Celebrate Black Literature: Don Tate’s Picture Book List

Join us in celebrating black literature! The Texas Book Festival recognizes Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and contributors to the literary community and asking them to share some of their favorite black-authored works. This sharing of past and current books the reader has loved aims to enrich not only our TBR piles, but also our often-too-narrow canon of black literature.

You can view all installments in this series here.

This list of recommended books comes from Austin-based children’s author and illustrator Don Tate. Don is an award-winning author, and the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. He is also one of the founding hosts of the blog The Brown Bookshelf – a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, with book reviews, author and illustrator interviews. Don frequently speaks at schools, public libraries and writing conferences, and participates in book festivals. He is a longtime friend and volunteer of the Texas Book Festival, as well as a previous TBF presenter.

Don’s newest picture book, Carter Reads the Newspaper, written by Deborah Hopkinson about the life and work of Carter G. Woodson, was publish this month and is available now at your local bookstore and library!


When I think about the Old West—cowboys and cattle drives—I think about people like the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. Blame it on Hollywood, I guess. Movies from my childhood taught me that cowboys were white guys only. But in real life, Black cowboys were a thing, too. In fact, Black cowboys made up about twenty-five percent of the cattle industry in the late 1800s, following the end of slavery. Where Hollywood fails, picture books can redeem. Here are a few on the topic of the Old West:

Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy – written by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This one hits close to home. The story is set in small towns north of Austin, Texas—Jenks-Branch, a settlement of freed slaves, and Taylor, Texas. I love stories about little-known African American historical figures. And I love stories where I can learn something new. Cowboy Bill Pickett made his claim to fame as a bronco-busting, bulldogging rodeo performer, who could “bite-hold a big-lipped cow.” I’ll just leave that right there.

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall – written by Vaunt Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Greg Christie

Bass Reeves was one bad dude, and I totally mean that in a good way. This former slave became one of the first Black U.S. deputy marshals west of the Mississippi, credited with arresting over 3000 true bad guys. He was adored by some, and hated by others who couldn’t palate the image of a Black man with a badge. It’s a handsome book, adorned with a Coretta Scott King Award sticker for illustration.

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story – written by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

The illustrations of cowboy life are simply stunning. Pinkney’s command of his medium—watercolor and pencil—are on full fleek. The story is based on an incident in the life of Texas cowboy Bob Lemmons, a former slave, who sets out to corral a herd of wild mustangs. Along with his black stallion, Warrior, they track the stallions for days. While Lemmons never learned to read words, he was an expert in reading animals. He knew about horses. He become one of them, infiltrating the herd. He become their leader. I loved the way the story ended, with this Black cowboy leading the herd back to the big corral, having done what few other men, Black or white, could do by themselves. 

Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, The People’s Champion – written by Vaunt Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon James

I’ll admit, I haven’t read this book yet. I’ve ordered it, and I am over-the-top excited anticipating it’s arrival. With four starred reviews so far, I’m certain it will not disappoint.