Children’s books featuring African American boys often focus on the struggles they face at the hands of an often unjust society. While it’s important for children to understand the history of America and the work that is still left to be done, that isn’t the entire existence of their childhoods.
There is also joy. Everyday, loving, and fulfilling, JOY.
Helping Kids Rise has created this list of books centered around the everyday joy filled lives of black boys. These books highlight the joys and diversity of black boys and remind them to embrace the happiness that surrounds them.
Happy Hair by Mechal Renee Roe
Mechal Renee Roe, illustrator of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Super Heroes Are Everywhere, creates a joyful, positive, read-together book celebrating boys with natural black hair that will have kids everywhere chanting: “I am born to be awesome!”
When the stars shine, the world is mine! I am born to be awesome! My hair is free, just like me! I am born to be awesome!
Boys will love seeing strong, happy reflections of themselves in this vibrant, rhythmic book full of hip Black hairstyles. From a ‘fro-hawk to mini-twists and crisp cornrows, adorable illustrations of boys with cool curls, waves, and afros grace each page, accompanied by a positive message that will make kids cheer. It’s a great read-aloud to promote positive self-esteem to boys of all ages, building and growing the foundation of self-love (and hair love!) and letting every boy know that “You are born to be awesome!” (Ages 3–7)
Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis: In this companion book to the bestselling I Love My Hair, a young boy, Miles, makes his first trip to the barbershop with his father. Like most little boys, he is afraid of the sharp scissors, the buzzing razor, and the prospect of picking a new hairstyle. But with the support of his dad, the barber, and the other men in the barbershop, Miles bravely sits through his first haircut.
Written in a reassuring tone with a jazzy beat and illustrated with graceful, realistic watercolors, this book captures an important rite of passage for boys and celebrates African-American identity. (Ages 4–7)
Max and the Tag Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper: Max loves his grandpa. When they must say good-bye after a visit, Grandpa promises Max that the moon at Grandpa’s house is the same moon that will follow him all the way home. On that swervy-curvy car ride back to his house, Max watches as the moon tags along. But when the sky darkens and the moon disappears behind clouds, he worries that it didn’t follow him home after all. Where did the moon go — and what about Grandpa’s promise? (Ages 3–7)
Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke, Illustrated by Paul Howard: In this companion book to the bestselling I Love My Hair, a young boy, Miles, makes his first trip to the barbershop with his father. Like most little boys, he is afraid of the sharp scissors, the buzzing razor, and the prospect of picking a new hairstyle. But with the support of his dad, the barber, and the other men in the barbershop, Miles bravely sits through his first haircut.
Written in a reassuring tone with a jazzy beat and illustrated with graceful, realistic watercolors, this book captures an important rite of passage for boys and celebrates African-American identity. (Ages 2–5)
Jonathan and His Mommy by Irene Smalls, Illustrated by Michael Hays: As a mother and son explore their neighborhood, they try various ways of walking — from giant steps and reggae steps to criss-cross steps and backwards steps. (Ages 4–8)
Leo Can Swim by Anna McQuinn, Illustrated by Ruth Hearson: Leo, Lola’s little brother from Leo Loves Baby Time, is back in a new adventure at the pool.
Leo and Daddy go to swim class where they kick, bounce, and dive like little fish. Joining other babies and their caretakers in the pool is a guarantee for unforgettable fun. (Ages 4–7)
Baby Blessings by Deloris Jordan, Illustrated by James E. Ransome: This touching story from bestselling author Doloris Jordan celebrates the blessings new parents wish for their babies all through their lives. With a strong emphasis on the bonds families share, the inspirational text is accompanied by exquisite art from renowned illustrator James E. Ransome. From infancy to adulthood, there is always a place for Baby Blessings. (Ages 4–7)
Benny Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged by Zetta Elliot, Illustrated by Purple Wong: A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because “true friends accept each other just the way they are.” A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences. (Ages 8–12)
The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds:
Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
Jerome collected words . . .
In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him — short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.
From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words — and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.. (Ages 4–8)
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by: Gordon C James:
a nonstop ball of energy.
Powerful and full of light.
I am a go-getter. A difference maker. A leader.
The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through — as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you — and shows you — who they are. There are superheroes in our midst! (Ages 3–7)
Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, Illustrated by Bryan Collier:
Hey black child,
Do you know who you are?
Who really are?
Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can be?
