20 Picture Books to Celebrate Black Artists This Black History Month and Year Round

The theme for Black History Month 2024 is "African Americans and the Arts.In these titles, young readers can learn about people who loved to express themselves through visual art, dance, song, and other forms of artistic creation.

The theme for Black History Month 2024 is "African Americans and the Arts.In these titles, young readers can learn about people who loved to express themselves through visual art, dance, song, and other forms of artistic creation.

Covers: Little Rosetta, Rock, Rosetta, Rock; Miles of Styles; Extraordinary Magic; The Green Piano

Little Rosetta and the Talking Guitar: The Musical Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Woman Who Invented Rock and Roll by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. illus. by author. Doubleday. ISBN 9780593571071. 
Gr 2-6–This recounting of Rosetta Tharpe’s life sets itself apart by focusing on the period in her early childhood when she learned to play guitar, and the close relationship she had with her mother, both of which greatly influenced her larger life story. VERDICT An overdue narrative of one of early rock’s most influential figures, and an additional purchase for most biography collections.

Rock, Rosetta, Rock! Roll, Rosetta, Roll!: Presenting Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of Rock & Roll by Tonya Bolden. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062994387. 
Gr 1-4–Rosetta Tharpe was an American singer and guitarist who rose up in gospel music and broke into the mainstream of American music in the 1930s and 1940s. Told in free verse, this picture book biography chronicles her life. VERDICT A fresh and female addition to the music legend canon. Purchase where picture book biographies, especially those about musicians/rock history, circulate well.

Miles of Style: Eunice W. Johnson and the EBONY Fashion Fair by Lisa D Brathwaite. illus. by Lynn Gaines. Lee & Low. ISBN 9781620143124. 
Gr 1-5–Eunice Walker Johnson loved fashion. She and her husband John, observing that newspapers and magazines didn’t show Black people in a favorable light, set out to change that by forming the Johnson Publishing Company. EBONY, named for the precious black-colored wood, was the company’s second publication. Johnson shared her long-lasting love of fashion and design in a column called “Fashion Fair.” VERDICT This informative biography will be an excellent addition to Black history collections, the fashion shelves, or any celebration of innovators of the 20th century.

Extraordinary Magic: The Storytelling Life of Virginia Hamilton by Nina Crews. illus. by author. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. ISBN 9780316383592. 
Gr 1-4–Depicting the genesis of the imaginative world of a groundbreaking writer for children, this is the first picture book biography about Virginia Hamilton. Before she was the first Black author to win a Newbery, she was Ginny Hamilton. She learned how to be a storyteller from her extraordinary mother and her mandolin-playing father. VERDICT Purchase this lovely picture book biography as an introduction to Hamilton’s work or to encourage future creators. With every page, readers will be inspired to follow their own magic.

[Read: Nina Crews on Portraying Virginia Hamilton in ‘Extraordinary Magic’]

 The Green Piano: How Little Me Found ­Music by Roberta Flack with Tonya Bolden. illus. by Hayden Goodman. ­Random/Anne Schwartz. ISBN 9780593479872. 
Gr 2-5–With lilting text and stunning art, Flack’s lovely autobiographical picture book highlights little Roberta’s passion for music and the love of a family with little means who supported their daughter’s big dreams. The rhythmic and inviting narrative shares how her father found an upright in the junkyard, rescued it, and painted it green. The rest is history. VERDICT A warm, soulful picture book autobiography about a living legend that will inspire burgeoning artists to pursue their dreams no matter their circumstances.

[Read: 17 Fiction and Nonfiction Titles by Tonya Bolden That Chronicle Black History]

Covers: Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge; Ablaze with Color; On the Line; Ordinary Days; You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce!

 Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge by Gary Golio. illus. by James Ransome. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781984813664.
Gr 2-5–This poetic book offers a glimpse into the life and music of Sonny Rollins. It begins with a description of the Bridge and the city surrounding it. Readers then follow Rollins as he is drawn to the bridge to play in harmony with the sounds of the city around him. VERDICT Positive representations of Black artists are always welcome additions to library collections, and this work stands out as a biography in verse.

 Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas by Jeanne Walker Harvey. illus. by Loveis Wise. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063021891. 
PreS-Gr 4–Harvey rectifies an enormous wrong with this spirited biography of Black painter Alma Thomas (1891-1978), who is not nearly as renowned as she ought to be. In clear language and straightforward presentation, the author focuses on Thomas’s family’s intellectual ambitions and support of her aspirations, her love of nature and education, and her determination and persistence in the face of societal obstacles. VERDICT An inspiring introduction for artists and appreciators, as individuals or shared in groups

On the Line: My Story of Becoming the First African American Rockette by Jennifer Jones & Lissette Norman. illus. by Robert Paul, Jr. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063087064. 
Gr 1-5–Jones loved to dance from the time of her first dance class when she was nine. As Jones grew up, her mother exposed her to other people of color in the arts. From these experiences, Jones took that inspiration and kept practicing until she became the first African American Rockette. VERDICT An important story for all children to read, but especially recommended for students of the arts.

Ordinary Days: The Seeds, Sound, and City That Grew Prince Rogers Nelson by Angela Joy. illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara. ­Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250797032. 
PreS-Gr 3–The formula for biographies aimed at children can feel stale after a while: a person is born, overcomes hardship, and succeeds. This is a fresh take, expertly marrying pictures and text to the spirit of legendary musician Prince. Details of Prince’s life are told through swirling purple-tinged pictures. This frees up the text to take on a more lyrical slant. VERDICT This is a bold biography, finding inspiration from the subject and universalizing Prince’s creativity through a gentle approach. It’s perfect for elementary schools, especially as applied to music and art.

