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Segregation: Books For Kids

Looking for a list of the best children's books about segregation?

Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to segregation. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about segregation.

Our list includes picture books and chapter books. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.

When it comes to children’s stories about segregation, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like Through My Eyes to popular sellers like The Story of Ruby Bridges to some of our favorite hidden gems like Grandmama’s Pride.

We hope this list of kids books about segregation can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book!

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The Story of Ruby Bridges
Written by Robert Coles & illustrated by George Ford
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

For months six-year-old Ruby Bridges must confront the hostility of white parents when she becomes the first African American girl to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960.

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Grandmama's Pride
Written by Becky Birtha & illustrated by Colin Bootman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

While on a trip in 1956 to visit her grandmother in the South, six-year-old Sarah Marie experiences segregation for the first time, but discovers that things have changed by the time she returns the following year.

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This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality
Written by Jo Ann Boyce & illustrated by Debbie Levy
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-12

In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.

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Freedom Summer
Written by Deborah Wiles
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
John Henry swims better than anyone I know.
He crawls like a catfish,
blows bubbles like a swamp monster,
but he doesn't swim in the town pool with me.
He's not allowed.
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Through My Eyes
Written & illustrated by Ruby Bridges and Margo Lundell
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Ruby Bridges recounts the story of her involvement, as a six-year-old, in the integration of her school in New Orleans in 1960.

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  • Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story - The extraordinary true story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school–now with simple text for young readers! <p/>In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked through an angry crowd and into a school where she changed history. <p/>This is the true story of an extraordinary little girl who helped shape our country when she became the first African-American to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. With simple text and historical photographs, this easy reader explores an amazing moment in history and the courage of a young girl who stayed strong in the face of racism.

  • Ron's Big Mission - Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Public Library to look through all the books on airplanes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by <i>himself</i>. But in the segregated world of South Carolina in the 1950s, Ron’s obtaining his own library card is not just a small rite of passage–it is a young man’s first courageous mission. Here is an inspiring story, based on Ron McNair’s life, of how a little boy, future scientist, and <i>Challenger</i> astronaut desegregated his library through peaceful resistance.

  • Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation - A 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and a 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
    Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.
    Praise for Separate is Never Equal
    STARRED REVIEW**S**
    “_Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history.”
    –_Kirkus Reviews
    , starred review
    “Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.”
    School Library Journal, starred review
    “Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote) offers an illuminating account of a family’s hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before Brown v. Board of Education.”
    Publishers Weekly
    “Pura Belpré Award-winning Tonatiuh makes excellent use of picture-book storytelling to bring attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation.”
    Booklist
    “The straightforward narrative is well matched with the illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, brick, and (Photoshopped) hair to provide textural variation. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be.”
    The Horn Book Magazine

  • Mixed: A Colorful Story - Each believing that their hue is the best, the three primary colors live in separate parts of the city until Yellow and Blue meet, fall in love, and decide to mix.

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Goin' Someplace Special
Written by Patricia C. McKissack & illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Through moving prose and beautiful watercolors, award-winning author-illustrator duo collaborate to tell the poignant tale of a spirited young girl who comes face to face with segregation in her southern town.
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Hector: A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph That Changed Apartheid
Written by Adrienne Wright
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

A Junior Library Guild Selection!

On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson, an ordinary boy, lost his life after getting caught up in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Black South African students were marching against a new law requiring that they be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, the language of the White government. The story's events unfold from the perspectives of Hector, his sister, and the photographer who captured their photo in the chaos. This book can serve as a pertinent tool for adults discussing global history and race relations with children. Its graphic novel style and mixed media art portray the vibrancy and grit of Hector's daily life and untimely death.

Heartbreaking yet relevant, this powerful story gives voice to an ordinary boy and sheds light on events that helped lead to the end of apartheid.

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The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial
Written by Susan E. Goodman & illustrated by E. B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

2017 Orbis Pictus Honor Book
2017 Jane Addams Peace Association Honor Book
2017 Teachers’ Choice Pick, International Literacy Association
An NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book of 2017
In 1847, an African American girl named Sarah Roberts attended school in Boston. One day she was told she could never come back. She didn’t belong. The Otis School was for white children only.
The Roberts family fought this injustice and made history. Roberts v. City of Boston was the first case challenging our legal system to outlaw segregated schools. Sometimes even losing is a victory.  They lost their case but Sarah’s cause was won when people, black and white, stood together and said, No more. Now, right now, it is time for change!
With gorgeous art from award-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis, The First Step is an inspiring look at the first lawsuit to demand desegregation–long before the American Civil Rights movement, even before the Civil War.
Backmatter includes: An integration timeline, bios on key people in the book, list of resources, and author’s note.

