23 books featuring Black heroes and characters every child should read

Mica Murphy/Penguin

Dream Big, Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison (0-5 years)

Based on the Little Leaders series for older readers, this board book introduces little ones to incredible, inspirational Black women from history, with simple messaging encouraging them to be bold and dream big!

How to Be Extraordinary by Rashmi Sirdeshpande (5-7 years)

Your little reader will discover the real-life stories behind some of the most extraordinary people. From Nelson Mandela and Abdul Kalam to Mo Farah, Michelle Obama and many more, all of these people have done amazing things – and with this colourful and easily-digestible read, you can explore their stories together.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o (3-7 years)

Written by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, this story of Sulwe gently introduces children to the concepts of colourism, self-confidence and inner beauty. Stunningly illustrated by Vashti Harrison, Sulwe is the tale of a little girl who has a darker skin tone than her family and school friends. All she wants is to be lighter, until one night she goes on a magical adventure, and her mind opens up to her natural beauty.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (3-5 years)

“He ducked under his nana’s umbrella, saying, “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?”

On this rainy, wet Sunday after church, CJ doesn’t want to ride the bus across town with his grandma. Why don’t they have a car like his friend Colby? The other boys on the bus have an iPod – where’s his? For every dissatisfied question from CJ, grandma has an encouraging and supportive answer – as only grandmothers can. She helps him see the beauty and fun in their routine and the world surrounding them. This wonderful, award-winning picture book is radiantly illustrated by Christian Robinson. It perfectly highlights the magical bond between grandparents and grandchildren – and how to be thankful for what you do have, instead of dwelling on what you don’t. 

Hair Love by Matthew Cherry (5-7 years)

Based on the Oscar-winning short film, this is the story of Zuri, her dad, and her hair. Zuri's hair is beautiful, but it can have a mind of its own. For a special occasion, Zuri and her daddy need to work together to style her hair, and show that natural is brilliant! A wonderful book that celebrates the love of fathers and daughters, as well as putting black hair front and centre.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (5-7 years)

These little leaders are brave and bold – and they all changed the world. This inspiring book will introduce your little leader to 40 inspirational Black women throughout history. All of these real-life stories have inspired countless men, women and children over the years and are guaranteed to widen the mind and eyes of any little reader that opens this book. That being said, this is an important, brilliant read for ANYONE. Just some of the trailblazing, real-life stories told in this book include those of nurse Mary Seacole, politician Diane Abbott, mathematician Katherine Johnson and singer Shirley Bassey.

Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison (5-7 years)

All throughout history, Black men have stood up and fought for justice and what they believe in. This book tells the stories of 40 Black men, from campaigners, athletes, fashion journalists and musicians who realised their dreams and made the world a better place. Read about the amazing lives of Prince, Paul Stephenson and Kofi Annan with your own future little leader and learn about these great men together.

The Silence Seeker by Ben Morley (5-7 years)

“He has come from far away, looking for peace and quiet. He’s an asylum seeker.”

The new family next door are asylum seekers, hoping for peace and calm in this noisy, busy city. But to Joe, they are ‘silence seekers’, and when he sees his young neighbour looking sad on the steps, he makes a vow. Joe wants to help his neighbour find a place for himself in this city Joe calls home – now his neighbours’ home too. This moving tale provides the perfect way to open up gentle and thoughtful discussion around the refugee crisis.

Funky Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah (7+ years)

Benjamin Zephaniah brings life and noise to poetry. In this collection of straight-talking poems about heroes, revolutions, racism, love and animal rights, among other subjects, his words make you move and think. Read by Zephaniah, this audio edition is playful, clever and provocative. Poems in this audiobook were first published in Funky Chickens and Talking Turkeys.

The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Johnson (7+ years)

The biography of real-life NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson will inspire and amaze. Featured in the recent film Hidden Voices, Johnson was one of the most important people in the history of space travel. Without her calculations, Neil Armstrong never would have walked on the Moon. Bursting at the seams with incredible facts and gorgeous illustrations, Johnson’s amazing achievements will inspire young readers.

The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama (7+ years)

Michelle Obama is one of the most popular First Ladies in American history. She has fought against racial injustice, is an advocate of healthy lifestyles and is a loud and proud feminist. In this biography, you can read about her life story from her childhood in Chicago, her brilliant law career and her revolutionary two terms as First Lady. Filled with facts and illustrations, this is an enthralling biography for young readers.

The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams (7+ years)

Widely regarded as one of the best athletes to ever live, Serena Williams is an inspiration to girls and boys across the world. From humble beginnings, she worked hard to become not just a great tennis player, but the best tennis player. Despite racism and sexism, she never listened to the spiteful words of others. Serena’s tale of hard work and triumph makes an empowering story.

The Extraordinary Life of Nelson Mandela (7+ years)

In this biography of Nelson Mandela, young readers can read about his astonishing life and learn about Apartheid in South Africa and the discrimination and diadvantages he faced because of it. Readers will discover the astounding work of the man who dedicated his life to fighting racism, from his emprisonment for 27 to his becoming the first Black president of South Africa.

