Much like our daughters, our young men need to see positive images of themselves, especially in the books they read. From Satchel Paige to Martin Luther King Jr., we've rounded up African-American icons and characters that will motivate and empower the Black men of tomorrow. Here’s our list of 10 must-reads to shape our boys into men.
'Bud, Not Buddy' by Christopher Paul Curtis
Christopher Paul Curtis crafts another remarkable character, 10-year-old Bud “Not Buddy” Caldwell in this fascinating tale, set in Flint, Michigan during the 1930s. Bud, an orphan, runs away from abusive foster parents and embarks on a quest to find a man he thinks is his father, jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. Guided only by intuition and an old concert flyer, Buddy eventually makes his way to Grand Rapids, experiencing adventure after adventure along the way. Curtis’ storytelling will capture the imagination of any young mind and will show young readers that, like Buddy, nothing can stop a strong mind and a strong will.
'Whose Knees Are These?' by Jabari Asim, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Author Jabari Asim weaves a rhythmic tale that answers the catchy question “Whose knees are these?” The fun, vivid illustrations feature an African-American character who discovers that his knees are “brown,” “strong,” and “fine.” Our sons will also learn that they should love the brown skin they’re in. This picture book is a perfect bedtime story for your littlest readers.
'You Can Do It!' by Tony Dungy, Illustrated by Amy June Bates
This is a great book for any young reader struggling to figure out what makes them unique. In this charming story, the author’s younger brother, Linden, can’t seem to find his “it.” His brother and sister have both found their special talent but Linden still isn’t sure. However, after a trip to the dentist and a discussion with his family about faith, Linden soon discovers his life path: to be a dentist himself. Little boys will learn that with faith and hard work, anything is possible.
'Salt In His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream' by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
So many of our young boys want to be like Mike and this picture book will give them the play-by-play for success. Jordan’s mother and sister teamed up as co-authors, giving us an intimate look at Jordan’s early life. Jordan was so insecure about his height he almost gave up the game, especially after an oversized bully teased him on the court. Frustrated, he asks his mother what might make him grow. She suggests putting salt in his shoes and saying a prayer every night. His dad later explains that salt might not make a difference but determination and hard work will. Like Mike, our sons can also chase their dream—despite their self-doubts.
'I Have a Dream' by Martin Luther King Jr., Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
There is no question that Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 speech is one of the most important recorded moments in history. Now, through breathtaking illustrations, our youngest readers can relive the words of this powerful man. Our sons will be uplifted by King’s message of equality, peace, love, and most importantly, freedom. This timeless book is a definite must read for any young man of color.
'Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington' by Jabari Asim, Illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Booker T. Washington is one of our most celebrated and critiqued African-American historical figures. This vivid picture book focuses on his early struggle to earn an education. Trekking more than 500 miles with only 50 cents in his pocket, Washington traveled on foot to Hampton Institute, where he later received his college degree. Washington went on to educate freedman across the country. His relentless pursuit of his educational goal is a shining example for any young man with a dream.
'Satchel Paige' by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E Ransome
Young boys are sure to be inspired by the life of Satchel “Satch” Paige. Paige was the first African-American player to pitch in the major leagues and to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The husband-and-wife duo depicts the dazzling success of one of baseball’s best through rhythmic words and rich illustrations. This book will motivate our sons to strive for their personal best—on and off the field.
'The Day I Saw My Father Cry' by Bill Cosby, Illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
Comedian and pop culture icon, Bill Cosby, masterfully tackles one of life’s most difficult emotions: grief. In this short chapter book, the main character Little Bill meets an eccentric but kind neighbor, Alan Mills. Mills’ life lessons about compassion have a profound impact on Little Bill and his entire family. He leaves a legacy that lingers, even after his untimely death. This touching story provides a beautiful example of how young boys and grown men deal with grief, anger and loss. It also shows that boys and men cry too.
'My Rows and Piles of Coins' by Tololwa M. Mollel, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Set in Tanzania during the 1960s, this delightful tale follows the life of Saruni, a young boy with big plans to purchase a red-and-blue bicycle. He hopes to use the bicycle to help his mother carry her heavy loads to and from the market but meets disappointment when he realizes his “secret money stash” won’t be nearly enough. Saruni, however, gets a bicycle due to an unexpected gift from his father. Young boys will learn that in the end perseverance and determination can help them overcome any obstacle in their path.
'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands' by Kadir Nelson
Award-winning artist Kadir Nelson captures the essence of one of our most beloved spirituals in a series of awe-inspiring illustrations. The lyrics of the song serve as a fitting backdrop to Nelson’s rich paintings. Readers get to see the world through the unique lens of a young African-American boy living in San Francisco. Through this beautiful picture book, our sons will learn that our “whole world” is connected and we each play a part in making it a better place.
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.