The best inspirational picture books on African American history

Nancy I. Sanders Author Of D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet
By Nancy I. Sanders

Who am I?

As a bestselling and award-winning KidLit author of more than 100 books, I’ve been blessed to specialize in writing for kids about the amazing and inspiring legacy of African Americans. From an alphabet book for even the youngest readers to biographies with hands-on activities for middle graders and up, both nonfiction and fiction as well, these stories are my passion because many of these individuals are my personal heroes as well. I want kids to love and honor these men and women who have made a difference in our world as much as I do!


I wrote...

D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet

By Nancy I. Sanders, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet

What is my book about?

Inspirational. Motivational. Encouraging. Empowering. D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet introduces young readers to the African American heroes and heroines, the inventors and explorers, and the leaders and influencers since our nation was born. With engaging and beautiful art by renowned children’s illustrator E.B. Lewis, this award-winning and bestselling picture book has garnered enthusiastic acclaim. Its rhyming and lyrical text are just right for even the youngest listener to learn about each topic from A-Z. Sidebars for every spread include university-level information for parents, grandparents, librarians, and educators to continue the discussion and share with older students as well. 

The books I picked & why

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The Other Side

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of The Other Side

Why this book?

I’m a big fan of the art of E. B. Lewis, especially his award-winning picture books. (He illustrated my book.) This book is one of my favorites that he’s illustrated. It’s a story about growing up. And friendship. And how kids know what’s right and wrong even if we as adults get it muddled at times.


Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

Why this book?

I love reading and learning about great achievements by amazing people. Major Taylor was one of these people whose life story is an inspiration to us all. Plus, this story about his achievement as a cyclist is exciting for kids (and adults!) to experience! You can hear the crowd roar as Major Taylor comes from behind to soar across the finish line and win!


Love Twelve Miles Long

By Glenda Armand, Colin Bootman (illustrator),

Book cover of Love Twelve Miles Long

Why this book?

The author and I live near each other and we got to know each other at local writer events. So when I heard that her book won Lee and Low’s New Voices Award, I just had to get Glenda’s book. And I did! She autographed a copy for me which I treasure. This is a tender, powerful, and inspiring picture book. It tells the true story of how Frederick Douglass’s mother would visit him. He was a young child working on a plantation. His mother lived and worked six miles away. At night, she would walk six miles through the dark woods to come to visit Frederick, then head back home before dawn. He knew his mother loved him—it was a love that stretched 12 miles long.


Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship

By Nikki Giovanni, Bryan Collier (illustrator),

Book cover of Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship

Why this book?

This is just a great book by a great author and great illustrator. It’s about the amazing and inspiring friendship of two of the most important men in the history of America. It compares and contrasts different stages of different ages of both these men and gives us a glimpse into the story behind the story of their deep friendship. Every child (and adult) should read this timeless story today.


Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

By Andrea Davis Pinkney,

Book cover of Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Why this book?

I met the author Andrea Davis Pinkney and her husband at a conference. I’ve always admired the Pinkney family and their award-winning books for children, so when Andrea shared about her book, I wanted an autographed copy for my own home library. A book for older readers, it contains the biographies of 10 amazing women who took a stand and made a difference in our world. The art is beautiful, too!


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, Frederick Douglass, and summer?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, Frederick Douglass, and summer.

African Americans Explore 435 books about African Americans
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Summer Explore 11 books about summer

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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