Beyond Slavery and Civil Rights: Nonfiction Picture Books about African-Americans #nfpb10for10


Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine, Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and Julie Balen at Writing at the Edge are hosting the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 event. If you’re participating in Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this year, today’s event is a wonderful resource for discovering new titles.

nonfiction picture book challenge button

My list was inspired by my desire to locate nonfiction picture books about African-Americans to share with my sons. My older son is very frustrated by Black History Month (the only time of the year when the contributions of African-Americans are mentioned at his school) and by his teachers’ relentless focus on slavery and Civil Rights. Book about slavery and the Civil Rights movement are absolutely essential, and there are many wonderful books that share important stories of African-Americans fighting for freedom and equal rights. But black children–all children–need to read other true stories of African-American accomplishments and lives as well. The books on my list don’t downplay the realities of life before the Civil Rights movement. Oppression and prejudice haunt many of these stories–sometimes very explicitly–but these books present a much broader, more diverse history of African-Americans than my son is learning in school. So this list is for him.

Beyond Slavery and Civil Rights: Nonfiction Picture Books about African-Americans 

when the beat was born

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop, written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Hill’s book tells the story of Clive Campbell, a DJ who called himself Kool Herc, who was a hip-hop pioneer in his use of two turntables and calling out the names of his friends during breaks. Taylor received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for his work illustrating the story. You can find out more about him and his work in this profile at The Brown Bookshelf.

splash of red

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is the story of self-taught African-American artist Horace Pippin, who overcame serious challenges to be an artist. The book recently won the Schneider Family Book Award Honor Book and the Orbis Pictus Award and was named a Sibert Honor Book. Jen Bryant links to numerous resources about the book on her website. There is also a wonderful interview with author and illustrator at Two Writing Teachers.

dave the potter

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier, tells the story of Dave, a potter who lived in South Carolina in the 19th century, created amazing pots, and carved poems onto his work. He was a slave, but that’s not the focus of this story. This is the story of a great artist, fittingly illustrated by a great artist. Collier shared his process for illustrating Dave the Potter on The Brown Bookshelf. This book was also named a Caldecott Honor Book. A very sincere thank you to the 2011 Caldecott committee for recognizing the work of an African-American illustrator!

harlem's little blackbirdHarlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is the story of Florence Mills, who was a famous singer during the Harlem Renaissance. Christian Robinson shared his process for illustrating Harlem’s Little Blackbird at The Brown Bookshelf. There is also a nice interview–heavily illustrated!–at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. An interview with Renee Watson focuses on two of her previous books.


Christian Robinson also illustrates Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell. Be sure to check out the lively book trailer:


Wilma Unlimited, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz, is the incredible story of Wilma Rudolph, who contracted polio as a child and was not even expected to be able to walk again. She didn’t just walk; she ran–all the way to three Olympic gold medals in the 1960 Olympics.

she loved baseball

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Don Tate, is the story of team owner and manager Effa Manley, the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hame of Fame. Manley was a tireless advocate for her players.

we are the ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, written and marvelously illustrated by the brilliant Kadir Nelson, makes a great pairing with She Loved Baseball.

farmer will allen

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Eric Shabazz Larkin, tells the story of Will Allen, who bought a Milwaukee city lot and turned the unprepossessing spot into an incredible urban farm. Eric Shabazz Larkin shares his process for illustrating this book at The Brown Bookshelf.

bring me some apples

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You A Pie: A Story of Edna Lewis, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley, is inspired by chef Edna Lewis’s childhood. Lewis is known for her focus on regional cooking and fresh ingredients. This book follows young Edna through a growing season. 

I have set the challenge to read 90 nonfiction picture books to my son this year that are about African-Americans but not centrally about slavery or Civil Rights. Throughout the year, I plan to compile 8 more lists of the books I share with him.

10 thoughts on “Beyond Slavery and Civil Rights: Nonfiction Picture Books about African-Americans #nfpb10for10

  1. What a great list. I requested some of these titles I haven’t read from my public library. Dave the Potter is a book I’ve had on my TBR for a while. Thanks for all of the back story too about so many of these books!

    • Dave the Potter is so beautifully done by Collier, one of my very favorite artists. My libraries don’t have many books about African-Americans that aren’t focused on the two time periods and experiences I’m trying to avoid, so I suspect I will be purchasing a lot of books this year!

  2. What a great list! I love Melissa Sweet’s work, but haven’t seen A Splash of Red yet, and I’m looking forward to reading Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story of Edna Lewis. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 2/24/14 #imwayr | the dirigible plum

  4. Pingback: Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10: Living a Creative Life #nfpb10for10 | the dirigible plum

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