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

The Books I Picked & Why

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.

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Freedom in Congo Square

By Carole Boston Weatherford, R. Gregory Christie

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.

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Let the Children March

By Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison

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.

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The Undefeated

By Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson

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!

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Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper

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.

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