Children's Books by Black Authors: A Reading List

“A Child’s Invitation”, by Joshua McCarter Simpson (1854) This song was included in Simpson’s collection “The Emancipation Car,” which h...


This song was included in Simpson’s collection “The Emancipation Car,” which he described as “an original composition of anti-slavery ballads; composed exclusively for the underground railway. Several songs in the collection feature children. This is described as a “school song” and begins with “Come on kids young and gay, / Come, come to school”.

Harper was the most prominent African-American poet of the 19th century, and also published short fiction, novels, essays, and speeches. This inclusion in his “Poems” collection was addressed to “precious children” whose “fingers are unqualified” for the task of “building the throne of liberty” at this time of reconstruction. The poem hopes that they will eventually be suited to the task and encourages them to “Fill your minds with useful knowledge” in preparation.

Published by the American Baptist Publication Society, it is a religious novel about temperance and elevation. In addition to her children’s novels, Johnson founded two periodicals, The Joy, a literary magazine for girls, and The Ivy, focusing on African-American history. Neither of the two children’s periodicals has (yet) been recovered by current researchers.

Dunbar-Nelson was a prolific writer in all genres, but this story – about a boy who wants a doll and ends up getting one, with the help of his teacher and younger sister – hasn’t been recovered only recently. “His Heart’s Desire” was sold to the Chicago Daily News in 1900, but Dunbar-Nelson intended to include it in a collection of children’s stories called “The Annals of ‘Steenth Street,” based on his own educator work. The collection did not materialize during his lifetime, but is now recovered by scholars.

This playful poem about pupils who are better able to complete school tasks after their teacher no longer looks at them appeared in the first issue of The Brownies’ Book in January 1920. The Brownies’ Book was one of first magazines marketed explicitly to black children. and was created by W. E. B. Du Bois, Augustus Granville Dill and Fauset, who were regular contributors and served as the magazine’s literary editor and then editor until the final issue in December 1921.

In a famous collaboration of children’s novels, two of the Harlem Renaissance’s best-known writers depicted black diaspora children and their families. The novel was illustrated by African-American artist E. Simms Campbell.

Newsome was a prolific children’s teacher, librarian, and author. She also edited The Crisis’s monthly children’s column, “The Little Page”, from 1925 to 1929. This poem, taken from “Gladiola Garden: Poems of Outdoors and Indoors for Second Grade Readers”, gives the point of view of ‘a child about adults who understand and pay attention to children.


Brigitte Fielder is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is the author of “Relative Races: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America.”

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