The Extraordinary Life of Rosa Parks (7+ years)

Young readers may know Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Alabama, causing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Black people refused to use the public transport system until they were treated equally. But Parks' life stretches beyond her activism in Alabama, and this fact-filled, illustrated biography brings to life her inspiring and empowering dedication to fighting for equal rights.

The Extraordinary Life of Mary Seacole (7+ years)

A nurse in the Crimean war, Mary Seacole cared for the wounded soldiers on the battlefield, despite being turned down to work alongside Florence Nightingale. Mary did invaluable work during the Crimean War, where she rode into battle on horseback to treat soldiers of both armies. She is a maginificent figure, and led a very interesting life.

Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah (7+ years)

Benjamin Zephaniah writes poetry of all flavours. From humorous to solemn, he touches on issues both amusing and important. In 'Serious Love', a schoolboy falls desperately in love with the girl who sits beside him. But the next day, he wants to marry her friend! 'All You Sea' campaigns to clear up the sewage in the oceans, while 'Good Hope' suggests there is enough good in the world for everyone to live without prejudice, starvation and war. Zephaniah tackles difficult subjects such as animal cruelty in 'Danny the Cat' and racism in 'Walking Black Home', where no taxi stops for him because of his skin colour.

How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons (9-12 years)

 “Boston was nothing like South Carolina. Up there, coloured folks could go anywhere they wanted.”

Bullied for her light skin tone and missing her absent mother, life isn’t always sunny for 12-year-old Ella, growing up in segregated Alcolu in 1944. So, she’s ecstatic when her mother – pursuing her jazz singer dreams in Boston – invites her for Christmas. But whilst there, Ella discovers the secrets of her mother and the father she never knew – and her most unexpected family history. And upon her return to the South a month later, life changes even more with the news that her classmate has been arrested for the murder of two local white girls. Nothing will ever be the same…

Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin (9-11 years)

“Her skin was as black as midnight, her lips like crushed damsons, and her tightly curled hair shone like threads of black gold. When the baby looked up into the woman’s face, her eyes glistened like blackberries.”

This collection of original, beautifully written stories – stunningly illustrated by Richard Collingridge – will lead you into a captivating world. You’ll encounter talking animals and wicked witches, magicians and enchanted forests as you watch Blackberry Blue rise from the bramble patch, follow Emeka the pathfinder on his mission to save a lost king and join Princess Desire as she gallops across the Milky Way on her jet-black horse… Perfect for readers of all ages, these magical tales will thrill and enchant again and again.

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen (9-11 years)

“As I turned to look for her, Dad let go of my hand, and when I looked back, he was striding away. Out of reach.”

As she struggles to adjust to life in a new country, Leelu dreams of flying back home to her father and the life she left behind. London is grey and cold, there’s concrete everywhere; she doesn’t want to be here. Leelu feels so lonely – but she’s not alone. Soon she discovers someone is leaving gifts for her, wondrous gifts that bring her curious magical powers. Will they help her find her way home? Filled with magic, family and friendship, this is an unforgettable and moving tale of one family’s battle to belong. 

Pig-Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman (9-11 years)

“It was like a radio being switched off. I sat down at the bottom of the swimming pool and opened my eyes. The chlorine in the water stung, but it was better than not seeing what was coming and being kicked in the face.”

When you’re 13, you just want a normal life. To be like all the other teenagers, doing normal things. But most teenagers don’t need heart transplants. You’re the unlucky one. You think there’s no chance to live an ordinary life… but what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a doctor who says there might be a chance for you – though it’s risky. It’s experimental and controversial – and it’s never been done before… A powerful, thought-provoking story from the brilliant, award-winning Malorie Blackman, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9-11 years)

“It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom.”

What does it mean to be a family? In this beautifully written and heart-wrenching story, 12-year-old Crow explores questions of her own identity and where she truly belongs. Abandoned when she was hours old, Crow was found on a boat and raised on a tiny island by Osh, her rescuer, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbour. One night, after the appearance of a mysterious fire across the water, Crow begins to question her own history, triggering an unstoppable – and dangerous – chain of events. 

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (12+ years)

"The Noughts & Crosses series are still my favourite books of all time and showed me just how amazing story-telling could be" - Stormzy

Sephy is a Cross: she lives a life of privilege and power. But she's lonely, and burns with injustice at the world she sees around her. Callum is a Nought: he's considered to be less than nothing – a blanker, there to serve Crosses – but he dreams of a better life. They've been friends since they were children, and they both know that's as far as it can ever go. Noughts and Crosses are fated to be bitter enemies – love is out of the question. 

The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt (12+ years)

“He’s small for his age, but he’ll grow. He’s a good kid. Educated too. You wanna take him, Zach?”

Officially endorsed by Amnesty International, this unforgettable debut novel is both a love story and a thriller. 13-year-old Pip has been hired as a farmhand by Mr Zachery – but Pip is black, the farmer and his wife are white, and in 1960’s America, racism is rife. Meanwhile, Irishman Jack Morrow has arrived in the Deep South dreaming of a new life as a university professor. He carries with him a secret; certain skills in hypnotism and mind control. Now, as dangerous racial tensions threaten to overshadow everything, Pip and Jack’s lives become entwined and Jack's hypnotic skills are needed as never before…

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