5 Kids’ Books Featuring Black Heroes

This month, as a contributor to Lansing Mom, my assignment is to provide a reading list of books that feature black heroes. My first reaction to the assignment was, “What does it mean to be a hero?” To our kids, a hero might look like someone with a cape who exudes a superpower and has an alter ego. However, as I’ve aged, the word “hero” has evolved to include real-life people who achieve meaningful feats that inspire and change our world for the better. Each book I am reviewing here fits into that more mature definition in some way.  

An Acknowledgment

More specifically, these books feature black heroes and heroines. In order to make these recommendations with an honest heart, I have to acknowledge my limitations in doing so. I am a white woman, raising a white child, in a predominantly white community. While bringing this list to life, I consulted the recommendations of Scholastic’s Kids’ Books Celebrating Diversity list and the extremely informative work of author Charnaie Gordon.  Her Instagram account, @hereweeread, offers help to families who want to “diversify their bookshelves.” I hope to shine a light on books that will start or further conversations within your family surrounding equity, justice, and above all, inspiration. So here we go…

Mia Mayhem by Kara West

Lansing Mom is here to share our tried and true favorites. This post does contain affiliate links that help support our small business but every product is something we love! 

Check it out here: Mia Mayhem by Kara West

The Mia Mayhem series features an eight-year-old Mia, who has always considered herself more of a super-klutz than a superhero. When she wakes up one day and finds out she is a part of a genuine superhero family, she wonders if she belongs. However, once she starts superhero school, she begins to overcome her fears by believing in herself. Themes of personal strength, inclusion, hard work, and resilience abound in this series that is meant for readers ages 5-9. I included this series in this list because I loved the combination of both gender and racial representation it provides. It’s upbeat, moves quickly, and leaves a young reader yearning for the next book in the series. It’s a definite win for new to moderate readers and is filled with fun comic-like illustrations.

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Check it out here: Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Another successful series I’d like to recommend is the Ryan Hart series, of which the first book is Ways to Make Sunshine. The author, Renee Watson, is a Coretta Scott King award winner. This designation is awarded, “Annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” I appreciated Ways to Make Sunshine for its honesty and for the quickness with which it challenges social norms. The first sentence reads, “I am a girl with a name that a lot of boys have.” We go on to learn heroine, Ryan Hart, has always been encouraged to be a leader like her ancestors, and with a name that means “king,” she has a lot to live up to. Her circumstances are challenging ones, as her family is adjusting to a new low-income situation. With Ryan’s persistence and innate self-belief, she is able to fully exude the light she knows she has inside. This series is most appropriate for readers ages 8-11.

A Computer Called Katherine by Suzanne Slade

Check it out here: A Computer Called Katherine by Suzanne Spade

This picture book combines beautiful illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison and the inspiring story of NASA Computer, Katherine Johnson. Katherine’s story was made famous in the 2016 movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures. The movie features the stories of three women forging their own path at NASA as mathematics and engineering specialists. This book focuses on the life and career of one of those women: Katherine Johnson. Katherine’s journey includes many hurdles, including breaking down racial and gender barriers in education, voting rights, and workplace equity. Regardless of whether or not your kids are space enthusiasts, everyone can appreciate Katherine’s greatest feat. She identified the correct flight path for America’s first successful space flight in 1961. This book, and Katherine’s story, are extremely inspiring and offer a very STEM-related message to readers ages 4-8. There is a lot to love in this one!

Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford

Check it out here: Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford

If you’re looking for a book with informative content and artistic illustrations, look no further than Be a King. Each page features examples of leadership in the areas of equity, inclusion, justice, and dreaming big based on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It provides a historical framework to discuss a modern need for the fair and kind treatment of all people. The bulk of the book is appropriate for any age. The author’s note provides a deeper, more mature look at the life and achievements of Dr. King for older kids. Aside from its beautiful imagery, this book is a great conversation starter for younger kids. 

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Check it out here: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

This anthology includes one-page stories about 40 female trailblazers that include athletes, activists, artists and politicians. This book is a great one to read nightly with your little ones. It offers quick shots of inspiration and knowledge, without asking too much of their attention span. The women featured in the collection lived as early as the 1700s, giving the reader access to many historical figures as well as current role models. Both the very real struggles and the heroic achievements of these women are included in the book, in a very honest way. 

A Challenge

February is Black History Month, which on the surface is a good time to recommend and to read these books. Author Victor Armstrong says, “What if ‘history’ were inclusive of the contributions of all people … every month?”  To answer his challenge, I intend on acknowledging the wisdom and achievements of all types of people with my daughter, while addressing our own inherent privilege…regularly and with positive intention. For additional resources, I recommend checking out the Celebrating Diversity section of the Scholastic website or chatting with your local library professional.

Looking to add to your list of books featuring diverse stories? Check out this post: 10 Diverse Picture Books You Need.

Kristin Ray
Kristin is a children’s author, blogger, and public speaker. She is the proud mother of one amazing daughter and wife to a supremely supportive husband. She is dedicated to intentionally equipping women and girls with the knowledge and power to move through life with confidence. Kristin is a native of Lansing, Michigan, and a graduate of Michigan State University.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.