While African-American authors hold their own in the literary world, Black History Month gives you a chance to highlight some of the most celebrated African-American authors and their literary achievements. While some of their works highlight the rich history and achievements of African-Americans, others simply bring a new perspective to common themes and story lines. To help you determine what books to include in your classroom, we’ve compiled a list of some great works and accompanying worksheets to share with students during Black History Month.
Kindergarten – 2nd grade
At this level, focus on poems and picture books. It’s never too early to introduce children to the poetry of one of the most well-known African-American poets, Langston Hughes, or newer poets such as Nikki Giovanni. Start with a few of these texts:
- April Rain Song by Langton Hughes (worksheet)
- Covers by Nikki Giovanni (worksheet)
- Laughing Boy by Richard Wright (worksheet)
- The Flower Garden by Eve Bunting (worksheet)
- The Hat that Wore Clara B. by Melanie Turner-Denstaedt (worksheet)
- Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes (worksheet)
3rd grade – 5th grade
Kids in upper elementary school can start to read short biographies of famous African-Americans. They will also appreciate short stories and novels that focus on African-American history and start to subtly tackle controversial issues. Consider some of the following pieces:
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (worksheet)
- Hip Hop Speaks to Children by Nikki Giovanni
- Mariah Keeps Cool by Mildred Walter (worksheet)
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (worksheet)
- The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (worksheet)
- Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs Series by Sharon Draper (worksheet)
6th grade – 8th grade
In middle school, as kids begin to work out their own identities, they begin to resonate with the stories of others seeking to find themselves. At this stage, introduce them to novels, poems and informational texts that feature issues they can relate to and that help expand their worldview. Great works to begin with include:
- The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton (worksheet)
- Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (worksheet)
- Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)
- Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (worksheet)
- Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (worksheet)
- Hoops by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)
9th grade – 10th grade
At this level, students still want texts they can relate to, but they can also begin to understand deeper stories of race and identity. Introduce them to a variety of texts, including:
- I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. (worksheet)
- I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes (worksheet)
- Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon Draper (worksheet)
- Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper (worksheet)
- Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)
- Ain’t I a Woman by Sojourner Truth (worksheet)
11th grade – 12th grade
In the upper-levels of high school, teens can start to tackle major historical movements and controversial issues such as racism. This is the time to introduce them to poems, novels and informational texts with deep messages about African-American history and the overall African-American experience. A few selections include:
- The Color of Water by James McBride (worksheet)
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (worksheet)
- Native Son by Richard Wright (worksheet)
- Roots by Alex Haley (worksheet)
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (worksheet)
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X (worksheet)
Of course, our selections only represent a small group of the wonderful books out there. Check out some of these resources to find more books to read during Black History Month.
- Reading Rockets: Favorite Books for Black History Month
- Multicultural Books for Children: 40+ Book Lists
Consider using the works above or any works by African-American authors as part of an African American Read-In. Members of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Black Caucus have encouraged educators to hold a special read-in to highlight works of African-American authors during Black History Month. Enjoy a read-in with your class or get the whole school, and even students’ parents, involved.
Have a favorite book, poem, or other African-American text of your own? Share it in the comments below!
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