For Us by Us: 16 Poetry Collections and Books by Black Poets for Black History Month and Beyond

Black History Month is in February, but celebrating the accomplishments and talents of Black people in America and across the diaspora shouldn’t be restricted to the shortest month of the year. These poetry books are written and/or illustrated by Black creatives. This small sampling is by no means an exhaustive list but could be used as a jumping-off point to spark further exploration. 

Black History Month is in February, but celebrating the accomplishments and talents of Black people in America and across the diaspora shouldn’t be restricted to the shortest month of the year. The poetry collections and books below are written and/or illustrated by Black creatives. These titles spotlight Black poets from past and present, who skillfully wield the power of the pen to make their voices heard. This small sampling is by no means an exhaustive list. We hope that you and your patrons will further research these brilliant minds and other artistic tastemakers.

How To Read a Book by Kwame Alexander. illus. by Melissa Sweet. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062307811.
PreS-Gr 2–Award-winning poet Alexander compares reading a book to peeling the gentle skin of a clementine, digging into its juiciness, enjoying it “piece by piece, part by part,” until you can “watch a novel world unfurl right before your eyes.” Caldecott Honoree Sweet provides compelling artwork. A beautiful book not to be rushed through, but to be enjoyed morsel by tasty morsel.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. illus. by Kadir Nelson. HMH/Versify.  ISBN 9781328780966.
Gr 3 Up–This title from Newbery Medalist Alexander's imprint is a poignant and powerful ode to the resilience and strength of Black life and history in America. Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated in 2016, the poem adopts a picture book format with a new title, accompanied by stunning oil paintings in Nelson's trademark photorealistic style.

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. illus. by author. Knopf. ISBN 9780525582090.
PreS-Gr 3–This collection of 28 poems features bright and colorful illustrations depicting a variety of girls. The artwork pops with neon bright shades and interesting textiles, exuding a welcoming, cheerful vibe. The poems encourage girls to love their bodies and families and to embrace their unique personalities.

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne & others. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250311207.
Gr 3-6–The team behind Woke Baby introduces concepts and explains issues that concern activists of all ages. Twenty-four poems celebrate diversity and individuality, touching on issues of gender, physical ability, race, immigration, and protest. This important volume demands to be seen and heard.

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon. illus. by Kaylani Juanita. Tillbury House. ISBN 9780884487975.
PreS-Gr 3–This book is a joyful ode to the color brown. The text itself is a poem that dances playfully on the tongue when read aloud, featuring just the right amount of alliteration, a wide range of unusual vocabulary, and vibrant imagery. Juanita’s illustrations are a celebration of these girls, using all shades of brown and many warm colors on a light yellow background.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan. illus. by Xia Gordon. Sterling. ISBN 9781454930884.
K-Gr 3–Poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks's talent with words was evident from a very early age, as this lyrical biography reveals. Duncan presents the facts of Brooks's life through concise, powerful biographical poems; Gordon's spare but affecting illustrations flush the pages with warm rose gold tones, plums, browns, and lavender.

Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott. Disney/Jump at the Sun. ISBN 9781368045247.
Gr 7-10–Elliott’s poetry encourages readers to act when confronted with injustice, whether through marching or campaigning or responding through writing. These poems represent her response to victims of violence and racial discrimination, among other atrocities that Black Americans have suffered. It is also her way to give a voice to Black people who have lived through these circumstances.

I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni. illus. by Ashley Bryan. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781534404922.
PreS-Gr 4–This dynamic collection of verse thrums with musical language, exploring the interconnectedness between individuals and generations, humanity, and nature. Pulsing through each brief poem is a leitmotif of love, and Bryan’s warm illustrations underscore the book’s comforting refrain.

Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me by Eloise Greenfield. illus. by Ehsan Abdollahi. Sourcebooks. ISBN 9781492677246.
Gr 1–2–What if your dog could speak human words? The improbable–even goofy–premise plays out as an entertaining, empathetic story and congenial poetry lesson through Greenfield's skilled writing. Abdollahi depicts simple, attractive characters and scenes.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. illus. by various. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781619635548.
Gr 6 Up–Grimes brilliantly uses the words of her literary predecessors to structure the book, employing the golden shovel, a form in which the words from selected lines or stanzas are borrowed, only to become the last words of each line in a new poem. The result is not only a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance but also a moving reflection on the African American experience and the resilience of the human spirit.

A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson. illus. by Nina Crews. Millbrook. ISBN 9781541557772.
PreS-Gr 2–Black girls lead the way in this poem about defining themselves and making the world a better place. Three girls take turns sharing their dreams about flying high, standing tall, and being free. Crews’s signature photo-collage style is the perfect artistic choice for this book.

Concrete Kids by Amyra León. illus. by Ashley Lukashevsky. Penguin Workshop. ISBN 9780593095195.
Gr 7 Up–Musician, playwright, and activist León’s compelling free verse memoir bursts at the seams with despair, determination, and hope. Drawing on her personal experiences, León gives a voice to the foster care system, systematic racism, and what it means to be a Black girl moving through the world.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina. illus. by various. Penny Candy. ISBN 9780998799940.
Gr 2-5–Medina combines the tanka form with the illustrious talents of 13 artists to produce a resplendent collection of poetry dedicated to Black and brown children. A shining title that deserves a spot in all poetry collections.

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome. illus. by author. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781442421134.
Gr 2-5–Ransome brilliantly builds his narrative about plantation life for the enslaved on a familiar days-of-the-week pattern. Spare, repetitive language and richly detailed paintings bring to vivid life pain and hope.

Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536209921.
Gr 9 Up–Thakur’s poetry collection explores identity, family, loss, relationships, vulnerability, empowerment, and self-discovery. At once intimate and universal, aching and affirming, the poems examine the cycles of breaking, healing, and growth that shape people through young adulthood and beyond.

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright. illus. by Nina Crews. Millbrook. ISBN 9781512418651.
K-Gr 3–This book collects 12 of Wright’s outstanding haiku, written 50 years ago and still available in the anthology, Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon. These verses are an introduction to haiku as well as an entry point into Wright’s work; they can be read aloud to younger children or enjoyed independently by older readers.

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