What’s on your shopping list for the children you love this very special season? I encourage parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and adults everywhere to give children the gift of books. The right book can spark a lifelong love of reading and open up a whole new world for a child or teenager that will last far longer than a toy. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) has a special list to share of books every Black child and, in fact, every child should read. We want to share wonderful books about all the children who make up our beautiful rainbow human species and hear from you about books that transformed your life as a child.

The CDF Freedom Schools® program is built around a superb collection of diverse books that reflect a wide variety of cultures and experiences. For some children the Freedom Schools curriculum is the first time they’ve seen books with characters who look like them. For others the storylines draw them in, teach them about moments in history they may not have studied in school, and make them fall in love with reading in ways they’ve never experienced. Children of color and children born with a rich diversity of special characteristics and needs must be able to see themselves in the books they read and be exposed to a wide range of books reflective of the nation and world we all share.

The reflection of the Black experience through books on the list below represents just one of many paths towards ensuring all children read books reflecting the full rainbow of our children’s faces, cultures, and needs, including the history that still shapes the present. CDF Freedom Schools programs share stories by diverse authors and illustrators featuring Latino, Native American, Asian American and White characters, those from other countries and cultures and all mixes in between. Giving a book can give a child a chance to understand and step into the shoes of those who share our nation and world.

Theresa Venable, librarian at the Langston Hughes Library at CDF Haley Farm Servant Leadership Development School, assembled this list with the help of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, past chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury and Professor Emerita of The Ohio State University; Dr. Cynthia Tyson, Professor of Education at The Ohio State University; and Dr. Jonda C. McNair, Professor of Education at Clemson University, who believe these books:

  • Exemplify literary excellence

  • Give children a sense of ‘self’

  • Encourage children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and others

  • Reinforce a sense of Black heritage and Black history

  • Provide a platform by which children can learn about and fall in love with characters that look like themselves

  • Inspire children to be the best they can be

  • Assist children in seeing the beauty, humor, and strength in their families and in others around them

  • Inspire children to seek new ways of problem solving

  • Encourage pride in African Heritage.

The list is divided into suggestions for Primary (Grades K-3); Intermediate (Grades 4-6); and Young Adult (Grades 7-12) readers and CDF offers many of these books for purchase through the CDF Bookstore. Choose titles today to give as gifts for the holidays or celebrate a birthday or the birth of a new child at any time of year by giving and sharing a wonderful book from this list.

PRIMARY FICTION

Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

Mirandy and Brother Wind by Patricia C. McKissack

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe

I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

PRIMARY NONFICTION

Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney

PRIMARY POETRY

Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

PRIMARY SING-A-LONG

Let It Shine by Ashley Bryan

INTERMEDIATE FICTION

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

Zeely by Virginia Hamilton

M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World by Mildred Pitts Walter

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

INTERMEDIATE NONFICTION

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

INTERMEDIATE POETRY

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia

Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION

March: Book One by John Lewis

March: Book Two by John Lewis

March: Book Three by John Lewis

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

ALL AGES

Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom by Virginia Hamilton

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton