African American Poetry for Children

Read FeedShaw/Watha T. Daniel Library

African American Poetry for Children

The triumphs and tragedies of the African American experience are discussed in these illustrated poetry collections. Studies show that reading and writing poetry helps children develop vocabulary, phonetic awareness and an ability to talk constructively about their feelings. Please see the Library's Black Studies database collection to find additional information about African American history. Finally, the selected titles are just a sample of the African American children’s poetry books available for check out. Visit our online catalog to find more!

African American Poetry edited by Arnold Rampersand and Marcellus Blount, illustrated by Karen Barbour
Two distinguished academics select inspiring and evocative poetry for young people. The poets are major literary figures such as Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou, and each poem is introduced with an informative paragraph. As such, this collection would be perfect for classroom use. Ages 6 and up.  

Deshawn Days by Tony Medina, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Deshawn Williams is a 10-year-old who lives in an unnamed neighborhood in an unnamed city. The poems are written by Medina but voiced as Deshawn’s work. Deshawn Days is written as a love letter to the people and things that matter in Deshawn's life. The result is a collection of verse that is relatable, funny and moving. Ages 6 and up.

Ellington was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Shange’s poem is written as a full-length storybook and includes profiles of influential African Americans. These features readily lend the book to a classroom setting, i.e. for Black History Month. Shange is a highly-regarded poet known for her choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enufand Nelson is an award-winning illustrator whose work depicts African American life. 

The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Greenfield wrote several original, moving poems about African American migration to northern states in the early 20th-century. Many poems are told from the perspective of people who would have made this journey. The language is clear and the mixed-media illustrations use historic photographs to bring the period to life. Recommended for children ages 5 and up.

Hey You! C’mere!: a Poetry Slam by Elizabeth Swados, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Swados’s original poems talk about city life in a fun and rhythmic everyday voice. The book is a collection of poems that blend together to form a slice-of-life experience when read as a book. The colorful, energetic illustrations are sure to delight young readers. Ages 4 and up.

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers edited and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
This collection features poems about fathers and fatherhood written by African American poets. Steptoe’s collages highlight the poignant nature of the subject. While the poems were written by adults for adults, children ages 8 and up could grasp the meaning. Likewise, the poems would be ideal for parent-child reading time.

I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry for Children edited by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
This collection features poems by major African American figures such as Phyllis Wheatley and Langston Hughes. Each piece is introduced with biographical information about the poet and a brief discussion of the poem. As such this book would be ideal for school projects. Ages 8 and up.

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
The last months of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life are chronicled with poetry and sensitive watercolor paintings. Excellent for a classroom activity or personal reflection. A timeline of King’s life and a brief history of the Civil Rights Movement are found at the end of the book. Ages 8 and up.

The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children edited by Davida Adedjouma, illustrated by Gregory Christie
While most of the poetry books on this list are by established poets, the selections in this book are written by African American children. Most poems explore themes of blackness and of Black identity. While the poems are suitable for young children, the themes are also relevant to older children. The Palm of My Heart could be used in a classroom, for example as prompts for essay writing or for discussions of history and culture. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award.

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People by Carole Boston Weatherford
Weatherford wrote a volume of original poetry about the African American struggle: slavery, discrimination, and civil rights. Historic photographs and prints that depict defining moments of the African American experience are interspersed throughout the book. Weatherford’s enlightening and sensitive poems are appropriate for children ages 5 and up.