Each year, Black History Month is observed during the month of February.
In classrooms across the country, it's a time to honor the contributions that African Americans have made to our history and our culture, and to reflect on the issues that we face as a society today.
Wide Array of Culturally Relevant Resources
Below, you'll find recommended reading for Black History Month, along with links to our curated vocabulary lists for each text. Our suggestions include a range of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that addresses major topics in African-American history, including slavery, life under Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, and immigrant experiences.
Bear in mind that the recommendations below represent only a fraction of our vocabulary lists. You can find more great resources on our Lists page.
Recommended for Everyone
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals. Melba Patillo was one of nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. In this memoir, she recounts how she and other African-American students survived and thrived in the most harrowing circumstances.
Because They Marched by Russell Freedman. This nonfiction account of the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery is richly illustrated with archival photographs.
March by John Lewis. Book One. Book Two. Book Three. John Lewis's award-winning March trilogy offers an unflinching look at the life and work of the congressman and civil rights icon. The engaging graphic novel format vividly brings to life the Freedom Rides, the Selma march, and other key events in the Civil Rights Movement.
Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. This bestselling book traces the history of racist ideas and racial injustice in the United States.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection. This collection includes vocabulary lists for some of the great orator’s most famous speeches, as well as from contemporary reflections on King’s legacy.
Recommended for Middle School Students
Becoming Kareem by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld. In this memoir, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabar recounts his youth and traces his path to the NBA.
March Forward, Girl by Melba Patillo Beals. In this companion to Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine, describes growing up in the South under repressive Jim Crow laws.
Courage to Soar by Simone Biles. In this autobiography, cowritten with Michelle Burford, decorated gymnast Simone Biles recounts her path to becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimmer. Richly illustrated with archival photos, this book offers an account of the 1961 Freedom Ride, a protest of unconstitutional racial segregation on buses.
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown. This acclaimed nonfiction book tells the story of Hurricane Katrina in graphic form.
Class Act by Jerry Craft. In this sequel to the award-winning graphic novel New Kid, eighth-graders Drew and Jordan grapple with identity, privilege, and fitting in.
New Kid by Jerry Craft. In this graphic novel, an African-American seventh grader struggles to fit in at his new private school.
Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe. The murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 shocked the nation. Crowe's novel explores Till's tragic death from the point of view of a white teenager visiting his grandfather in Mississippi.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis. In order to repay a debt, twelve-year-old Charlie agrees to help the cruel Cap'n Buck to capture several fugitive slaves. But when Charlie is confronted with the horrors of slavery, he is forced to reconsider his plans.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. In this historical novel, a fun family trip to Alabama turns into a life-changing event when a Baptist church is bombed.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. Elijah lives in a Canadian settlement founded by former slaves. Although his family and friends consider Elijah to be "fragile," he must find the courage to help others escape from slavery.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper. Inspired by her grandmother's journals, Draper tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who confronts racism in her segregated North Carolina town.
The Voice That Challenged a Nation by Russell Freedman. Freedman's biography of singer Marian Anderson follows Anderson's career as she defies the conventions that constrained African-American performers in the 1920s and 30s.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. While spending the summer at her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina, Candice finds an intriguing old letter in the attic. She joins forces with a neighbor to follow the clues in the letter and find a hidden treasure — but solving the mystery means uncovering past injustices in Lambert.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. In this historical novel, Marlee and her new friend Liz get involved in the battle to desegregate the Arkansas school system in the 1950s.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery. In this memoir, Lynda Blackmon Lowery recounts her participation in the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches in 1965.
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s, Sam is a witness to both racism and the growing Civil Rights Movement. But when his father and brother embrace conflicting tactics for confronting prejudice and violence in their community, Sam must figure out where his loyalties lie.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. welve-year-old Zoe Washington attempts to prove that her father was wrongfully convicted of a crime.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. Nelson's illustrated sonnet cycle is a moving, lyrical meditation on Emmett Till's murder.
Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander. This fictionalized biography, written in a combination of prose and verse, imagines the early life of Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali.
Harriet Tubman by Ann Petry. This acclaimed biography details the life of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery and worked to liberate countless other enslaved people.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée. Twelve-year-old Shayla doesn't like to make waves—but as she learns about the Black Lives Matter movement and educates herself about prejudice in her community, she discovers that sometimes it's good to cause a little trouble.
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome. After the death of his mother, eleven-year-old Langston and his father become part of the Great Migration of African Americans, moving from Alabama to Chicago. There, Langston finds comfort in the writing of his namesake, the poet Langston Hughes.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Twelve-year-old Donte faces bullying and racism, but when he begins to train as a competitive fencer, he finds the confidence to stand up for himself.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. In this thought-provoking exploration of bias and injustice, a twelve-year-old boy meets the ghost of Emmett Till (an African-American teen who was lynched in 1955) in the afterlife.
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Ten-year-old Sugar endures grueling work on a sugar plantation, but her friendships with the plantation owner's son and new Chinese laborers offer her hope and community.
Promises to Keep by Sharon Robinson. Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, shares memories of and insights about her father.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor's classic, Newbery award-winning novel follows Cassie Logan and her family as they face prejudice and hardship in Depression-era Mississippi.
Little Rock Girl 1957 by Shelley Marie Tougas. Journalist Shelley Tougas considers the fight to integrate Little Rock Central High School through the lens of a single photograph taken on September 4, 1957.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern explore their identities as African-American girls when they travel to California during the summer of 1968. The Gaither sisters’ adventures continue in P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. An instant classic when it was published in 2014, Woodson's collection of autobiographical poems won both the National Book Award and the Coretta Scott King Book Award and was named a Newbery Honor Book.
