Black Boys in Literature Book List

Posted by Kathie Clements and Tasha Jackson-Jones on 7/16/19 1:30 PM

Inspired by The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys, we created a study group at our school called “Black Boys and Literature.” The teachers in our group worked with children ranging from two-year-olds to middle school grades, including classroom teachers, a drama teacher, and our Primary School librarian. An experienced group of educators, we were a diverse bunch representing many identities. Our common goal was to explore how to best support our Black boys through literature.

We discussed how important it is for Black boys to see and hear positive reflections of themselves in literature. Teachers brought in familiar books from their own classroom collections, as well as new discoveries. Members showed books they had read to their students and told about successful follow-up activities. Book talks about books from our school library helped us become aware of the quality and number of books readily available to us. Many participants were surprised to discover that books by authors known for their positive portrayals of Black characters still needed to be carefully examined. For example, while Ezra Jack Keats has written many wonderful books celebrating Black boys, the poor, Black neighborhood depicted in his book, Goggles, promotes a negative stereotype.

From these discussions we developed a list of criteria, based on recommendations in The Guide and other resources, that could serve as a tool for teachers, parents, and librarians to evaluate text and illustrations. Our criteria include:

  • Black characters should be portrayed as individuals, not as a representation of a group.
  • Black characters and illustrations should be authentic and transcend stereotypes.
  • Black culture should be accurately and positively presented.
  • Preschool–Kindergarten books should contain Black characters experiencing everyday activities, having fun adventures, and spending time with family.
  • 1st–2nd Grade books should expose young Black boys to images of themselves and positive Black male role models.
  • 3th–5th Grade books should provide authentic and diverse stories, voices, and images of Black boys and men. These texts should give children language to talk about race, as well as differences and similarities to normalize these conversations.

After establishing the criteria, our study group worked with the Primary School librarian to create a list of books that meet the standards we set out.

We hope the list below continues to grow and expand, and we invite you to add books that you discover to help us support our Black boys develop strong positive racial identities and foster their academic growth.

Books for Black Boys (Preschool–5th Grade)

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats (Preschool and up)
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña (Preschool–K)
Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora (Preschool–K)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Preschool–K)
I Am So Brave by Stephen Krensky (Preschool–K)    
I Know A Lot! by Stephen Krensky (Preschool–K)
Jacob Lawrence in the City by Susan Goldman Rubin (Preschool–K)
Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke (Preschool–Grade 1)  
I Love You More Than... by Taye Diggs (Preschool–Grade 1)
Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin (Preschool–Grade 1)
Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty (Preschool–Grade 1)
Bibbity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley (Preschool–Grade 1)  
Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper (Preschool–Grade 2)
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs (Preschool–Grade 2)   
Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame (Preschool–Grade 2)
Pet Show by Ezra Jack Keats (Preschool–Grade 2)
Goodnight Hockey Fans by Andrew Larsen (Preschool–Grade 2)    
Eight Candles and a Tree by Simone Bloom Nathan (Preschool–Grade 2)
Lizard from the Park by Mark Pett (Preschool–Grade 2)      
Shades of Black by Sandra L. Pinkney (Preschool–Grade 2)     
Looking for Bongo by Eric Velasquez (Preschool–Grade 2)
The Ring Bearer by Floyd Cooper (Preschool–Grade 3)
The Bat Boy and His Violin by Gavin Curtis (Preschool–Grade 3)
A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats (Preschool–Grade 3)
Don't Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler (K–Grade 2)
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown (K–Grade 2)
Uptown by Bryan Collier (K–Grade 2)
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (K–Grade 2)
More-Igami by Dori Kleber (K–Grade 2)        
Max Speed by Stephen Shaskan (K–Grade 2)
Seeing into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright by Nina Crews and Richard Wright (K–Grade 3)
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner (Grades 1–2)
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes (Grades 1–3)    
Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue (Grades 1–3)
Grandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin (Grades 1–3)
Grandma's Records by Eric Velasquez (Grades 1–3) 
Whoosh by Chris Barton (Grades 2–5)

Please add your book suggestions in the comment section below!

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Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Reading and Books, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Kathie Clements and Tasha Jackson-Jones

Written by Kathie Clements and Tasha Jackson-Jones

Lowell School Teachers