Book Covers of Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, Viola Desmond Won't Budge by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki and Nana's Cold Days


10 Books for Kids to Mark Black History Month

Feb 4, 2014

February is Black History Month, and what better way to mark this month than with books that celebrate accomplishments by people of African descent from around the world.

In the 10 books below, you'll find stories that entertain, inspire, celebrate, inform and foster a sense of pride and feature strong black characters. 

Play Mas'! A Carnival ABC (Written by Dirk McLean, Illustrated by Ros Stone)

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With vibrant illustrations and alliterative text, Play Mas'! A Carnival ABC is a joyful celebration of the traditions of Carnival. For each letter of the alphabet, the text describes the lively goings-on of the illustrations. Readers will delight in searching each illustration for as many items as they can that begin with each letter. An introductory note from the author explains the origins and customs of Carnival time in the Caribbean. Notes at the end give even more detail about what is found in each illustration. Ages 2 to 5.

Where Is the Star? (Written by Kathy Knowles)

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Using vibrant photographs, concept book Where Is The Star? helps little readers learn their shapes while celebrating everyday life in Ghana. It is one of many books in a series developed by the OSU Children's Library Fund, an organization devoted to promoting reading for all in Africa. Ages 2 to 5.

Nana's Cold Days (by Adwoa Badoe, illustrated by Bushra Junaid)

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In Nana's Cold Days, Nana steps off a plane from Africa into a cold, cold North American winter. She finds it "too cold for living things," so she goes straight to bed and buries herself under three sheets, three blankets and three comforters. The family can't get her to get out of bed for anything — not for the high life music she loves, not for palaver sauce and not for plantains. But when she comes down with the croup, she finds her own solution to the problem, bringing the story to a delightful conclusion. Ages 3 to 6. 

Nappy Hair (Written by Carolivia Herron, Illustrated by Joe Cepeda) 

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Little Brenda has the nappiest hair in the family. Everyone agrees. During a backyard picnic, the family appear to be making fun of Brenda's hair, but in reality they're admiring it and exploring its origins. Based on a story actually told at the author's family gathering, and told in the call and response format, Nappy Hair is a celebration of natural beauty. Ages 3 to 7. 

You'll Also Love: In This Family We Speak Aloud That We’re Black And We’re Proud

Nelson Mandela (Written by Kadir Nelson)

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Your children will likely have heard the name Nelson Mandela many times. This beautifully illustrated book by Kadir Nelson offers an engaging and approachable introduction to the life of the man who inspired people all over the world. Nelson's narrative is easy to get into, giving a glimpse into Mandela's upbringing and the struggles that faced the people of South Africa. Note that Nelson Mandela was written before Mandela passed away in December, 2013. Ages 4 to 8. 

All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy's Steam Train (Written by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Bill Slavin)

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Elijah McCoy, the son of freed slaves, grew up in Colchester, Ontario, and dreamed of becoming a mechanical engineer. He studied engines in Scotland, and when he was hired by the Michigan Central Railroad, he thought he was on his way to achieving his dream. Instead he was hired to be an ashcat, shovelling coal into the firebox and greasing the engine. It wasn't what he had expected, but because of that experience and his fertile mind full of ideas, he one day developed an oil cup that would make rail travel safer and more reliable. With an easy to follow narrative, All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy's Steam Train makes a great introduction to biographies for young readers. Ages 5 to 8. 

The Orphan Boy (Written by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by Paul Morin)

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An old man longs for a child. One night, Kileken, an orphan boy, comes to him. Somehow he's able to take on all the old man's chores and he brings him great prosperity. How he does it is a secret that Kileken guards carefully. But when the old man discovers his secret, the boy is gone forever. Based on a Massai legend, The Orphan Boy is about strength, love and trust. Illustrator Paul Morin travelled to Africa to research the characters and the result is a series of evocative paintings. Ages 5 to 8. 

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged! (Written by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki)

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Viola Desmond is a household name nowadays, because she may be as important to the civil rights movement in Canada as Rosa Parks was in the United States. In 1946 Nova Scotia, Viola was asked to move from her seat in a theatre to a less desirable section set aside for black patrons. She offered to pay the full price for her ticket, but she refused to move seats. As a result she was arrested. Her case would go all the way to the Supreme Court and inspired an entire community. Written in an approachable style, and accompanied by warm and vibrant illustrations, Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged! is a book every Canadian child should read. Ages 5 to 9. 

A Good Trade (Written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Karen Patkau)

At the break of dawn, young Kato rises and heads out beyond the gates of his Ugandan village to collect the day's water from the village well. When he returns home, he finds that the aid workers have arrived with a wonderful load in their truck. He's so grateful for the truck's cargo, he rushes to his garden to find something very special to trade for what they've received. While the text is quite simple, A Good Trade is better suited to school-aged children who will be better able to understand the content. A lot of discussion will come from the text and its illustrations. Ages 5+. 

Music From the Sky (Written by Denise Gillard, illustrated by Stephen Taylor)

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The young girl of Music From The Sky is skeptical when her grandfather announces that they're going to make a flute together. The girl is pretty sure he's pulling her leg. "I've seen the long, shiny silver flute sounding so pretty, just like music from the sky," she says. "You can't make a flute, can you, Gramps?" Off they go to find the perfect tree branch for Grandpa to whittle into a flute. It's a sweet intergenerational story. Ages 6+.

Article Author Tamara Sztainbok
Tamara Sztainbok

Tamara Sztainbok is the mother of two school-aged children. A children's book editor with Scholastic Canada, she believes anything you ever need to know you can learn from a children's book. She also runs Puzzle Box Communications, providing communication services to small businesses. She writes about adult books on her ClubMom blog, Turning Pages. Follow her on Twitter @PuzzleBoxCom. Opinions expressed here are Tamara's alone.

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