African American Experience: New and favorite children’s books

Build a House

Our selection includes stories of dedication, creativity and dreams to become a female astronaut, famous athletes and artists, a school principal, protests against segregation and discrimination, dark days of enslaved African Americans, and a fierce optimism to not only survive, but thrive.

The history of African Americans is the history of the United States, and global history that connects many countries.


  • Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens
  • Children’s book and video by singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens.
    A family who would not be moved, and music that sustained them.

  • “I wrote my song and put my story down.”
  • Watch video and listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing the story of Build a House
  • Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, Jacqueline Alcantara
  • On New Year’s Day, Belle and her grandmother dance and chop vegetables, while Ti Gran tells the story of slaves fighting for freedom in Haiti.
  • Captivating illustrations, delicious recipe for freedom soup, put on some music and cook to the beat! (Picture book)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • I am born not long from the time
    or far from the place
    my great-grandparents
    worked the deep rich land

    I am born in Ohio but
    the stories of South Carolina run
    like rivers
    through my veins
  • Jacqueline Woodson grew up between the South and North, segregation and Civil Rights, rural South Carolina and urban New York City.
  • Exceptional storytelling of her childhood, filled with fireflies, lemon-chiffon ice cream, fresh picked melons in summer with her grandparents, merengue dancing and soul music, elementary school that takes up a whole city block, and dreams of becoming a writer. And what a writer (and poet) she is! (Chapter book)
  • When I sit beneath
    the shade of my block’s oak tree
    the world disappears
  • Carrimebac, the Town That Walked by David Barclay Moore
  • “Carry me back to where I was born, where all of us come from.”
  • Original tale with history and magic, old grandmother Rootilla and her grandson Julius come to a small town.
    When fearful people try to burn the town down, Julius walks entire village to the ocean. (Picture book)
  • A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, Floyd Cooper
  • Summer of 1963. A big bright amusement park in Baltimore has rides, games, a carousel. And rules about who can come into the park – no African Americans allowed.
  • On July 5, black and white people protested the segregated amusement park and were arrested, but the protests worked. Author Sharon Langley and her family were the first African Americans to walk into Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, and she rode the carousel. (Picture book)
  • Tip: The carousel from the amusement park was relocated, and is now on the National Mall in Washington DC.
  • Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, Stasia Burrington
  • Inspiring story of Mae Jemison, who is the first African American woman in space.
  • Asked in school what she wanted to be when she grew up, Mae said, “I want to go to space. I want to be an astronaut.” And she did, waving to her parents from space. (Picture book)
  • Tip: Mae also went to Stanford, then medical school for an MD, and worked with the Peace Corps in Africa, before joining NASA.
  • Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin, Felicia Marshall
  • Growing up, Laura loved the color brown and loved to paint. Laura dreamed of going to museums where she would see portraits of people with brown skin, like her.
  • After attending a famous art school in the US and painting in Paris, in 1944 Laura was commissioned to paint portraits of famous African Americans, including the famous singer Marian Anderson. (Picture book)
  • In the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, look for Laura Wheeling Waring paintings of Marian Anderson and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
  • The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Brian Collier
  • In New Orleans, Shorty and his friends are the 5 O’Clock Band, they get together to play music every afternoon downtown. After missing a performance with the band, Shorty wonders what it takes to be a great bandleader.
  • Walking through the French Quarter, he meets Tuba Treme and Queen Lola, and learns about playing with love, dedication and tradition. Vibrant two page illustrations, music and New Orleans come alive. (Picture book)
  • Sweet Dreams, Sarah by Vivian Kirkfield, Chris Ewald
  • Born as a slave, after the Civil War Sarah Goode migrated to Chicago. She set up her own furniture business, but discovered her customers lived in tiny apartments, and needed furniture that didn’t take up space. Sarah started to work creating a bed that would fold-up.
  • Sarah E Goode was the first African American woman to receive a patent for an invention in 1885! (Picture book)
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
  • It’s 1946, eleven year old Langston and his dad move from rural Alabama to Chicago. Amidst big city noise and loneliness, Langston takes refuge in the Chicago public library, open to everyone, and discovers his namesake, the famous black poet Langston Hughes. (Chapter book)
  • I pick up my life
    And take it with me
    And I put it down in
    Chicago, Detroit,
    Buffalo, Scranton.
  • Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl by Tonya Bolden
  • Maritcha Lyons was born free in 1848, attended school and lived with her middle class African American family (who helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad) in New York City.
  • To attend a high school not open to African Americans, 16 year old Maritcha spoke in front of the Rhode Island state legislature, and took a grueling examination, which she passed. She went on to fifty years in education, as a teacher and school principal. (Picture book)
  • Tip: Book includes essay she wrote and read at her graduation from high school, May 1869.
  • Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, Cozbi A. Cabrera
  • Story of Gwendolyn Brooks, first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
  • She grew up with books, and started writing poetry as a child. Even when times were hard, she always kept writing. She was inspired by what she saw and heard in the street, and she wrote powerful poems about life in South Side Chicago. Fabulous illustrations capture the imagination and commitment of this remarkable woman. (Picture book)
  • Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bilner, John Parra
  • In New Orleans, Marvelous Cornelius is a garbage truck driver, he sings and dances up and down the streets, he’s a one-man parade with people following behind.
  • Then came Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans flooded in a sea of mush and mud, the amount of trash was immense! Every morning, Cornelius brought his truck and tossed in garbage, everyone in the neighborhood helped too. Then volunteers came from other cities to help with the cleanup, thousands, millions of people.
  • Marvelous Cornelius cheered “Hootie Hoo!” and New Orleans rose up again. (Picture book)
  • What Was the March on Washington? by Kathleen Krull
  • Read about this historic 1963 March, in support of equal rights for black Americans.
  • More than 250,000 people gathered between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, to hear from speakers, including Martin Luther King Dr., who gave his speech for the ages “I Have a Dream.” (Illustrated chapter book)
  • Maya: My First Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser, Leire Salaberria
  • “Her words taught people that you can be anything you want to be.”
  • Maya Angelou was a famous poet, writer, activist, she loved books and reading out loud. She was a cook, a streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, spoke many languages and traveled the world. She gave everyone hope. (Board book)
  • The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
  • This is for the unforgettable
    The swift and sweet ones
    Who hurdled history
    and opened a world
    of possible.
  • Winner of 2020 Caldecott Medal, The Undefeated is a poem to black America, to everyday people, dreamers, the greatest artists, athletes, musicians, Civil Rights activists, to those who survived, and those who didn’t, and to the endurance and spirit of past and present. (Picture book)

Tip: Seven of these books – Brown Girl Dreaming, The March on Washington, Maya: My First Maya Angelou, The 5 O’Clock Band, Mae Among the Stars, Exquisite: The Life and Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Marvelous Cornelius – have been banned or challenged in some classrooms and libraries in America.