Children deserve to see a complete view of the world that includes all people, and that includes themselves. This list of books with African American girl characters is aimed at all teachers and parents. I hope it helps you find new books to act as mirrors to your student’s lived experiences, as well as windows to new ones. One of my favorite resources is We Need Diverse Books, and you can read more about why I think and why research supports a need for diversity in raising happy, well-adjusted children.
There are a lot of ways that we need to help our children grow into complete empathetic and understanding adults. While your soapbox may be getting outside more or being aware of the environment, mine is inclusion, especially on bookshelves and during storytime. The sad truth is many of our schools are segregated by race and socioeconomic class, and that hurts all children. One way to weave more diversity into our children’s lives is to make a place for it on our bookshelves.
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One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck is a funny look at family quirks, manners, and big words like loquacious and quadruped. The story is about a little girl Sophia that wants a giraffe for her birthday. To get it, she must convince her family that includes a judge, a business person, a politician, and a very, very strict grandmother. My daughter loved this book. I think that it’s perfect for Pre-K and older. The advanced vocabulary will appeal to their desire to act older.
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen is about more than ballet. It’s about overcoming being different, accepting your body, and even standing up for yourself. Sassy is tall – too tall to partner with any of the boys in her ballet studio – and sticks out like a sore thumb. When a chance to audition for a summer ballet program in Washington D.C. arises, other dancers in her studio make her doubt her talent.
So often, adults can see how awkward and different children are really striking and unique, but getting the child to see that can be impossible. This book is all about a child discovering that different isn’t bad and that those differences are all she needs to stand out in a great way. It was a little long for my daughter, who was 3 when we read it, but she sat the whole time enjoying it all the same.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, is a wonderful tale of a little girl who is a born scientist. Ada is curious and a little chaotic too! She asks questions and seeks answers and can’t stop even when she is sent to the thinking chair. I love that Ada is spirited and determined and as annoyed as her parents are with some of her behavior, they ultimately accept and love her and her super curious mind.
Shante Keys and the New Year’s Peas by Gail Piernas Davenport is a story about a little girl who is visiting her Grandma for New Year’s Eve dinner and goes on the hunt for some cowpeas because her Grandma is all out. Along the way through the neighborhood, Shante learns all about different New Year’s Eve traditions. The best part is that when dinner is done, everyone comes to share.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio is fantastic. The very best part of this book is on the first page when the main character, a little girl named Grace, exclaims “Where are the girls?” in response to her teacher hanging up a poster of all the presidents. If I weren’t in a tent in the backyard while reading this with my son, I would have stood up and given Grace a standing ovation. Grace decides to run for president in the mock election for her grade at school and be the change.
My love for this book doesn’t end with the wonderful example of basic feminism because next up the author tackles something oh so tricky; The Electoral College. The author does a great job explaining what can be a very confusing system used for American presidential elections, and I bet more than a few parents reading this to their kids will get something out of it, too. The story of Grace and her own campaign is sweet as well, but the brilliance of this story is the complex lessons broken down so well for a young audience.
Corduroy by Don Freeman was a childhood favorite of mine, and it hasn’t lost any of its shine over the years. The story is about a lonely bear at a department store who, despite being a little disheveled, finds a forever home with a kind little girl who needs him as much as he needs her. There are so many levels to this book. As a child, I sat in awe of the thought of toys coming alive in stores when the doors are locked and the shoppers leave. As an adult, I see this as a touching adoption story. My son loves the escalators Corduroy travels on in the store! This is another book that has lasting power and can be read for years in your home.
Happy Christmas, Gemma by Sarah Hayes is a hidden gem. Gemma’s preschool-age brother narrates this book. Throughout this family’s preparations for and celebration of Christmas, he notes how he does what he is supposed to and his baby sister does not. She makes messes, pulls the ornaments off the tree, has terrible table manners during Christmas dinner, and so much more!
What makes this a gem in my mind is that no one ever corrects her. These are all age-appropriate behaviors and the family is loving and accepting. Besides being making our list of books with African American girl main characters, it’s perfect for families expecting a baby. Or even those with older siblings who like to boss their younger ones around and may need a reminder that babies are still learning, just like they are!
Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman is a lovely story about a little girl who lives with the mom and Nana who open up their home to friends of friends over Christmas. Grace isn’t so sure about this, but her Nana reminds her what could be more in the spirit of Christmas than opening your home to those who need it? I like this book for a bunch of reasons. Not just because they talk about being shy, feeling like a stranger, and how to turn that into being friends, but also because Grace’s family looks very different than my children’s family.
I try hard to get books with all sorts of families. In this one, Grace lives with her mom and Nana while her dad lives in Africa. I read this with my then 8-year-old son, and we talked about all different kinds of families, divorce, and how he would feel about spending Christmas without his dad. It’s also just a fun story with a great Christmas wish ending too!
