12 Picture Books That Celebrate Black Love
by Naima Jasmine Russell
Naima Jasmine Russell is a multi-passionate creative with a heart and an eye for capturing the majestic and the mundane. Through the lens of Naima Jasmine Photography, she elevates the simple everyday moments and finds the magic in them. On the stage, she is an award-winning actress in Atlanta, Ga. At home, she is a wife and girl mom of two who has become a champion for diverse picture books. She believes they have the power to change the next generation. To follow her journey and diversify your own children's bookshelves, follow her at @DramaMamaReads on Instagram.
I remember it was January, and it was cold. I had just finished reading A Snowy Day as a bedtime story to my little girls, and they were fast asleep. But, instead of collapsing on the couch to watch Netflix, I had a question nagging me, and I couldn’t let it go. I grabbed a notepad and a pencil, and I sat on the floor of our playroom, looking at our book collection. How many books did we have on our bookshelf with characters that looked like my kids? That shared our similar experiences and featured stories of Black joy and not Black trauma? Stories that truly inspired our learning and playtime? I would soon learn that the term for what I was seeking was “Mirror Books,” stories and characters that reflect your culture and help you build identity. After searching through stacks of bear tales, bunny adventures, and familiar classic titles, I came up with only a handful of books that fulfilled my criteria. I knew I had to make a change.
That one observation of my book inventory sent me on a mission to find more beautiful and diverse books for my girls. Today, I passionately share my love of new titles with other moms because I have witnessed the power of affirming mirror books for children.
Here are 12 diverse picture books that celebrate Black love. Some of these books are wonderful stories, some have stunning artwork, and others deliver powerful messages of affirmation and acceptance. All of them are worthy and deserve a place on your shelves! All of them can help Black and Brown children love all parts of themselves.
by Taiye Selasi, illustrated by Tinuke Fagborun
LOVE YOUR FAMILY: A little boy nicknamed Anansi, with beautiful locs and long spider-like eyelashes, goes on a beach vacation to West Africa to visit his Nana. While there, he meets the real Anansi the Spider, who teaches him a valuable lesson. Careful, this book will make you hungry! So much talk of red-red stew, fried plantains (YUM!), piles of ice cream, and fresh coconut water. Tinuke Fagborun delivers unique watercolor illustrations with Adrinka symbols woven throughout, to the authenticity of mom wearing a sleep bonnet in bed.
Best line: “‘Traditional stories are always true,’ the spider answered, laughing. ‘Nothing lasts so long as truth, nor travels quite so far.’”
by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
LOVE YOUR UNIQUENESS: I enjoyed attending a Zoom interview between my local bookstore, Brave + Kind Kids, and author Vanessa Brantley-Newton when she released this book. She is every bit as kind, gracious, and creative as one would expect from someone who writes and illustrates such vibrant and popular children's books. I love that she relies on her synesthesia, the ability to see colors with music, as the basis for creating books so that each book's color palette is inspired by a song. This sweet book is Vanessa Brantley-Newton's story of how she accepted her unique name and style of dress when she went to a new school.
Best line: “‘I gave you a name that would help you become whoever you want to be.“‘
by Megan Maynor, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
LOVE YOUR CREATIVITY: This one had us laughing from cover to cover. A little girl’s paintings come to life and rebel against her. They don't like the predictable houses she has drawn for them. Blue for the bluebird, tall for the tall bird. This book is about assumptions and not putting birds (or people) into boxes. It's subtle and funny and got my girls thinking. This one gets an A+ in our book because my oldest and I could take turns reading the different characters, and it immediately inspired her to draw her own bird drawings.
Best line: ‘“We like what we like darling, that's not difficult. It's simple!”’
by Mechal Renee Roe
LOVE YOUR HAIR: The adorable and vibrant illustrations by author/illustrator Mechal Renee Roe make this ode to Black hair visual eye-candy for little readers. The journey to hair appreciation starts during infancy for little Black girls. A book like this makes it easier and sweeter to embrace the hair rules, proper maintenance, protection, and hours of styling for our curly hair, coils, and locs. Without mirror books like Happy Hair, hair care can become frustrating and confusing when TV, movies, and other books only elevate other hair types as beautiful. The predictable pattern of naming each unique hairstyle, followed by "I love being me," makes this book easy for young kids to catch on and start repeating that powerful phrase.
Best line: “I love being me!”
by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philemona Williamson
LOVE YOUR ROAR: Lubaya means "young lioness" in Swahili, but little Lubaya doesn't possess the fierce and aggressive nature of a lion. She is quiet, doesn't raise her hand in class even if she knows the answer, and often gets bored with her brother’s video games and goes to her place behind the couch to color. One evening, as Lubaya is coloring on old protest posters, the news announces another act of injustice. Her mother says they will have to march again, and she needs the posters that Lubaya has drawn on the back of. When the family joins a protest, everyone admires Lubaya's drawings. She makes an impact just by being herself. This book is special because children need to see characters with different emotional temperaments, neuro-abilities, and life situations.
