Black History Month – A Selection of Picture Books for Kids on Civil Rights

We March

Shane W. Evans (Author and Illustrator)

On August 28, 1963, over 250,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Shane W. Evans, combining spare text with powerful images brings the day to life for young readers, as experienced by one family. As his illustrations move from the family to the large crowd, even adults reading along with their children will get caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (January 3, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1596435399
ISBN-13: 978-1596435391


Freedom Summer

Deborah Wiles (Author), Jerome Lagarrigue (Illustrator)

In the summer of 1964, civil rights workers in Mississippi organized “Freedom Summer,” a movement to register black Americans to vote. It was a time of great racial violence and change. This story is told from the perspectives of kids. John Henry is a young African American boy who is best friends with Joe, who is white. There are many areas of town however that John Henry is restricted from going. Instead of using his white privilege and meeting up with John Henry later, as he used to, Joe decides he will only see the town the way John Henry is allowed to see it.

This is a great story with nice illustrations that has won multiple awards. I see it as an excellent book to teach white kids about our past and about making ethical choices.

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Aladdin (January 6, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 068987829X
ISBN-13: 978-0689878299


Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Doreen Rappaport (Author), Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

This multiple-award winning biography provides an introduction for kids to learn about of Martin Luther King, Jr. From his youth, he looked up to his preacher father and vowed one day to “get big words, too.” The author shares his words, combining them with her own text to tell his life story. In concluding, the author relates how MLK Jr. was killed, but points out that “His big words are alive for us today.” A chronology and bibliography provide additional resources for older readers.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (December 18, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1423106350
ISBN-13: 978-1423106357


Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story

Calvin Alexander Ramsey (Author), Bettye Stroud (Author), John Holyfield (Illustrator)

This inspiring and informative story based on fact combines animals and lovely illustrations to introduce children to some important history. Alex is a young boy in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. He sees a mule eating greens out of Miz Pettway’s garden and asks why she lets him. Miz Pettway explains that the mule, Belle, is very special and can have all she wants! Belle arrived in Gee’s Bend in 1965 at the same time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to urge them all to vote over in the town of Camden. The whites shut the ferry down so they couldn’t get there, so they went in mule-drawn carts. After Dr. King was shot, Belle and another mule named Ada were taken to Atlanta to pull his casket.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (September 13, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763640581
ISBN-13: 978-0763640583


Back of the Bus

Aaron Reynolds (Author), Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

Set on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, this story commemorates Rosa Parks’ act of defiance on a segregated bus, when she refused to move from the front of the bus where only whites were allowed. It is told from the point of view of a boy on the bus. The courage shown by Rosa Parks makes him feel strong instead of scared.

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Philomel (January 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0399250913
ISBN-13: 978-0399250910


11157509White Water

Michael S. Bandy & Eric Stein (Authors), Shadra Strickland (Illustrator)

Authors Bandy and Stein created this terrific story from one of Bandy’s childhood memories of being prohibited from drinking from a water fountain reserved for whites only. Set in the South in the early Sixties, White Water tells how a young black child, Michael, hates the taste of the water from the “colored” water fountain, and becomes obsessed with finding out what “white” water tastes like.

Reading Level: 5 – 8 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (July 14, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763679453
ISBN-13: 978-0763679453


This Is The Dream

Diane Z. Shore (Author), Jessica Alexander (Illustrator)

This powerful book takes us from Jim Crow times to the realization of rights gained through the Civil Rights movement. Although most of the story is told through the pictures, the poetic words manage to convey an enormous amount in the simple two lines that accompany each 2-page image: “These are the buses – a dime buys a ride/ but the people are sorted by color inside.” “These are the diners who sit and who wait/ at the “WHITES ONLY” counter, ignoring the hate.” “These are the marchers who forge through the street/ as they carry their message through shimmering heat.”

