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Slavery: Books For Kids

This list of the best kids books about slavery is sure to include a new favorite for the voracious young reader in your life! From Abe's Honest Words to How Sweet the Sound there's something here for everyone's tastes. Do you have a favorite book about slavery? Let us know!

Abe's Honest Words book
#1
Abe's Honest Words
Written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-8

From the time he was a young boy roaming the forests of the unsettled Midwest, Abraham Lincoln knew in his heart that slavery was deeply wrong. A voracious reader, Lincoln spent every spare moment of his days filling his mind with knowledge, from history to literature to mathematics, preparing himself to one day lead the country he loved toward greater equality and prosperity. Despite the obstacles he faced as a self-educated man from the back woods, Lincoln persevered in his political career, and his compassion and honesty gradually earned him the trust of many Americans. As president, he guided the nation through a long and bitter civil war and penned the document that would lead to the end of slavery in the United States. The passion for humanity that defined Lincoln's life shines through in this momentous follow-up to Martin's Big Words and John's Secret Dreams. Told in Doreen Rappaport's accessible, absorbing prose, and brought to life in powerful illustrations by Kadir Nelson, Abe's Honest Words is an epic portrait of a truly great American president. Praise for the Big Words series: Martin's Big Words * 2002 Caldecott Honor Book * 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Book * Child Magazine Best Book of 2001 * New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2001 * "A stunning, reverent tribute." -School Library Journal, starred review Abe's Honest Words * "Exceptional art, along with Rappaport's and Lincoln's words, makes this a fine celebration of a man who needs little introduction." -Booklist, starred review Eleanor, Quiet No More * "Once again Rappaport celebrates a noble, heroic life in powerful, succinct prose, with prominent, well-chosen, and judiciously placed quotes that both instruct and inspire...Celebrate women in history and in politics with this picture-book life." -School Library Journal, starred review Helen's Big World * "Stirring and awe-inspiring." -The Horn Book, starred review To Dare Mighty Things * "[T]his lavish picture-book biography deftly captures the legendary man's bold, exuberant nature. . . . A truly inspiring tribute to a seemingly larger-than-life U.S. president." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review * "Theodore Roosevelt's big ideas and big personality come together in this splendid picture-book biography." -Booklist, starred review * "Concisely written and yet poetic, this is a first purchase for every library." -School Library Journal, starred review

So Tall Within book
#2
So Tall Within
Written by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by Daniel Minter
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

From celebrated author Gary D. Schmidt comes a picture book biography of a giant in the struggle for civil rights, perfectly pitched for readers today. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery but possessed a mind and a vision that knew no bounds. So Tall Within traces her life from her painful childhood through her remarkable emancipation to her incredible leadership in the movement for rights for both women and African Americans. Her story is told with lyricism and pathos by Gary D. Schmidt, one of the most celebrated writers for children in the twenty-first century, and brought to life by award winning and fine artist Daniel Minter. This combination of talent is just right for introducing this legendary figure to a new generation of children.

Bell Rang book
#3
Bell Rang
Written and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A young slave girl witnesses the heartbreak and hopefulness of her family and their plantation community when her brother escapes for freedom in this brilliantly conceived picture book by Coretta Scott King Award winner James E. Ransome. Every single morning, the overseer of the plantation rings the bell. Daddy gathers wood. Mama cooks. Ben and the other slaves go out to work. Each day is the same. Full of grueling work and sweltering heat. Every day, except one, when the bell rings and Ben is nowhere to be found. Because Ben ran. Yet, despite their fear and sadness, his family remains hopeful that maybe, just maybe, he made it North. That he is free. An ode to hope and a powerful tribute to the courage of those who ran for freedom, The Bell Rang is a stunning reminder that our past can never be forgotten.

Looking at Lincoln book
#4
Looking at Lincoln
Written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Abraham Lincoln is one of the first giants of history children are introduced to, and now Maira Kalman brings him to life with her trademark style and enthusiasm. Lincoln’s legacy is everywhere – there he is on your penny and five-dollar bill. And we are still the United States because Lincoln helped hold them together. But who was he, really? The little girl in this book wants to find out. Among the many other things, she discovers our sixteenth president was a man who believed in freedom for all, had a dog named Fido, loved Mozart, apples, and his wife’s vanilla cake, and kept his notes in his hat. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Kalman shares Lincoln’s remarkable life with young readers in a fresh and exciting way.

The Escape of Robert Smalls book
#5
The Escape of Robert Smalls
Written by Jehan Jones-Radgowski and illustrated by Poppy Kang
picture book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

The mist in Charleston Inner Harbor was heavy, but not heavy enough to disguise the stolen Confederate steamship, the Planter, from Confederate soldiers. In the early hours of May 13, 1862, in the midst of the deadly U.S. Civil War, an enslaved man named Robert Smalls was about to carry out a perilous plan of escape. Standing at the helm of the ship, Smalls impersonated the captain as he and his crew passed heavily armed Confederate forts to enter Union territory, where escaped slaves were given shelter. The suspenseful escape of the determined crew is celebrated with beautiful artwork and insightful prose, detailing the true account of an unsung American hero.

