While there is still progress to be made, Black representation has been increasing in all forms of media in the past several decades. While representation in visual media like TV and movies is important, all parents know the power of books.
While representation is more evident in visual media like movies and TV shows, all parents know the importance of books. Books are vitally important tools for parents to help their children grow intellectually and emotionally and it’s important for representation to be apparent in this space as well. Luckily, we’ve seen more and more Black characters star in children’s books, with over 12% of children’s books starring African American characters in 2019, compared to 3.3% in 2012.
Why Representation Matters
The phrase “representation matters” has been used fairly often in recent years to promote the idea that people, especially children, benefit from seeing people that look like them and their loved ones in the stories that they are being told or watching. While the blanket term touches on representation for everyone including LGBTQIA+, disabled people, women, and other minority groups, it has been found that seeing someone that looks like them in the “hero” role is especially important for children of color.
A 2012 study explored the self-esteem of 400 children, both Black and Caucasian, after watching TV.The only children who didn’t suffer from lower self-esteem were the white boys, as they were the only group that had the most common positive portrayal on TV. Meanwhile, the Black children were being affected by the portrayal of people that look like them being negative, as the study notes, “Black male characters are disproportionately shown as buffoons, or as menacing and unruly youths, and Black female characters are typically shown as exotic and sexually available.” Children learn what they can and cannot do through examples, even in fiction, so finding representation in a positive light is just as important as steering clear of negative stereotypes in the media and books.
For more on why representation matters in children’s media, check out this video from MPAC National!
Our List of Best Children’s Books
Here is HAPPÉ Life’s list of best children’s books with Black heroes!
- Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! By: Ruth Spiro
This adorable book follows a little girl discovering all things that fly including birds, planes, and rockets in a fun, colorful story that will encourage your little one’s curiosity.
- Peekaboo Morning By: Rachel Isadora
What child doesn’t love peekaboo? This book will surely entertain your own toddler as it follows the main character, who is also a toddler, through their morning with their family. Plus, the gorgeous illustrations and big text will draw your child in to read it again and again.
- Baby Botanist By: Dr. Laura Gehl
Discover the fun science behind plants with your little one through this colorful children’s book! Dr. Gehl explains how plants grow in simple, easy to understand terms for your child, while fun illustrations keep them drawn in.
- I Can Do It Too! By: Karen Baicker
Learning to become independent in small, everyday tasks is a big deal for a toddler, including the main character in I Can Do It Too! The book depicts a grown up on one page doing something like pouring juice, and then shows the little girl trying her best to do it too, even if it doesn’t always work the first time.
- One Love By: Cedella Marley
Inspired by the popular Bob Marley song, and written by his daughter, this children’s book is all about fostering community and positive relationships with your friends and neighbors. Follow along as a fun, young girl comes together with her friends to create a community park that they name One Love Park.
- Big Hair, Don’t Care By: Crystal Swain-Bates
In this book, you and your child will meet Lola, a little Black girl with not so little hair. While her hair might present some silly challenges that will get your little one giggling, she also promotes positivity and confidence with her chant “big hair, don’t care!”
- Last Stop on Market Street By: Matt de la Pe’a
In this award-winning children’s book, a curious Black boy and his grandmother discuss finding beauty and joy in every situation. It also explores socioeconomic situations by having the main character ask why they take the bus when other kids have cars. He learns about the positive aspects of their routines.
- The King of Kindergarten By: Derrick Barnes
Perfect for those kids who are a little nervous about starting school, The King of Kindergarten is about a little boy who gains the confidence he needs to go to his first day, after his mom tells him that he will surely be the “king of kindergarten.” This book is a good reminder to kids to be brave and kind, even when they’re away from their parents at school.
Ages 5 & Up:
- Cool Cuts By: Mechal Renee Roe
The affirmation “I am born to be awesome!” is a repeated theme in this book celebrating hair, particularly the various kinds of hair textures and styles that Black boys have. Dive into looking at all sorts of hair – twists, braids, waves, afros, and more in a fun, encouraging way!
- The Colors of Us By: Karen Katz
In The Colors of Us, Lena and her mother help us discover all the different shades of brown there are through the things she finds in her neighborhood like honey and chocolate. This helps Lena, and your child, understand the fun and unique colors that make up our skin and celebrate it!
- Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis By: Jabari Asim
In this gorgeously illustrated children’s book, a young John Lewis is trying out his preaching skills on his family’s flock of chickens. Not only does the book teach about confidence and finding your passion, it serves as an introduction to Civil Rights leaders.
- Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment By: Parker Curry, Jessica Curry
Based on the viral picture taken of Parker Curry looking at the portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, this delightful book shares the story of that day. The visuals tell a story of Parker’s imagination running wild looking at the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, and then of Parker imagining what her future could be, prompted by the image of Mrs. Obama.
Why These Books are for Everyone
These best children’s books not only feature positive Black characters but teach valuable lessons for all kids like confidence, kindness, compassion, and empathy in a fun and stimulating way. Reading books that have diverse characters to your children opens them up to different perspectives and experiences that can shape their attitudes toward others who are different than them. Including characters with different skin tones, races, religions, cultures, and traditions also encourage kids to look at our differences in a positive way and recognize our similarities as human beings.
Your child can be the hero of their own story with HAPPÉ Life’s Mission I’m Possible! This free online program is designed to help children understand and master their emotions through fun micro-lessons, or “Top Secret Missions” that are sent straight to your email.