Empowering Picture Books With Black Characters

By NYPL Staff
February 1, 2021

This blog post is part of the Woodson Project—a series of events, posts, and book lists on subjects including empowering Black families, amplifying Black voices, exploring Black identity and intersectionality, and discovering Black influencers in STEAM. The project was created by branch staff from across NYPL to honor Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who in 1926 created Negro History Week—the precursor to Black History Month.


This booklist for children highlights picture books that amplify themes of self-identity, self-love, individuality, self-esteem, and much more. All of these titles are available to borrow in both print and e-book formats.

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My Rainy Day Rocket Ship by Markette Sheppard, illustrated by Charly Palmer

Required to stay indoors on a stormy afternoon, an aspiring young astronaut uses everyday household items, from a cardboard box to an old dish rag, to imagine himself on a space adventure to another galaxy. 

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Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

When five-year-old Sulwe's classmates make fun of her dark skin, she tries lightening herself to no avail, but her encounter with a shooting star helps her understand there is beauty in every shade.

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I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

A lyrical ode to self-confidence and kindness for girls from every background, written by the activist star of  Empire , touches on themes of diversity, respecting others and loving oneself.

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The King Of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

A Newbery Honor-winning author offers an empowering story about a confident little boy who takes pride in his first day of kindergarten, encouraging new students with a reassuring message about this exciting milestone.

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Hair Love by Matthew Cherry, illustrations by Vashti Harrison

A little girl's daddy steps in to help her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

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Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Relates the experiences of a dark-skinned, curly-haired child who wishes he could look more like the lighter-skinned children in his community until his mother helps him realize how wonderful he is inside and out.

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I Believe I Can by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

The team behind the best-selling I Am Enough presents an empowering tribute to the limitless potential of children from every background that conveys messages about believing in themselves.

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Honeysmoke: A Story Of Finding Your Color by Monique Fields, illustrated by Yesenia Moises

Young Simone, a girl from a mixed-raced family, searches for the perfect color word to describe herself and her heritage inside and out, in an inspirational story about empowerment and forging one’s own unique identity.

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My Brother Charlieby Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete with Denene Millner, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A girl tells what it is like living with her twin brother who has autism and sometimes finds it hard to communicate with words, but who, in most ways, is just like any other boy. Includes authors' note about autism.

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Cool Cuts by Mechal Renee Roe

The best-selling illustrator of Kamala Harris’ Superheroes Are Everywhere depicts uplifting examples of African American boys and their culturally inspired hairstyles on spreads that repeat the inspiring refrain, “I am born to be awesome!” 

Contributors: Ramon Carela, Asuncion Cora, Whitney Davidson-Rhodes, Esther Jackson, Carolyn Lawerence, Dhariyah Luqman, Allison Nellis, Micheal Okoli, Rachel Roseberry, Wayne Walters

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.