5 Black Children’s Authors and Illustrators You Should Know


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By Alicia Barnes, liciabobesha.com

Black people are doing great things in all fields though that’s not often the story we hear. That’s why I turn to black storytellers to make sure my son’s exposed to beautiful images and stories written by people and featuring characters who look us. Here are some black children’s illustrators and authors to add to your child’s bookshelf.

1. Kadir Nelson

Partnering with authors including celebrities such as famed filmmaker Spike Lee, Kadir Nelson has brought us some gorgeous illustrations of black children and families. In addition to original stories, Nelson has illustrated well known speeches and songs, making them perfect for introductions to little ones. His talent has been recognized with 4 Coretta Scott King Book Award wins and 5 honors.

Kadir Nelson’s books to look for:

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  • Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (Coretta Scott King Honor Book)
  • Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson (Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner)
  • Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee and Kadir Nelson
  • Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee Tonya Lewis Lee and Kadir Nelson
  • Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan, Roslyn M. Jordan and Kadir Nelson
  • Just the Two of Us (Scholastic Bookshelf) by Will Smith and Kadir Nelson
  • Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen and Kadir Nelson
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson (Coretta Scott King Honor Book)
  • I Have a Dream (Book & CD) by Martin Luther King Jr. and Kadir Nelson
  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson (Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner)
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    2. Nikki Grimes

    Author of nearly 40 children’s books, Nikki Grimes has been publishing since the early 90s. From writing Winnie the Pooh stories to using her own original characters, Grimes writes for babies through big kids. In 2011 she won the Horace Mann Upstanders Award for Almost Zero: a Dyamonde Daniel Book, in 2006 National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, in 2003 the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and in 1993 NAACP Image Award Finalist for Malcolm X: a Force for Change.

    Nikki Grimes’ books to look for:

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  • A Pocketful of Poems by Nikki Grimes and Javaka Steptoe
  • My Man Blue (Picture Puffin Books) by Nikki Grimes and Jerome LaGarrigue
  • When Gorilla Goes Walking by Nikki Grimes and Shane Evans
  • Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier
  • Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes and E. B. Lewis
  • Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books) by Nikki Grimes and Earl B. Lewis
  • Welcome, Precious by Nikki Grimes
  • Baby’s Bedtime (Essence)
  • C Is for City by Nikki Grimes and Pat Cummings
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    3. Jabari Asim
    A famous nonfiction writer, Jabari Asim serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Crisis magazine, a journal of politics, ideas and culture published by the NAACP. In addition to writing book reviews, stories and teaching college in Boston, Asim also has written several children’s books including those for infants and toddlers.

    Jabari Asim’s books to look for:

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  • Whose Toes are Those? by Jabari Asim and LeUyen Pham
  • Whose Knees are These? by Jabari Asim and LeUyen Pham
  • Girl of Mine by Jabari Asim and LeUyen Pham
  • Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim and Bryan Collier
  • Daddy Goes to Work by Jabari Asim and Aaron Boyd
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    4. Andrea Davis Pinkney

    After noticing the lack of children’s books featuring black children, Andrea Davis Pinkney decided to do something about it. Writing for babies through school-age children, Pinkney has published more than 20 books and been honored as a Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner.

    Andrea Davis Pinkey’s books to look for: 

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  • Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Stephen Alcorn
  • Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • I Smell Honey: Family Celebration Board Books by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Notable Book citations, Society of School Librarians International, and American Library Association Notable Book)
  • Pretty Brown Face by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Pick of the List designation-American Booksellers)
  • Sleeping Cutie by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Peggony-po: A Whale Of A Tale by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Watch Me Dance: Family Celebration Board Books by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Shake Shake Shake: Family Celebration Board Books by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Coretta Scott King award, 1999, and Caldecott Honor)
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    5. Christopher Myers

    From a family of storytellers, Christopher Myers continues the tradition with his award winning books. An author and illustrator, Christopher Myers has received honors from both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Caldecott Award. Drawing on his collage, photography, and artistic media background, Myers makes beautiful books that children will love, first for the lush illustrations and, as they grow, for the storytelling.

    Christopher Myers’ books to look for:

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  • Black Cat (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books) by Christopher Myers
  • Wings by Christopher Myers
  • H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination (Coretta Scott King Honor Book) by Christopher Myers
  • Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
  • Harlem (Caldecott Honor Book) by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
  • Jazz by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers (Coretta Scott King Honor Book)
  • Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and Christopher Myers
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    From board books to big kid stories, these authors and illustrators hit the spot and you don’t even have to worry about them breaking the bank. I found all the above pictured books at my local library for free. Even more books came up from just these 5 authors that I could have checked out through an existing agreement my library has with other nearby libraries.

    What authors do you love? What books do you think we should add to our shelves?

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    Alicia is currently living her plan C or maybe D or F in a small college town where she divides her time between family, travel, work, and the internet. 

    About Alicia B

    Alicia lives and took a semester of photography in a small college town that often challenges her resolve to live as simply and as stress-free as possible. When she’s not working, rereading the same children’s books, cooking, or wondering how crunchy she’s become, she’s busy updating her site, liciabobesha.com. You can follow her on facebook.