Recommended for High School Students
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. In this award-winning book, civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander argues that the American criminal justice system unfairly targets and penalizes African Americans, resulting in long-term harm to black communities.
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Blending science fiction and historical fiction, this novel tells the story of an African American woman who travels back in time to a Southern plantation.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates's acclaimed and award-winning essay collection, which is framed as a letter to his son, is a profound meditation on race and power in American society.
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper. A searing dramatization of the brutality of the slave trade, Draper's novel follows fifteen-year-old Amari from her capture in an African village to her enslavement in North Carolina.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. A new teacher helps Maleeka stand up to bullies and feel comfortable in her own skin.
A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield. This book, which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2019, traces the history of racial tension that led to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Reynolds and Kiely tackle the issue of police brutality in this novel told from the alternating perspectives of two teenage boys.
A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier. In this memoir, Carlotta Walls LaNier recounts being one of the first black students to integrate Little Rock Central High School.
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina. This powerful graphic novel, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, explores the life and afterlife of a teenager who is a victim of gun violence.
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. This biography of Muhammad Ali explores the boxer's career and his activism.
X: A Novel by llyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon. Cowritten by Malcolm X's daughter, this novel presents a fictionalized account of the civil rights activist's early years.
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. As protests and unrest rock Los Angeles, teenager Ashley Bennett deals with family turmoil and prejudice in her community.
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone. In this companion novel to Dear Martin, a teenager in a juvenile detention center tries to make sense of his life by writing letters to an old friend.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone. In Nic Stone's popular 2017 novel, seventeen-year-old Justyce writes letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. as he encounters racism and prejudice in his community.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Already navigating the competing pressures of her prep school and her neighborhood community, sixteen-year-old Starr must grapple with prejudice and her sense of identity when she witnesses the shooting death of her best friend.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, based on historical events, traces the harrowing story of two boys sent to a Florida reformatory school in the 1960s.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Whitehead's novel confronts the horrors of slavery as it traces a woman's journey to freedom.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi's debut novel, nominated for the 2017 National Book Award, is a powerful and thought-provoking story of a young Haitian immigrant's attempt to live the American dream.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. In this verse novel, a sixteen-year-old boy is convicted of a crime he didn't commit.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. This first volume of Angelou's autobiography details the acclaimed poet's childhood and adolescence.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin. In this semi-autobiographical novel set in Harlem in the 1930s, a boy learns about his family history on his fourteenth birthday.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. In two essays, Baldwin reflects on America's history of racial injustice and the role of religion in the Black community.
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. In Parts One and Two of this essay collection, Baldwin explores race in American art and society. In Part Three, he details his experiences in Europe.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery, Douglass became an accomplished orator and writer and a leading abolitionist. In this autobiography, he recounts his experiences as an enslaved person.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. In this classic exploration of race and identity, an unnamed protagonist delineates the ways society has rendered him invisible.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. In the 1940s, a working class African-American family in Chicago must decide how to best spend a ten-thousand dollar insurance payout.
"The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes. A leading poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wrote this poem about a jazz musician in 1925.
Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston. In this autobiography, author Zora Neale Hurston traces her childhood, her college years, and her work researching folklore.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Although it was not well received when it was first published, this novel is now considered a classic of African-American literature. Set in Florida in the early 1900s, Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie Crawford as she searches for love and happiness.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. After escaping to New York, Harriet Jacobs wrote this account of the horrors of slavery, focusing particularly on the experiences of enslaved women.
"I Have a Dream" Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. King's famous speech, an impassioned call for equality, was delivered at the 1963 March on Washington.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. While imprisoned for taking part in civil rights demonstrations, King wrote this powerful argument in defense of nonviolent protest.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In Morrison's first novel, a troubled young girl dreams of escaping the abuse, prejudice, and bullying she faces.
Jazz by Toni Morrison. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, this follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved explores a love triangle that ends violently.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. Lyrical and devastating, Morrison's masterpiece tells the story of Sethe, a woman haunted by her experiences as a slave.
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. This memoir tells the story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the nineteenth century.
"On Being Brought from Africa to America" by Phillis Wheatley. Enslaved when she was a child, Wheatley found fame and freedom when her collection of poetry was published in London in 1773.
Fences by August Wilson. Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows former baseball player Troy Maxson as he tries to find his place in the world and navigate troubled relationships with his wife and son.
Native Son by Richard Wright. This novel explores the ways that poverty, racism, and hardship lead a young man to commit a shocking act of violence.
Integrate Vocab Instruction with Your Lesson Plans
Vocabulary.com makes it easy to seamlessly integrate vocabulary instruction into your curriculum. Here's how:
Prep students for closer reading with text-based vocab practice.
- Before students tackle their reading, Assign a practice activity based on the list for that title. Select from our recommended books above, or search our list library for thousands more.
- Save time while you're at it! Rather that just create a single practice, you can finish all your vocab lesson plans in one sitting by assigning all the lists for the book. You can always adjust the start and due dates if you need to!
- Your students will be notified that they have a vocab assignment, and they can start working on it right away. They'll learn the most relevant vocabulary words from the book, presented in usage examples from the source text.
Encourage independent, self-selected reading. Our ready-made resources make it easy for you to support independent reading. Have students select their book choice from our recommended titles above, and then complete the Practice activity on their own — no need to create an assignment!
Support student-led book clubs. Have students create their own vocabulary list to share with their group. Encourage them to note the words that they found the most challenging, intriguing, or relevant, and discuss their lists with their peers. Students can practice any of the lists they create, or try other fun activities like the Spelling Bee and the Vocab Jam.
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