOL! But it’s all good.)
All of these books are from her personal library and I have read them with her. (So they’re “Mommy Approved,” even though my opinion isn’t the focus today!) Some of them, we literally read at our local county library and then ended up purchasing because we loved them so much. I rounded up the books she has read over and over again, the ones I sometimes groan that I have read fifty-leven times. A few of the picture books are above her reading tolerance level. But as she gets better, she returns to try them again when the paragraphs intimidate her less.
The notes written about the following books are my own observations. But the joy of reading, of discovery and self-recognition? You can trust that’s all Bean.
Bean’s List of Best-Loved Black Children’s Books
Grump Groan Growl, by bell hooks and Chris Raschka.
This book is Bean’s first love. It’s one of the very first children’s books that she chose from memory for me to re-read to her. At two, she nearly had it memorized and would recite it along with me as we read together. It’s now one of her little sister’s faves, too. Buy Grump Groan Growl!
I Like Myself, by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow
Bean’s first truly affirming book. We always shout in unison on the part that goes, “Purple polka-dotted lips!” Buy I Like Myself!
I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl, by Betty K. Bynum and Claire Armstrong Parod
The first time we read this book, Bean went around this house twirling and declaring, “I’m a pretty little Black girl!” Love love love. Buy I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl!
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña
I once tweeted the author a picture of Bean holding this book and he tweeted me back that she was cool, so they’re totally besties now. Buy Last Stop on Market Street!
Max and the Tag-Along Moon, by Floyd Cooper
I think it’s just as important for Bean to read books starring little Black boys so that she sees herself in them, too. Buy Max and the Tag-Along Moon!
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
I understand this book is a classic and groundbreaking for several reasons, but I actually never read it as a kid. So her first introduction to it was mine, too. We love little Peter and his sweet discovery of winter’s joy. Buy The Snowy Day!
It’s Raining Pups and Dogs, by Jeanne Provost and Amelia Hansen
Bean really, really likes this book about a little biracial girl who learns why her dog must be spayed. Sometimes ordinary stories make extraordinary impressions on us. Buy It’s Raining Pups and Dogs!
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
Each time we re-open this book, Bean pulls a new thread from the story. She is beginning to weave together an understanding of the all things a book does not say but still communicates. Buy Amazing Grace!
I Love My Hair, by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and E.B. Lewis
If nothing else, Bean loves her hair, and she owes part of that to this supportive book about the wonders of a little Black girl’s hairstyles. Buy I Love My Hair!
I’m Not Moving, by Wiley Blevins and Mattia Cerato
We got this book shortly before we relocated to the D.C. area and have so much fun pretending to be obstinate little Beans who don’t want to move away. Buy I’m Not Moving!
One Word from Sophia, by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail
Family fave. We read this book at the library and then happily received it as a gift. This bright, loquacious character cracks us up with her verbose antics. Buy One Word from Sophia!
The Soil is Good, by Tori Johnson-Jones and Artkina Celestin
My friend Tori Johnson-Jones wrote this as a tribute to her daughter. She even includes a fun coloring book at the end to help kids learn about their subconscious. Buy The Soil is Good!
She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl, by Eloise Greenfield and John Steptoe
Bean didn’t have much ambivalence about loving her baby sister, Button. But she sure gets a good laugh from this little boy’s glowering at his mother’s new baby girl. Buy She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl!
Dancing in the Wings, by Debbie Allen and Kadir Nelson
Books about ballerinas are among Bean’s most treasured. This one, she especially likes because of its triumphant ending after adversity. Buy Dancing in the Wings!
28 Days, by Charles R. Smith Jr., and Shane W. Evans
Confession: Bean hasn’t ever completely finished this gorgeous book about Black history. It’s a bit lengthy for a five-year-old, and its combination of verse and prose with small type intimidates her. But she always returns to it and reads a new page, then runs to me to tell me what she learned. Buy 28 Days!
Curlilocks and the Big Bad Hairbrush, by Yolanda King and Fanny Liem
This fun retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears features a curly-haired little Black girl who has a problem telling the truth. Buy Curlilocks and the Big Bad Hairbrush!
Two Cried! One Tried…on the Octopus Slide, by TJ Wicks and Terrance Wicks, Sr.
This book comes from a little Black boy author-illustrator and his dad! It’s adorable. Buy TJ’s book from his website!
A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nogara
The quintessential text for woke babies. The activist vocabulary words in this one keep Bean sounding out syllables until she gets it right. Hint: tell your kids to find the hidden cat on each page for a fun game during your read. Buy A is for Activist!