  1. I Am Abraham Lincoln - Follows Abraham Lincoln from his childhood to the presidency, showing how he spoke up about fairness and eventually led the country to abolish slavery.

  2. Who Was Harriet Tubman? - Born a slave in Maryland, Harriet Tubman knew first-hand what it meant to be someone’s property; she was whipped by owners and almost killed by an overseer. It was from other field hands that she first heard about the Underground Railroad which she travelled by herself north to Philadelphia. Throughout her long life (she died at the age of ninety-two) and long after the Civil War brought an end to slavery, this amazing woman was proof of what just one person can do.

  3. Lift Your Light a Little Higher - The story of Stephen Bishop, a slave and early explorer and guide at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

  4. Jefferson's Sons - A fictionalized look at the last twenty years of Thomas Jefferson's life at Monticello through the eyes of three of his slaves, two of whom were his sons by his slave, Sally Hemings.

Under the Freedom Tree book
#10
Under the Freedom Tree
Written by Susan VanHecke and illustrated by London Ladd
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Tells of the Civil War's first contraband camp that began when three escaped slaves were granted protection at a Union-held fort, prompting runaway slaves to seek freedom there and build the country's first African American community.

Voices from the Underground Railroad book
#11
Voices from the Underground Railroad
Written by Kay Winters and illustrated by Larry Day
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Siblings Mattie and Jeb escape slavery via the Underground Railroad, meeting helpful conductors and dodging slave catchers as they travel from Maryland to Massachusetts

Never Caught, The Story Of Ona Judge book
#12
Never Caught, The Story Of Ona Judge
Written by Kathleen Van Cleve and illustrated by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-13

A National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction, Never Caught is the eye-opening narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave, who risked everything for a better life—now available as a young reader’s edition! In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons’ when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive. From her childhood, to her time with the Washingtons and living in the slave quarters, to her escape to New Hampshire, Erica Armstrong Dunbar (along with Kathleen Van Cleve), shares an intimate glimpse into the life of a little-known, but powerful figure in history, and her brave journey as she fled the most powerful couple in the country.

With Books and Bricks book
#13
With Books and Bricks
Written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Booker T. Washington had an incredible passion for learning. Born a slave, he taught himself to read. When the Civil War ended, Booker finally fulfilled his dream of attending school. After graduation, he was invited to teach in Tuskegee, Alabama. Finding many eager students but no school, Booker set out to build his own school—brick by brick. An afterword gives detailed information on how the school was built.

Climbing Lincoln's Steps book
#14
Climbing Lincoln's Steps
Written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Colin Bootman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 7-10

Interweaves the story of black Americans' struggle for equality with important moments in African-American history that have occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, including Marian Anderson's concert in 1939; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech in 1963; and a visit from the first African-American president and his family in 2009.

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Huckleberry Finn had a tough life with his drunk father until an adventure with Tom Sawyer changed everything. But when Huck’s dad returns and kidnaps him, he must escpe down the Mississippi river with runaway slave, Jim. They encounter trouble at every turn, from floods and gunfights to armed bandits and the long arm of the law. Through it all the friends stick together – but can Huck and Tom free Jim from slavery once and for all?

  2. River Runs Deep - Twelve-year-old Elias is sent to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky to fight a case of consumption--and ends up fighting for the lives of a secret community of escaped slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad.

  3. Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons - Soon after American colonists had won independence from Great Britain, Ona Judge was fighting for her own freedom from one of America's most famous founding fathers, George Washington. George and Martha Washington valued Ona as one of their most skilled and trustworthy slaves, but she would risk everything to achieve complete freedom. Born into slavery at Mount Vernon, Ona seized the opportunity to escape when she was brought to live in the President's Mansion in Philadelphia. Ona fled to New Hampshire and started a new life. But the Washingtons wouldn't give up easily. After her escape, Ona became the focus of a years-long manhunt, led by America's first president. Gwendolyn Hooks' vivid and detailed prose captures the danger, uncertainty, and persistence Ona Judge experienced during and after her heroic escape. The Capstone Interactive edition comes with simultaneous access for every student in your school and includes read aloud audio recorded by professional voice over artists.

  4. Dorothea Lange - Before she raised her lens to take her most iconic photo, Dorothea Lange took photos of the downtrodden from bankers in once-fine suits waiting in breadlines, to former slaves, to the homeless sleeping on sidewalks. A case of polio had left her with a limp and sympathetic to those less fortunate. Traveling across the United States, documenting with her camera and her fieldbook those most affected by the stock market crash, she found the face of the Great Depression. In this picture book biography, Carole Boston Weatherford with her lyrical prose captures the spirit of the influential photographer.

How Sweet the Sound book
#19
How Sweet the Sound
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

One stormy night at sea, a wayward man named John Newton feared for his life. In his darkest hour he fell to his knees and prayed —and somehow the battered ship survived the storm. Grateful, he changed his ways and became a minister, yet he still owned a slave ship. But in time, empathy touched his heart. A changed man, he used his powerful words to help end slavery in England. Those words became the hymn “Amazing Grace,” a song that has lifted the spirit and given comfort across time and all over the world.

    Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!