28 Nonfiction Titles for Black History Month

With Black History Month around the corner, here are 28 books to share with kids and teens that chronicle the strength, tenacity, and joy of Black Americans throughout history.

Montage of the 28 covers

With Black History Month around the corner, here are 28 books to share with kids and teens that chronicle the strength, tenacity, and joy of Black Americans throughout history.


 Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre by Alverne Ball. illus. by Stacey Robinson. Abrams ComicArts. May 2021. ISBN 9781419755170.
Gr 6 Up–This nonfiction graphic novel shares an important, often overlooked piece of American history—the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. The information is presented in a clear and accessible way; a preface and time line are included at the beginning, and an essay concludes the book. This short yet powerful, nonfiction graphic novel is an essential purchase for all public and school libraries.

 African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste. illus. by Hillary D. Wilson. Algonquin. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781616209001.
Gr 6-10–This spellbinding and impeccably researched collection spotlights 10 historical figures, including writers, kings and queens, and military leaders from the African continent. Wilson’s majestic portraits are the perfect complement to a compendium that fills egregious gaps in the curriculum.

 Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste. illus. by Tonya Engel. Dial. Jan. 2022. ISBN 9780593326404.
Gr 2-5–On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give her bus seat to a white person, nine months before Rosa Parks’s famous act of civil disobedience. Baptiste successfully demonstrates how the decision made by one young person reverberated through history. A gorgeous tribute to a young Black activist that will inspire many readers

 Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom, Jetta Grace Martin & Waldo E. Martin. Levine Querido. Jan. 2022. ISBN 9781646140930.
Gr 7 Up–Bloom and Martin (Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party) collaborate with newcomer Grace to bring young readers a well-researched account of the Black Panther Party. Focusing on the founding members, they present a flowing narrative that begins with the origins of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and concludes with the group’s downfall and legacy.

 Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9780063056664.
Gr 7 Up–After generations of erasure and a concerted effort to cover up history, the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is finally being told in a modern historical context. Colbert recounts the event in detail, piecing together accounts from survivors and news stories, though many newspaper articles were not recovered in full. Clear straightforward text, photos, and well-organized storytelling makes this an essential read for teens and adults alike.

Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book by Keila V Dawson. illus. by Alleanna Harris. Beaming. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9781506467917.
Gr 2-4–This compelling picture book about the birth of the Green Book and its creator introduces the history of segregation and its impact in the U.S. to young readers. Victor Hugo Green (1892–1960), a Black postal worker from Harlem, NY, loved taking road trips across the United States, but it wasn’t always safe to do so because of Jim Crow laws, especially in segregated areas and sundown towns. Green understood that Black sightseers needed a reliable guidebook for safe travel; he created The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936. The travel guide sold more than two million copies.

Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies. DK. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9780744039092.
Gr 4-8–This compilation of timelines of Black achievements in history begins with a time line starting 65 million years ago. The combination of words and graphic design takes the reader on an inviting journey through history. Some of the time lines extend through periods of history, others through the lifetimes of individuals, showing the reader significant moments in the lives of Black people whose contributions changed the landscape of their world and of ours.

Paul Robeson: No One Can Silence Me by Martin Duberman. New Pr. Mar. 2021. ISBN 9781620976494.
Gr 8 Up–Duberman condenses his 1989 biography on the life of Robeson to a manageable 288 pages for young adults. Despite the significant abridgment, the text provides an in-depth look at the complicated life of an important figure in African American history.

 Rise Up: How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy by Crystal Marie Fleming. Holt. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781250226389.
Gr 6 Up–In her YA debut, Fleming brings readers through the history of resistance to white supremacy, inspiring and educating young activists on how to take up the fight along the way. The author’s voice is engaging and the narrative is deeply informative; her choice of subjects makes for a notably intersectional set of represented experiences.

 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. Positive representations of Black artists are always welcome additions to library collections, and this work stands out as a biography in verse.

 Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. illus. by various. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9781681199443.
Gr 7 Up –Grimes adeptly uses a poetic form known as the golden shovel to honor and shed light on the lives of women poets during the Harlem Renaissance. She presents each poet’s original work, then her own poem in conversation. Each pairing is accompanied by a remarkable illustration by a contemporary Black woman artist.

 The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renée Watson. illus. by Nikkolas Smith. Penguin/Kokila. Nov. 2021. ISBN 9780593307359.
Gr 2-5–An illustrated work on the 1619 Project for young readers, this adaptation begins with a school assignment and quickly immerses readers in beauty and terror. This stunning work offers a glimpse into the history of the Black American experience before and after the slave trade; the elevated language and breathtaking artwork will have a lasting effect.

Nelson Mandela by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl. illus. by Nicole Miles. Abrams. Sept. 2021. 160p. ISBN 9781419756085.
Gr 4-7–This detailed biography covers his entire life, taking time to explore the myriad events that led to his being the face of the anti-apartheid movement. While he is lauded as a hero, Mandela is also humanized, his mistakes given as much space as his accomplishments. Recommend to fans of Penguin Workshop’s “Who Was?” series who want something a little more challenging.

 Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot To Fly Across the United States by Louisa Jaggar & Shari Becker. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Crown. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9781984847621.
K-Gr 2–This picture book biography recounts the story of James Herman Banning, from his first encounter with a real “birdman” in Thomas, OK, in 1911 to a lifelong love of flying. A pathos-filled picture book that celebrates the life of a figure in American history who hasn’t been featured often in children’s books.

 Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King. illus. by Bobby C. Martin Jr. Tilbury House. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9780884488897.
Gr 3-7–This inspiring title chronicles African American accomplishments from the Revolutionary War to the present. On alternating pages, the question, “Have I ever told you that...?” is posed, then answered by focusing on important Black trailblazers in disciplines such as science, arts, and politics. Each colorful page features bold fonts that vary in size and outlined portraits that resemble pop art. This unique format works for a wide range of reading levels.

 Run: Book One by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin. illus. by L. Fury & Nate Powell. Abrams ComicArts. Aug. 2021. ISBN 9781419730696.
Gr 8 Up–In this follow-up to the acclaimed “March” trilogy, which picks up right after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lewis and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) face one challenge after another. Lewis is but one committed figure here, as many dedicated Black and white members of SNCC are depicted, including those who opposed Lewis’s leadership and continuous calls for integration and nonviolence. Just as powerful as the “March” trilogy, this paean to “nonviolent soldiers” is principled, tragic, and stirring.

The Burning (Young Readers Edition): Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. Holt. May 2021. adapted by Hilary Beard. ISBN 9781250787699.
Gr 6 Up–Written by Madigan and adapted by Beard for young readers, this in-depth work of narrative nonfiction peels back the layers of the burning and massacre of Greenwood, a 35-block part of Tulsa, OK, in 1921. Though the work is at times weighty and narratively dense, confronting this history is the only way we can move forward to a just, antiracist future.

 And We Rise by Erica Martin. Viking. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9780593352526. Gr 7 Up–Short poems use negative space and concrete poetry elements to tell the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. Tragedies, events, and people who were ignored by history are discussed, along with those who made the history books. The impact of the poems in this powerful, necessary book is strengthened by the layout of the text and drives home the struggle for civil rights.

The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon. illus. by Laura Freeman. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9780062912510.
Gr 1-4–Magoon effectively describes Thurgood Marshall’s accomplishments, from his childhood to his ascension to the Supreme Court. More than a biography, this is a road map to good citizenship, from dinner table discussions of segregation and unfair laws to consistency in showing up and “doing the right thing.” Accessible, engaging, and powerful.

 Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon. Candlewick. Nov. 2021.ISBN 9781536214185.
Gr 7 Up–In this thorough, well-researched work, Magoon offers an in-depth look at the Black Panthers that we’ve not really seen for young people—one that is honest and offers a much-needed corrective. Members of the party, particularly the founders, are highlighted; these historical figures are fleshed out as complex individuals. The compelling narrative also covers the history of the entire organization.

 A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation by Lindsey McDivitt. illus. by Charley Palmer. Eerdmans. Mar. 2021. ISBN 9780802855022.
Gr 2-5–Palmer’s powerful paintings complement this inspiring story of sacrifice and loss, devotion and learning, and patience and hard work. McDivitt and Palmer deftly chronicle the ongoing global fight against racism; Mandela’s journey makes for a powerful reminder of the ability to change.

More than Just a Game: The Black Origins of Basketball by Madison Moore. illus. by Lonnie Ollivierre. Albert Whitman. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9780807552711.
Gr 4-8–A beautifully illustrated introduction to the ways Black Americans impacted the shape and structure of one of America’s most popular sports. What isn’t often popularized is the way this sport was introduced to the Black community. In this incisive text, readers learn about the Black Fives (all-Black basketball teams that played between 1904 and 1950), the Harlem Globetrotters, and the grueling path to an integrated basketball league.

That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World by Rochelle Riley & Cristi Smith-Jones. Wayne State Univ. Feb. 2021. ISBN 9780814347546.
Gr 4-6–This remarkable biography collection centered on the lives and accomplishments of African American trailblazers stands out because of the photography. Each profile is 10 pages or less and includes two photos, one of the subject and one of a Black child dressed as the subject. This depiction of the historical figures as children is incredibly poignant, allowing readers to picture themselves as powerful changemakers.

 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. An excellent and magnetic biography.

She Persisted: Oprah Winfrey by Renée Watson & Chelsea Clinton. Philomel. Dec. 2021. ISBN 9780593115985.
Gr 2-6–Oprah Winfrey was born with talent, intelligence, and a whole lot of grit. She endured poverty, sexual abuse by a cousin, and a stillborn child by the time she was just 18 years old. Determined to overcome, she found success by going to college and landing a job as Nashville’s first Black television anchor. From there, Oprah’s success grew with her ability to speak candidly about her feelings on air.

 The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford. illus. by Laura Freeman. Random House Studio. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9780593306505.
Gr 2-4–This picture book biography combines Freeman’s expressive artwork with Weatherford’s illuminating text to focus on the highlights of Cummings’s life and career. The narrative and illustrations work together to communicate Cummings’s commitment to his faith, public service, and civil rights. This is an impressive, inspiring story of a battle well-fought and a life well-lived.

 Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Carolrhoda. Feb. 2021. ISBN 9781541581203.
Gr 3-6– This moving account sheds light on shameful events long suppressed or ignored. One hundred years ago, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK, was a prosperous Black community. Dozens of businesses thrived along “Black Wall Street.” A white mob invaded the town, looted, and committed arson. The police did nothing to protect the Black citizens. Up to 300 Greenwood residents were killed, and more than 8,000 were left homeless. Seventy-five years passed before an official investigation occurred.

Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9781250623720.
Gr 6-9–An important hole in baseball literature is addressed in this nonfiction recollection of businesswoman Effa Manley’s role in the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues. Effa’s role as a light-skinned woman who grew up in a biracial family and fought for rights for Black people and women is portrayed through detailed narratives and passionate quotes from her career as a co-owner of the Newark Eagles with her husband Abe Manley.

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