This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals. (Ages 5–7)
The New Small Person by Lauren Child, Illustrated by Lauren Child: Lauren Child tells the familiar tale of a less-than-welcome sibling with subtlety, insight, affection, and humor.
Elmore Green starts life as an only child, as many children do. He has a room to himself, where he can line up his precious things and nobody will move them one inch. But one day everything changes. When the new small person comes along, it seems that everybody might like it a bit more than they like Elmore Green. And when the small person knocks over Elmore’s things and even licks his jelly-bean collection, Elmore’s parents say that he can’t be angry because the small person is only small. Elmore wants the small person to go back to wherever it came from. Then, one night, everything changes. . . .
In her signature visual style, Lauren Child gets to the heart of a child’s evolving emotions about becoming a big brother or sister. (Ages 4–8)
Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney: Time for Kenny to get up and enjoy the day with his family! In four deceptively simple stories, Brian Pinkney guides readers through a young child’s day. First, Kenny must get dressed. Maybe he can wear his mom’s shoes? And his grandpa’s hat seems to fit perfectly on his head. Luckily, with the help of his family, Kenny is finally set to go. Then he must overcome his fear of the monstrous vacuum cleaner, learn to play soccer with his big sister, and — after all that fun — get ready for bedtime.
Bright, colorful, and energetic illustrations create a bold, accessible book for families to treasure and share. Rhythm, repetition, and clear, short sentences make Time for Kenny an excellent choice for emerging readers. (Ages 4–8)
Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board.
In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for. (Ages 4–8)
Dear Black Boy by Martellus Bennett: Dear Black Boy is a letter of encouragement to all of the black boys around the world who feel like sports are all they have. It is a reminder that they are more than athletes, more than a jersey number, more than a great crossover or a forty-yard dash, that the biggest game that they’ll ever play is the game of life, and there are people rooting for them off of the courts and fields, not as athletes, but as future leaders of the world. The same things that make these strong beautiful black boys great on whatever playing surface they choose are the same things that will propel them forward in life: mental toughness, dedication, passion, determination, and effort are all things that carry over into the game of life. With the right preparation, every Black Boy can win.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by Gordon C. James: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.
A fresh cut makes boys fly.
This rhythmic, read-aloud title is an unbridled celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair — a tradition that places on their heads a figurative crown, beaming with jewels, that confirms their brilliance and worth and helps them not only love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a high-spirited, engaging salute to the beautiful, raw, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror. (Ages 3–8)
The morning sun blares through your window like a million brass trumpets.It sits and shines behind your head — like a crown. Mommy says that today, you are going to be the King of Kindergarten!
Starting kindergarten is a big milestone — and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements — and then wake up to start another day.
Newbery Honor-winning author Derrick Barnes’s empowering story will give new kindergarteners a reassuring confidence boost, and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations exude joy. (Ages 3–6)
Simon B. Rhymin by Dwayne Reed: Eleven-year-old Simon Barnes dreams of becoming a world-famous rapper that everyone calls Notorious D.O.G. But for now, he’s just a Chicago fifth grader who’s small for his age and afraid to use his voice.
Simon prefers to lay low at school and at home, even though he’s constantly spitting rhymes in his head. But when his new teacher assigns the class an oral presentation on something that affects their community, Simon must face his fears.
With some help from an unexpected ally and his neighborhood crew, will Simon gain the confidence to rap his way to an A and prove that one kid can make a difference in his ‘hood?
Dwayne Reed is a Chicago teacher, whose viral back-to-school music video “Welcome to the 4th Grade” took the internet by storm. His debut novel, Simon B. Rhymin’ , inspires young readers everywhere to use their voice to create change within their communities. (Ages 8–12)
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds — and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
This middle grade graphic novel is an excellent choice for tween readers, including for summer reading. (Ages 8–12)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Ages 10–12)
Ghost by Jason Reynolds:
Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel in a new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons — it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems — and running away from them — until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?
Ghost is part of series by Jason Reynolds. Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team — a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. (Ages 10 and up)
Helping Kids Rise is on a mission to improve the lives of children and the people who love them through literacy, education, and social justice awareness. We do this by highlighting diverse and inclusive children’s books and resources that promote education, literacy, and social justice awareness. We also partner with schools, families, and children’s advocacy organizations to promote access to children’s books for under-served and underrepresented communities. To discover more great books for kids visit our Bookshop Page. Connect with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and our website: www.helpingkidsrise.org.