In a world where Black girls are criticized for their hair, or even worse, called the C-word, it’s safe to say they need a steady stream of positive reinforcements in all aspects of their lives—including the books they're exposed to. A growing crop of books featuring young Black girls are the perfect starting points to give your young reader a self-esteem boost. Here's our list of 10 must-read books to empower and inspire our daughters.
'No Mirrors in My Nana's House' by Ysaye M. Barnwell, Illustrations by Synthia Saint James
A little girl discovers her beauty—not in a mirror but through her Nana’s eyes. In Nana’s house, there are no mirrors and the narrator doesn’t notice her “imperfections”—clothes that don’t fit, a nose that’s too flat, or skin that’s too black. This story teaches brown girls that it’s their character that defines them—not their circumstances.
'Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale' by John Steptoe
This African take on the classic fairytale Cinderella features beautiful illustrations and teaches girls the true meaning of beauty. Set in Africa, the story features two sisters: Nyasha, who is kind as well as beautiful and Manyara, who is spoiled with a bad temper. Little readers won’t be surprised to learn who becomes queen in the end. There aren’t any blue ball gowns or fairy godmothers in this story. Instead, brown girls will fall in love with an African queen who’s beautiful, inside and out.
'I Love My Hair' by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley,' Illustrations by E.B. Lewis
This delightful story teaches girls to love their hair and their heritage. The affirmative “I love my hair!” really teaches girls to say “I love myself!” A familiar ritual of combing the tangles from a head full of kinks and curls will give brown girls something to relate to in the story. This book, which starts with tears ends in triumph as the narrator imagines the many styles she can wear her kinky, curly hair. Definitely a great read for any girl who is struggling with loving every bit of her brown girl self.
'Something Beautiful' by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
A young girl searches for beautiful things in her inner-city neighborhood and finds that they are actually all around her. Her neighbors show her that there is a lot of beauty in the little things—from a fried fish sandwich to a smooth stone. This story is perfect for teaching our daughters perspective: it’s our outlook that determines our outcome.
'Happy to Be Nappy' by bell hooks, Illustrations by Chris Raschka
Poetic verses promote self-esteem in this fun read about “frizz and fuzz,” “short tight naps” and “plaited strands.” In this vibrant book, a headful of naps is considered a “crown” or “halo.” So, whether rocking braids, a press’n’curl or afro puffs, girls can learn to do any do’ with pride.
'Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story' by Ruby Bridges
Simple text and historical photographs help little readers follow the extraordinary story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school. In the face of racism and segregation, Ruby’s triumphant spirit endures, teaching brown girls they can overcome any obstacle.
'Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen,' Illustrations by Kadir Nelson
Loosely based off the life of choreographer Debbie Allen, a young girl overcomes big feet and long legs to achieve her dream of becoming a dancer. Sassy, the main character, gets teased by her dance mates and even her brother because she’s the odd girl out. Budding ballerinas will be inspired by her ability to persevere despite the ridicule and her own self-doubt.
'The Mighty Miss Malone' by Christopher Paul Curtis
In this award-winning tale, Deza Malone, 12, navigates the Great Depression while searching for a father who has left the family to look for work. Deza is smart and spunky and young readers will learn their own incredible strength through the Mighty Miss Malone.
'Zora and Me' by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Inspired by the early life of Zora Neale Hurston, this book tells the story of a young girl detective who must solve a murder mystery. Not only is this story engaging for older girls with its twists and turns, it introduces them to one of the most prolific and well-known writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
'One Crazy Summer' by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the summer of 1968, three sisters, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, travel to Oakland, CA to find their mother who abandoned them. Their mother, Cecile, often sends them to the community center run by the Black Panther Party where the girls learn about race and revolution. In this powerful novel, the girls struggle to ultimately earn the love of their estranged mother. Delphine, the young heroine, and her rock solid resilience will surely activate any young “actionista.”
Ashley Foxx is an author, educator and artist. Her first book, Keisha Cane and Her Sweet Tooth is available for little readers. Find her at www.foxxology.com or @foxxology on Twitter.