You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce!: The Storied Life of Folk Artist Elijah Pierce by Chiquita Mullins Lee & Carmella Van Vleet. illus. by Jennifer Mack-Watkins. Penguin/Kokila. ISBN 9780593406502. 
Gr 1-4–Elijah Pierce was an African American folk artist whose work was discovered by the art world late in life. His wood carvings, voice, and representation within the African American community are valuable. VERDICT A quality selection for informational books about artists and BIPOC individuals, this is likely to spark some real love in conversations surrounding the role of folk art, community outposts such as neighborhood barbershops, and more.

[Read: Beyond February: Teaching Black History Any Day, Every Day, and All Year Long, K-3]

Covers: Legends of Hip-Hop: Queen Latifah; A Is for Aretha; Only the Best; Jackie Ormes Draws the Future; Mary's Idea

Legends of Hip-Hop: Queen Latifah: An A-B-C Biography by Pen Ken. illus. by Saxton Moore. HarperFestival. ISBN 9780063234291.
Gr 1-4–Legendary rapper, singer, actor, and more, Queen Latifah is an entertainment powerhouse. In this installment of a new early concept board book series, “Legends of Hip-Hop,” Ken takes readers from A to Z through her rise to fame. VERDICT Despite some flaws, the queen of hip-hop will move children to dream big in this upbeat alphabet board book.

 A Is for Aretha by Leslie Kwan. illus. by Rachelle Baker. Penguin/­Kokila. ISBN 9780593406533. 
Gr 1-4–Kwan has crafted an excellent alphabet book that focuses on Black female entertainers from the last 100 years and their impact beyond their music. The author takes 26 prominent Black women from music history and positions their art not only in the arena of the impact it made in the music scene but in the overall fabric of society. VERDICT A perfect companion for the recent H Is for Harlem and ideal for covering overlooked names in Black studies.

 Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe by Kate Messner & Margaret E. Powell. illus. by Erin Robinson. Chronicle. ISBN 9781452161600. 
Gr 1-4–This picture book biography is as elegant as its subject—African American fashion designer Ann Lowe. Messner works with decorative arts historian Powell to present the life of Lowe who, despite facing immense racism as she developed her career in the early part of the 20th century, prevailed as one of the premier designers of her time. VERDICT A stylish biography worthy of inclusion on all shelves.

 Jackie Ormes Draws the ­Future: The Remarkable Life of a Pioneering Cartoonist by Liz Montague. illus. by author. ­Random House Studio. ISBN 9780593426548. 
Gr 2-5–Using a drawing style and pacing indicative and in homage to newspaper cartoons, this is a glimpse of groundbreaking Black female American cartoonist Jackie Ormes, as told and illustrated by a groundbreaking Black female American cartoonist. VERDICT A must purchase for libraries. Its overarching theme of persistence will resonate with readers.

Mary’s Idea by Chris Raschka. illus. by author. Greenwillow. ISBN 9780063210509. 
PreS-K–It is rare to discover a picture book biography that is accessible to very young children, but this is one such story. Very few words are used throughout the book; every phrase reinforces the fact that the decisions Williams made in her life were her own. VERDICT This is a widely accessible introductory biography of a lesser-known pianist from 20th-century America.

[Read: Testaments: More than 50 Works of Black Nonfiction]

Covers: There was a Party for Langston; Holding Her Own; Nina; Maya's Song; Jump the Sun

 There Was a Party For Langston by Jason Reynolds. illus. by Jerome Pumphrey & Jarrett Pumphrey. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. ISBN 9781534439443. 
K-Gr 2–This brilliant story shares the positive impact Langston Hughes had on so many—big and small—through music, dance, and, of course, words. The Pumphreys strike again as they expertly weave text through their illustrations like streams of poetry in this incredibly eye-catching picture book. VERDICT Reynolds and the Pumphreys lovingly bestow upon “the king of letters” exactly what he deserves.

Holding Her Own: The Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes by Traci N Todd. illus. by Shannon Wright. Orchard. ISBN 9781338305906.
Gr 2-5–An outstanding picture book biography about a groundbreaking Renaissance woman. Zelda “Jackie” Ormes was an artist and storyteller from birth. VERDICT An extraordinary picture book biography about an extraordinary pioneer in comics and journalism that deserves a spot on every shelf.

 Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N Todd. illus. by Christian Robinson. Putnam. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9781524737283.
Gr 2-6–This book begins with a little girl, Nina Simone, who has a gift and a passion for music, whether gospel, jazz, or classical. As Simone grows up, she begins to notice more inequities and injustices. Her anger grows, and the focus of the book shifts to issues of the civil rights movement and Simone’s role within it. VERDICT An excellent and magnetic biography.

 Maya’s Song by Renée Watson. illus. by Bryan Collier. Harper­Collins. ISBN 9780062871589. 
Gr 2-6–This in-depth biography in poems, with unsurpassable watercolor and collage illustrations, begins with Maya Angelou’s birth in 1928 and concludes with her delivering a poem at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. Readers will gain an understanding of Angelou from her childhood experiences, excerpts of her writing, and adult accomplishments and friendships. VERDICT Poetic and superbly illustrated, this tour de force belongs in every library.

 Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D Williams. illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. ISBN 9781534419131. 
K-Gr 3–This vibrant portrait of the early life and career of Black American writer Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) is sure to inspire young readers. VERDICT A welcome addition to any picture book biography collection; Williams deftly underscores the value of perseverance and education while highlighting the achievements of an influential Black female author.

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