In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems, by Eloise Greenfield and Jan Spivey Gilchrist
I have had the hardest time getting Bean to read poetry if it is not Dr. Seuss verse. But the graphics of little Black kids help her feel the rhymes as pieces of a story. This is the first book of poetry she’s shown interest in. Buy In the Land of Words!
Aida, by Leontyne Price and Leo and Diane Dillon
Our copy of this book, published in 1990, is mine. No, for real, I got it as a child, and it’s always been one of my favorite books. When Bean grows up, she will kindly have to purchase her own copy, because I’m taking this one back. Sorry not sorry, Bean! Buy Aida!
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe
I read this adaptation of an African folk tale when I was a kid, so I’m delighted Bean likes it, as well. Buy Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters!
Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
What a fun read and innovative way of introducing children to the tenets of scientific research–we have read this book so many times since I got it for Bean’s birthday this year. Buy Ada Twist, Scientist!
When I Close My Eyes, by Ty Allen Jackson and Jonathan Shears
This is a brightly illustrated picturescape about the wonders of a child’s imagination. Buy When I Close My Eyes!
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, by Verna Aaardema and Leo and Diane Dillon
Another allegorical classic I read as a young sprout, but this is Bean’s copy, so she gets to keep it. My husband and I may or may not have pulled her tail about whether mosquitoes talk in real life. Buy Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears!
ICE: Based on a True Story, by Theresa Mamah and Cordell Ross
My colleague Theresa wrote this endearing tale based on her father’s first encounter with ice as a child in his native Nigeria. It made Bean smile! Buy ICE: Based on a True Story!
Brothers of the Knight, by Debbie Allen and Kadir Nelson
A pinch of magical realism and a big dose of brotherly love combine to give us a story about a family who found the magic of one thing they never realized they were missing. Buy Brothers of the Knight!
Noah’s Walk, by Nekisha Pinkney + Noah Rattler and Thaddeus Lavalais
This is a true adventure about a man who walked 1,800 miles from Texas to raise awareness of homelessness. Buy Noah’s Walk!
The Magic Mask, by Arlene Rosemond and Charlo Nocete
A creative story about African children who learn the true value of wealth is in their community. Buy The Magic Mask!
Curlilocks and the Three Pink Pandas, by Yolanda King and Fanny Liem
The three pink pandas tickle us every. single. time. Another great story about our heroine Curlilocks. Buy Curlilocks and the Three Pink Pandas!
My People, by Langston Hughes and Charles R. Smith Jr. Allen and Kadir Nelson
A sneaky way to slip poetry into Bean’s diet, this book takes a poem by Langston Hughes and sets it against the stunning backdrop of Black folks just being. Beautiful. Buy My People!
Juma and the Magic Jinn, by Joy Anderson and Charles Mikolaycak
MINE, since like 1987. But Bean has happily adopted this story of an African boy and the jinn who teaches him a lesson about gratitude. Buy Juma and the Magic Jinn!
A Date with Daddy, by Tiffany Bowers
We got this book from the Just Like Me! Box, a monthly subscription service that sends you books with African-American characters. It’s so dope! After Bean read this book, she asked, “Daddy, can we go on a date and I can wear a fancy dress?” Buy A Date with Daddy!
The Talking Eggs, by Robert D. San Souci and Jerry Pinkney
I’m certain I read this book when I was young, even if I didn’t own it. I would recognize Jerry Pinkney’s iconic illustration anywhere. Bean forever gets kick out of a story where the villain gets her comeuppance at the end. Buy The Talking Eggs!
Big Hair, Don’t Care, by Crystal Swain-Bates
Because you can never have too many books about the beauty of a Black girl’s hair! Buy Big Hair, Don’t Care!
Radiant Child, by Javaka Steptoe
We thought the illustrations in this children’s biography of young Jean-Michel Basquiat were amazing. Buy Radiant Child!
Why am I only listing the Black children’s books?
Because, for one #WeNeedDiverseBooks. For two, Black children’s book authors are still very marginalized within the publishing industry. I feel very strongly about amplifying these books, and about supporting the authors who write them. Furthermore, I believe that ALL children need Black children’s books, not just Black children. Bean reads stories about kids of all backgrounds and nationalities–she will also see herself in those characters. So, too, must children of every race and ethnicity learn how alike we can be through reading books about Black children.
I hope you find this list helpful. It is in no way exhaustive or representative of all the wonderful Black children’s books we have read. The books listed are only the ones we own that I’ve noticed Bean loves. So please do feel free to drop your favorite children’s books (featuring anyone) in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter. We clearly love to read around here!
What’s your favorite children’s book?