The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion. For more on multiculturalism, visit our Talking About Race page and read the Horn Book’s reviews of the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award winners.
Suggested grade level for each entry: PS–2
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty; illus. by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown)
Each morning, a little boy jumps into his father’s arms. One day, his dad fails to appear. The author’s note explains that Beaty’s own father was incarcerated; in the book, the absence is unexplained for a more universal story of loss. 40 pages.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant; illus. by Melissa Sweet (Knopf)
Bryant’s well-researched, articulate account of artist Pippin’s life is interspersed with direct quotes from him, most of which are embedded directly into Sweet’s expressive illustrations. 40 pages.
Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illus. by James E. Ransome (Holiday House)
A picture book about the two jazz greats learning their instruments as kids, falling in love with jazz, and then coming together to perform as the Benny Goodman Trio. 32 pages.
Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes; illus. by Sean Qualls (Harcourt)
A poem with just the right cadence to make a great picture book text, especially when accompanied by Qualls’s superb blue-hued pencil, acrylic, and cut-paper collages. 24 pages.
Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead; illus. by Floyd Cooper (Carolrhoda)
In 1936, was twenty-one-year-old Joe DiMaggio ready for the Major Leagues? Should Satchel Paige, pitching great in the Negro Leagues, be playing in the Majors? A game was set up, and both players proved themselves worthy. 32 pages.
Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke; illus. by London Ladd Primary (Charlesbridge)
This nonfiction picture book relates a lesser-known episode in history. In 1861, when Union General Benjamin Butler refused to return three escaped slaves to their owners, calling them “contraband of war,” he set off an event in which more than nine hundred slaves ended up in Hampton, Virginia, working for the Union army. 32 pages.
You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! by Jonah Winter; illus. by Terry Widener (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Readers may well feel they’re at the ballpark, witnessing Mays’s signature basket catches, his famous over-the-head catch in center field, and his electrifying base stealing, all captured in dynamic acrylic illustrations. 40 pages.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. by James Ransome (Penguin/Paulsen)
The narrator’s grandmother finds a rope that she uses as her skipping rope. In each succeeding generation, one little girl uses it. Woodson’s understated but eloquent text gives specific details of one family’s experience, while Ransome’s rich oil paintings provide historical context. 32 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 1–3
Akissi by Marguerite Abouet (Flying Eye Books)
A humorous graphic novel for young readers set in the Ivory Coast, starring an exuberant African girl. Translated from the French. 48 pages.
Splash, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke (Kane/Miller)
Anna Hibiscus’s second picture book set in “Africa. Amazing Africa,” about a biracial girl and her warm extended family. 40 pages.
Dog Days [Carver Chronicles] by Karen English, illus. by Laura Freeman (Clarion)
New chapter book series set in the same classroom as Nikki and Deja, starring an African American boy named Gavin. 122 pages.
Lulu and the Cat in the Bag and Lulu and the Dog from the Sea by Hilary McKay, illus. by Priscilla Lamont (Whitman)
Series about a spunky animal-loving girl. From the Horn Book Magazine review (of Lulu and the Duck in the Park): “Although race is never mentioned in the story, [the illustrator’s] depiction of Lulu and her cousin-slash-best-friend as children of color provides welcome main characters not usually seen in beginning chapter books—particularly one as fine as this.” 84 pages and 108 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng (Lee & Low)
Historical record leaves much unknown about this real person, a slave living in South Carolina who became a fine potter. In her interpretation of his life, through alternating perspectives and in spare free verse, Cheng sets the stage for Dave’s personal stand against injustice. 143 pages.
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger; illus. by Robert Byrd (Candlewick)
Edinger creates a fictional first-person voice for Margru, one of four Mende children aboard the Amistad, and through her eyes relates her enslavement in Africa, the shipboard revolt, and the captives’ two-year stay in Connecticut while their mutiny case was being tried. Byrd’s pen-and-watercolor illustrations embellish and extend the story. 64 pages.
The Sittin’ Up by Shelia P. Moses (Putnam)
In 1940s rural North Carolina, twelve-year-old narrator Bean Jones is eager to experience an important rite of passage. He is taking part in the funeral of Mr. Bro. Wiley and “sittin’ up.” 226 pages.
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown)
In this novel set in Recontruction-era Lousiana, Rhodes vividly depicts ten-year-old Sugar’s experiences and emotions as well as her endearing feistiness and great capacity for friendship. 279 pages.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial)
After her parents’ death, twelve-year-old Willow Chance (a self-identified “person of color”) brings together a new family. From the Horn Book Magazine review: “What sets this novel apart from the average orphan-finds-a-home book is its lack of sentimentality, its truly multicultural cast, and its precise, poignant tone.” 380 pages.
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins)
The 2014 Coretta Scott King Award-winning sequel to One Crazy Summer finds eleven-year-old Delphine and her sisters back home in Brooklyn. 276 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up
He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander (HarperTeen/Amistad)
In this light, contemporary-set romance, Claudia Clarke–sharp, opinionated, and Harvard-bound–is the only girl who isn’t impressed by quarterback Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls. Omar takes a bet that he can win Claudia over and ends up being inspired to work for social justice. 330 pages.
I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Arthur Flowers; illus. by Manu Chitrakar (Groundwood)
This book uses an innovative design to blend African griot storytelling and folk art from India to create a bold graphic homage to Dr. King. The illustrations, drawn in the style of Patua scroll painters (a combination of sequential and performance art), recast the story with a distinctively Indian flair. 156 pages.
Nowhere to Run by Claire J. Griffin (Namelos)
Washington D.C.’s Georgia Avenue is a hard place for Calvin Williams to keep his promise to Daddy Lewis: stay out of trouble and graduate from high school. Calvin is a likable protagonist, and Griffin’s third-person narrative meticulously delineates street life in one African American neighborhood. 111 pages.
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illus. by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
An autobiographical graphic novel by the last surviving member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders. The book opens on “Bloody Sunday” then fast-forwards to Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, where Lewis shares his memories with young visitors to his congressional office. 128 pages.
A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick (Carolrhoda Lab)
A collection of eight short stories. Seven draw on the black experience in America, taking readers into the Deep South from the days of slavery through the Civil War and Jim Crow laws. The titular story introduces a Spanish merchant who acknowledges his part in the African slave trade. 186 pages.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)
Ali’s thing is boxing; his best friend Noodles’s is comic books; Noodles’s brother Needles’s is…knitting. The three teens, stars of When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, live in contemporary Brooklyn’s tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and their pastimes are as much survival strategies as they are personality quirks. 232 pages.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
Sheinkin follows navy recruits at Port Chicago in California doing one of the few service jobs available to black sailors at the beginning of World War II: loading bombs and ammunition onto battleships. 190 pages.
Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)
A history of the World War II–era 555th Parachute Infantry Company, nicknamed the Triple Nickles, brought to life with archival photographs and Stone’s always clear prose. 148 pages.