Princess Grace is another installment from Mary Hoffman, and I love this one even more than the previous one. In this book, Grace and her friends prepare to be princesses in a parade float. They soon discover that princesses aren’t all pink and sparkly ones and learn more about princesses from around the globe. Hoffman’s books are always so mindful of inclusion. From a mom and grandma raising a child together to including the boys in the princess parade, too. My 6-year-old enjoyed this book, especially since her love of princesses is maturing into a more complex one like Grace’s.
The Color Of Us by Karen Katz is a book I have often used to discuss color differences in skin tone. I urge teachers and parents to read this book before children start asking about differences. By then, children have often created stories and scenarios in their head that may be completely inaccurate. Those stories are the seeds of bias and to help avoid planting them, we need to be proactive. This book is one tool for that.
Lena travels around her neighborhood and with the help of her mom takes notice of all the different shades of brown of people’s skin. Every color is lovingly named, and diversity is celebrated. After the walk, Lena goes home to paint portraits of all of these people with all different shades of brown.
Keisha Ann Can! By Daniel Kirk is a cute story about going off to kindergarten, but it works well for preschool, too! What I like about this book is that the text has a repetitive element, making it fun to read aloud. It also helps support children learning to read with ample opportunities to read the same words. This book could be a useful tool for children nervous about going to school for the first time.
Hank’s Big Day: The story of a bug by Evan Kuhlman is about Hank a pill bug and a little girl named Amelia who is his best friend. Readers follow Hank as he makes his way from his rock home to Amelia. Then as they set off on an adventure together. Personally, I loved playing with bugs as a kid. People told me girls don’t play with bugs (which just made me do it more). I would have adored this book as a child, seeing a little girl playing with bugs and her imagination. Great book!
Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn was our first introduction to Lola, and I have since memorized this text I have read it so often. My daughter fell in love with this book before she was even two. We’ve read it, at the very least, weekly (usually daily) for well over a year. It never gets boring to read. It’s a calm, gentle story about a little girl eager for her special trip with her mom to the library.
Lola Gets A Cat by Anna McQuinn was declared by my 6-year-old as her new favorite Lola book. “It’s the best one yet!” I am not sure if it’s because she, too, loves cats and desperately wants one. Or maybe she liked the step by step process of researching, meeting, and bringing a cat home. Either way, this is a wonderful book for any family thinking about getting a cat. It really helps explain the process and what to expect.
Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn is one of my daughter’s absolute favorite books ever. She named her first baby doll after the title character, that is how much she loves her. In this book, Lola goes to the library with her dad on Saturday. All week long, she reads and acts out the stories she found. I love that the author has Lola going with her dad alone. So often in books, you don’t see this, it’s either Mom alone or the whole family. I also love how books are a launchpad for pretend play.
Lola Plants A Garden by Anna McQuinn My preschoolers loved this book. Lola decides she wants to plant a garden. The hardest part is waiting for the plants to start to grow! The simple and gentle story is perfect for preschoolers, and it opened up a great discussion about waiting with mine. Great spring story.
Lola Reads to Leo by Anna McQuinn isn’t just a book about reading. It’s also a book about making the transition from a family of three to a family of four. This book would be a wonderful choice for families with toddlers who have a baby on the way. Lola helps her parents prepare for Leo’s arrival and helps them care for him after he arrives. One way they care for him is to read together. My daughter loves the illustration of the Leo being breastfed. And as a parent who nursed both her kids well past 2, I loved seeing it too. We love this whole series and think you will, too.
Makeup Mess by Robert Munsch is a silly story about a little girl who saves her money (and steals some from her little brother) to buy a ton of makeup because she thinks that will make her beautiful. She puts it all on and her parents’ reaction is over the top. Her parents both faint and so does the mailman when they see her in all her makeup. She decides the makeup was a bad idea and goes upstairs to take it off, lamenting that now she won’t be pretty. When she returns, the adults comment on how beautiful she is without it, and she takes that to heart.
My daughter loved this book as a preschooler who has always been very into makeup. It helped me to teach her that makeup is fun to play with, but it doesn’t make you beautiful.
I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley is a wonderful book that I hope you have heard of before, but if not let me give you the scoop. Keyana’s mom combs and styles her hair every night. Like many little girls getting their hair done by their mom, she sometimes cries. But when she does, her mother tells her all the ways she is lucky and should be proud to have hair like hers. In the end, Keyana talks about why she loves her hair and which style she loves the best. A great story about having the confidence to be who you are.
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner Before I give you the full review of this book, let me say that I am friends with the author’s wife and they sent me this book to check out. I was nervous because I don’t like reviewing friends’ books, in case I hate them. I was extra nervous because it’s about God. Even though I have strong faith, I don’t generally talk about it or share books about it.
Well, I love this book. It’s a lovely story of affirmation and encouragement about being yourself. While it obviously speaks about God, it is not specific about one religion. The text is melodic, and it’s fun to read aloud. The illustrations by David Catrow fly off the page and are wonderfully inclusive as well.
Do you have a favorite picture book featuring an awesome African American girl as the main character? Share the title and why you love it in comments!