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Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama
Written by Hester Bass & illustrated by E.B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Explore a little-known story of the civil rights movement, in which black and white citizens in one Alabama city worked together nonviolently to end segregation.

Mention the civil rights era in Alabama, and most people recall images of terrible violence. But something different was happening in Huntsville. For the citizens of that city, creativity, courage, and cooperation were the keys to working together to integrate their city and schools in peace. In an engaging celebration of this lesser-known chapter in American and African-American history, author Hester Bass and illustrator E. B. Lewis show children how racial discrimination, bullying, and unfairness can be faced successfully with perseverance and ingenuity.

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Who Was Nelson Mandela?
Written by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso & illustrated by Stephen Marchesi
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Describes the life of the South African president and revolutionary, from his childhood and his work as a peaceful protestor to his twenty-seven-year imprisonment, his election as president, and his work to end apartheid in South Africa.

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  • Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song - Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations. Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba’s fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine’s call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer’s bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world―and can continue to do so.

  • Quickest Kid in Clarksville - It’s the day before the big parade. Alta can only think about one thing: Wilma Rudolph, three-time Olympic gold medalist. She’ll be riding on a float tomorrow. See, Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee, just like Wilma once was. It doesn’t matter that Alta’s shoes have holes because Wilma came from hard times, too. But what happens when a new girl with shiny new shoes comes along and challenges Alta to a race? Will she still be the quickest kid? <em>The Quickest Kid in Clarksville</em> is a timeless story of dreams, determination, and the power of friendship.

  • Meet Miss Fancy - A charming and significant story set prior to the Civil Rights Movement about a boy who finds a way to challenge segregation laws. Frank has always been obsessed with elephants. He loves their hosepipe trunks, tree stump feet, and swish-swish tails. So when Miss Fancy, the elephant, retires from the circus and moves two blocks from his house to Avondale Park, he’s over the moon! Frank really wants to pet her. But Avondale Park is just for white people, so Frank is not allowed to see Miss Fancy. Frank is heartbroken but he doesn’t give up: instead he makes a plan! Frank writes to the City Council so his church can host a picnic in the park, and he can finally meet Miss Fancy. All of his neighbors sign the letter, but when some protest, the picnic is cancelled and Frank is heartbroken all over again. Then Miss Fancy escapes the zoo, and it’s up to Frank to find her before she gets hurt.

  • Stella by Starlight - When a burning cross set by the Klan causes panic and fear in 1932 Bumblebee, North Carolina, fifth-grader Stella must face prejudice and find the strength to demand change in her segregated town.

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My Year in the Middle
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Miss Garrett’s classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. I’m one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference. In a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend—and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques. Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately—acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state—and in the classroom—mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

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Finding Lincoln
Written by Ann Malaspina & illustrated by Colin Bootman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

In segregated 1950s Alabama, Louis cannot use the public library to research a class assignment, but one of the librarians lets him in after hours and helps him find the book that he needs. Includes an author’s note with historical information about library segregation in the South.

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The Soccer Fence
Written by Phil Bildner & illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-8

As a boy, Hector loved playing soccer in his small Johannesburg township. He dreamed of playing on a real pitch with the boys from another part of the city, but apartheid made that impossible. Then, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and apartheid began to crumble. The march toward freedom in South Africa was a slow one, but when the beloved Bafana Bafana national soccer team won the African Cup of Nations, Hector realized that dreams once impossible could now come true.

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Busing Brewster
Written by Richard Michelson & illustrated by R. G. Roth
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

Brewster is excited about starting first grade . . . until Mama announces that he’ll be attending Central—a school in the white part of town. Mama says they have art and music and a library bursting with books, but Brewster isn’t so sure he’ll fit in.

Being black at a white school isn’t easy, and Brewster winds up spending his first day in detention at the library. But there he meets a very special person: Miss O’Grady. The librarian sees into Brewster’s heart and gives him not only the gift of books but also the ability to believe in himself.

This powerful and tender story of desegregation in the 1970s introduces readers to the brave young heroes who helped to build a new world.

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