As a former full-time elementary classroom teacher, I absolutely loved this time of the year. It is a moment when we pause and think about lessons of kindness, of peaceful protest, and of marches meant to make way for a better life for all people.
January recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Black History Month coming up in February. During this time of year, my students would share their dreams for the world as we listened to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” I would also share special books and writings about MLK and other Black men and women famous for politics, theater, sports, science, and technology.
While my own kids are not my students, I realize the importance of teaching them about acceptance and love for all people — no matter their skin color. Unfortunately in the last several months, we have been reminded again that while progress for equality has been made, we still have a long way to go.
It is my hope that I can educate my own kids about equality and remind them of the stories of Black individuals who have made great contributions to society. I can do this through books. I realize as a white woman, I cannot begin to understand the daily strife people of color face, but I can do my best to teach acceptance and understanding and most of all, love. I truly believe love conquers all.
The following list of books are appropriate for all ages, but more specifically for elementary students. These can all be found at your local libraries, online, or at your local bookstores.
5 Books That Teach Children About Black Leaders
Martin’s Big Words
Written by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
This book is a beautiful biography of the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream changed America for the better. What I love about this book is the way the author tells the story of Dr. King’s life and life in America when MLK was growing up, but also intertwines the words from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Another beautiful aspect of this book are the illustrations. They are so vivid and detailed.
By Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
The next book I want to share with you is Rosa. This is a lovely book that tells the story of Rosa Parks as she sits in the “whites only” section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It details how Rosa’s brave move started the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lead to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was illegal. Just like in Martin’s Big Words, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and visually tell the story of Rosa Parks.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This book shares the story of Harriet Tubman and her incredible bravery in leading slaves north to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad during the dark period of slavery in our country. This captivating book uses very lyrical text and is absolutely captivating. It is a beautiful tribute to the woman they nicknamed Moses as she lead her people to freedom.
Through My Eyes
By Ruby Bridges
This beautiful memoir shares the story of Ruby Bridges, a first grader who is the first Black child to attend an all white elementary school when Louisiana schools became integrated. This book shares photographs and the story is told from the perspective of Ruby herself. This book is better suited for middle to upper elementary, but definitely provides good discussion points for even younger elementary aged kids.
Counting on Katherine
By Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
This book details the life of Katherine Johnson, a female mathematician, who was one of Nasa’s “human computers” who worked using math to put American astronauts in space. She was one of the first female mathematicians who worked alongside white men in the space race. Her courageous work launched the Apollo space missions and brought the astronauts of Apollo 13 home safely after an explosion. The book reminds us to never give up on our dreams and helps us to see how math can be used in very awesome ways.
These are just a few of the amazing books for kids that highlight the accomplishments of Black leaders. There are so many more books out there that not only share accomplishments of Black leaders, but also teach us how to talk to our kids about race.
May we become a country of acceptance, peace, and – most importantly – love for all people.