The best award-winning and brilliantly illustrated children’s books on African American history

Laura Freeman Author Of Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon
By Laura Freeman

Who am I?

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work has been recognized with an NAACP Image Award, reached the New York Times Best Seller List, been honored by the Society of Illustrators, the Georgia Center For The Book, and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration. She has illustrated over thirty children’s books, most of them biographies.

I illustrated...

Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Laura Freeman (illustrator),

Book cover of Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon

What is my book about?

Philip Freelon's grandfather was an acclaimed painter of the Harlem Renaissance. His father was a successful businessman who attended the 1963 March on Washington.

When Phil decided to attend architecture school, he created his own focus on African American and Islamic designers. He later chose not to build casinos or prisons, instead of concentrating on schools, libraries, and museums–buildings that connect people with heritage and fill hearts with joy. And in 2009, Phil's team won a commission that let him use his personal history in service to the country's: the extraordinary Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

By Tom Feelings,

Book cover of The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

Why this book?

This stunning book was published in 1995, but it is still one of my favorites. Tom Feelings’ black and white illustrations are haunting and powerful. It wordlessly tells and shows the story of the tortuous journey of the slaves brought from Africa to the Americas. Words are not needed with images this powerful.

Freedom in Congo Square

By Carole Boston Weatherford, R. Gregory Christie (illustrator),

Book cover of Freedom in Congo Square

Why this book?

This brilliant book tells the story of a lesser-known piece of African American history. Congo Square in New Orleans was a place where slaves were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music...but only on Sundays for half a day. If you ever feel down this is a reminder of how indomitable the human spirit can be in the face of unspeakable adversity.

Let the Children March

By Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of Let the Children March

Why this book?

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book portrays the story and the outcome of thousands of African American children who volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. I think it will be inspiring to children to find out that kids their own age were so brave and were able to make a significant impact on our history.

The Undefeated

By Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Undefeated

Why this book?

So gorgeous! The wonderful poetry and masterful images will surely open up a discussion about the many African Americans portrayed in the masterful illustrations. There is an afterward at the end that gives a little bit of information about the figures portrayed which, I hope will lead you and your kids to investigate your favorites further. Also, Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators of all time!

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper (illustrator),

Book cover of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Why this book?

I consider this book to be the late Floyd Cooper’s masterpiece. The illustrations are as powerful as the story. News of this incident was suppressed and it took 75 years for an official investigation into this tragedy to come out. The front endpaper shows a birds-eye view of the thriving African American community before the massacre and the back endpapers show an actual photograph of the same community afterward. What comes between is haunting and masterfully told.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, violence, and Louisiana?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, violence, and Louisiana.

African Americans Explore 435 books about African Americans
Violence Explore 33 books about violence
Louisiana Explore 52 books about Louisiana

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Day You Begin, Hands Around the Library, and So Much! if you like this list.