Reading Level: Kindergarten – 5
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Amistad; 1 edition (December 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060555211
ISBN-13: 978-0060555214


The Other Side

Jacqueline Woodson (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator)

Clover is a young black girl who is fixated on the young white girl, Annie, living on the other side of the fence separating her family’s property from theirs. Clover’s mom says it’s too dangerous to cross the fence, and it appears that Annie has gotten the same message. But neither girl can resist the natural call to get to know one another. Despite their parents’ objections, Clover and Annie become friends. Pretty soon Clover’s friends start including Annie in their games as well. “Someday,” Annie said, “somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” Clover said, “Yeah, someday.”

Nobody can tell a story like Jacqueline Woodson, and the illustrations are lovely.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (January 15, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0399231161
ISBN-13: 978-0399231162


When Grandmama Sings

Margaree King Mitchell (Author), James Ransome (Illustrator)

This is a fictional story set in the 1940’s about Belle, a young girl who accompanies her talented grandmother and her jazz band on a singing tour through Southern towns. As they travel from town to town, the author shows the different kinds of discrimination they would have faced in the Jim Crow South. Although Belle’s grandmother eventually leaves for the north, “where things were a little easier for black people,” Belle’s grandmother never loses her faith that blacks and whites can live together one day all over the country, and that, by the time Belle grows up, she will be able to follow her own dreams.

Ransome’s warm watercolors echo the warmth of the family members’ love for one another, but what is really notable for me is his use of facial expressions. They speak volumes, and kids will be able to figure out what is going on even without reading the text.

I also love the courage exhibited by Grandmama, and the unshaking faith she has that people will eventually do the right thing.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Amistad (January 3, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0688175635
ISBN-13: 978-0688175634


Ruth and the Green Book

Calvin Alexander Ramsey (Author), Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

This picture book will acquaint many readers with The Green Book, a yearly publication first available in 1936 that notified African Americans of places that would welcome black travelers. Before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, many hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, and other establishments would not serve African Americans. They needed to know where they would be welcome.

This book is an excellent way for children to understand just what “Jim Crow” was and what it meant for blacks to live under its strictures, even though they were supposed to be equal citizens. This winner of multiple awards is highly recommended.

Age Range: 6 – 9 years
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (November 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761352554
ISBN-13: 978-0761352556


22747807Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

This much-awarded book is told in the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer herself in a free verse format that includes many actual quotes from Hamer. Most of these quotations come from “An Oral History With Fannie Lou Hamer;” her biography; and her speeches. As the author explains in a Note at the end of the book, Fannie Lou Hamer was considered “the spirit, or the voice, of the civil rights movement.”

Hamer’s amazing courage and persistence in the face of very real and dangerous obstacles will impress and inspire readers who are unaware that as recently as the 1960’s, you could be signing your own death sentence in the South if you even tried to vote. She is a genuine American hero who should not be forgotten. I am so glad to see her story told for children.

Reading Level: 9 – 12 years
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (August 4, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763665312
ISBN-13: 978-0763665319



About rhapsodyinbooks

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9 Responses to Black History Month – A Selection of Picture Books for Kids on Civil Rights

  1. Sandy says:

    These books look absolutely gorgeous. You have outdone yourself with these last few Saturday features!

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    So many good books! Freedom Summer and Back of the Bus jump out at me.

  3. You have more great looking books here this week Jill! I cant keep up 🙂

  4. What a list of beautiful books! My daughter and I finished reading Glory Be (review to come) and we really liked it. It helped my daughter learn more about black segregation and the civil rights movement.

  5. zibilee says:

    Oh, these books are wonderful, but since I am a big animal lover, I think that Belle, the Last Mule is my favorite. I would love to grab a few of these for my good friend’s boys to help them gain knowledge and perspective about some of these issues, so this list and these reviews come in handy. Thanks for this post. It’s awesome!

  6. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    Martin’s Big Words is absolutely of my favorite picture books ever!

  7. Doret says:

    I also love Collier’s illustrations for Martin’s Big Words

  8. Julie P. says:

    You just put together an amazing collection of books. I feel like I should share these with Booking Son.

  9. stacybuckeye says:

    You are so awesome at keeping Gage’s library well-stocked. I’ve picked up a few you’ve recommended and will add these to his must list.

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