Best line: “Lubaya's roar may not be loud, but a quiet roar can make history.”
by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
LOVE STRONG WOMEN: This is the picture book biography Nina Simone – American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist – deserves. With Christian Robinson's bold, collage-style illustrations and Traci Todd's concise and powerful text, readers will get a comprehensive biography of this beloved Black figure. Playing the piano shaped her life, and I love how Christian Robinson incorporates a piano on almost every page while still capturing the essence of the text. In this book, we see that the piano is an extension of Ms. Simone's world and her heart. Seeing her playing piano while flames from the 1963 Birmingham church bombing pour out of the lid with the four little Black girls that were killed at her side is jaw-dropping.
Best line: “Nina Simone sang the whole story of Black America. And when she sang of Black children – you lovely, precious dreams – her voice sounded like hope.”
by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
LOVE YOUR HISTORY: It’s impossible to convey how important and rare this book is. It begins with a little girl’s shame at being unable to trace her history back several generations, like her classmates. I know this scenario well, and I know I'm not alone. When the little girl tells her grandmother her troubles, Grandma gathers the family and tells the story of their true lineage. Most Black children have grown up hearing that their history starts with enslavement; there was no clear picture of life before the auction block. Sweeping, ethereal illustrations by Nikkolas Smith take us into a world before the Middle Passage—a colorful, joy-filled world in Africa. Authors Nikole Hannah-Jones’ and Renée Watson's all-encompassing poetry and Smith's passionate brushstrokes take us through the brutal crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, into the early days of Virginian plantation life, and the birth of the first Black child born in America. This book is at once inspiring and heartbreaking, but it is necessary because it rewrites the narrative that African Americans have a shameful past. Simply beautiful.
Best line: “...and that's why people say, ‘we were born on the water.’ We come from the people who refused to die.”
by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
LOVE YOUR DREAMS: As someone who grew up in a city, this book speaks to my heart. I played outside until the streetlights came on, I drew on the sidewalk with chalk, I learned to Double Dutch, I sat in the local library and read stacks of books, and I saw the seniors sit outside and watch the world go by. Dream Street is based on the street where the author and illustrator – real-life cousins – grew up in Boston. The book’s message tells us that on Dream Street, everyone's dreams get nourished, and children are encouraged to reach for them. The collages by award-winning visual artist Euka Holmes are a thing of beauty. Each of them could be a print for your wall. This one is not to be missed.
Best line: “Don't wait to have a great day, Create One!”
by Dapo Adeola
LOVE YOUR LIFE: Dapo Adeola's unique and uplifting book starts as a quiet whisper from a parent to a newborn, followed by the life wisdom a loving caretaker would want to pass down to a Black Child. Familiar principles like “love your beautiful skin,” “you always have a choice,” “you stand on the shoulders of greatness” become even more special because each page is illustrated by a different artist. This collaboration between Adeola and 18 Black illustrators is fresh and unique. One page depicts a little girl in a library reading a book where neither the people nor the stories reflect her. The illustrations show her imagining herself as the heroine of Little Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland. This was so powerful because Black children have had to insert themselves into stories of joy, hope, and fun for so long.
Best line: ‘“You are wonderful. I hope that you never lose sight of the wonder that is you...even though the world won’t always let you see it.”’
by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
LOVE YOUR GOODNESS: You've probably seen this book everywhere. The bold, red cover and shiny, gold lettering are hard to miss. Affirmation books should be a part of every child's personal library so that they hear and see positive statements on repeat. The hope is that they internalize these words and drown out damaging self-talk. This powerful book does just that. It shoots down the many harmful stereotypes about Black and Brown boys. With "I AM" statements on each page, this book is a little boy’s affirmation of his goodness, intellect, politeness, vulnerability, and so much more. It is also important for other races and genders to read books like this.
Best line: “I am not what they might call me, and I will not answer to any name that is not my own. I am what I say I am.”
by Leah Henderson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
LOVE YOUR DAD: When I say I want our bookshelves lined with mirror books for our family, that includes books that celebrate Black fathers—especially girl dads. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations paint a diverse group of fathers offering a heartfelt love letter to their children. Each dad in this book speaks words of love, wisdom, hope, and dreams for a better and more equal world. When Gianna Floyd spoke of her father, George Floyd's tragic passing, she said, “Daddy changed the world,” and the inspiration for this book was born.
Best line: “When my Daddy speaks LOVE, he teaches love too. ‘Speak your mind, baby bird, and remember – I've got you.’”
by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
LOVE YOUR VOICE: This book by Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet laureate in U.S. history, was highly anticipated, and it does not disappoint. Loren Long, one of my favorite children's book illustrators, crafts moving portraits and kaleidoscope murals in a city being changed by children. Gorman's rhyming anthem is easily memorized and is a powerful suggestion that even the youngest can create the world they want to live in.
Best line: “Change sings where? There! Inside me. Because I'm the change I want to see.”
*Blog Link: www.babybookworms.blogspot.ca