Picture Book Review: Beautiful Black Girl by Keshia Johnson

A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.
Image description: A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.

Beautiful Black Girl written by Keshia Johnson, illustrated by Mark Mas Stewart

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Keshia Johnson of Beautiful Black Girl, tells the story of a young girl Mila, whose grandmother Molly takes her on a journey of falling in love with her beautiful black skin. The story of Mila’s journey to self-love inspires and encourages black girls everywhere to embrace who they are and conquer the world.

Melanin Origins publishes a line of books designed to bolster the self esteem of Black children, and especially Black girls. These books are necessary and it is amazing that Melanin Origins continues to bring them into the world. Beautiful Black Girl joins the ranks with Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness, Perfect As I Am, and I Love My Mocha Skin.

If for no other reason, Beautiful Black Girl should be on library shelves to tell Black girls they are beautiful, capable, and worthy. This message feels even more urgent in the current time with the pandemic and kids being out of their routines and elements. Morale is low, kids are struggling. Getting some extra love and encouragement to wrap around them and reminding them that they are loved is crucial right now.

This also works as an anti-bullying book. Mila comes home from school feeling sad because the kids made fun of her hair and lips and also her desire to be a doctor when she grows up. This is the beauty of picture books- they are meant to be a shared reading experience and allow for discussion about the illustrations, the story, and/or the messages within the story. If used as a read aloud in classrooms or libraries this first scene can open up discussion about how these comments made Mila feel, what the children could have said instead, how to care for yourself when someone says something hurtful, and what a bystander could have done if they over heard these hurtful comments. Sometimes young children are curious and helping them learn to rephrase their questions or who might be a more appropriate person to ask questions of is an important skill they need guidance with as is the skill of not saying everything that pops into your head and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand how comments can hurt feelings even if that wasn’t the intent.

One of the aspects of this book I love the most about is that the focus is not just on Mila’s appearance. Her grandmother encourages her to dream big and not let the narrow minds of her classmates hinder what she sees herself as capable of accomplishing. I know a lot of Black children, and especially girls, are teased for their appearance- skin that is “too dark”, hair that is “too natural”, etc. – and it is critically important that adults explicitly counter those messages and call out the anti-blackness of them. But girls also need messages beyond their appearance, because they are more than their bodies. Mila wants to be a doctor when she grows up and her grandmother pushes her to keep that dream and elaborate on it.

Finally Mila takes the book out to her friends at the end to encourage them and boost their spirits as well. The model of sharing the love with those you care about is also a critically important skill for kids to witness and internalize. The illustrations here, as with all Melanin Origin books are adorable. Keisha has endearing hair puffs and big, sweet eyes.

I also want to use this as a reminder to adults not to put your own ideas about this book onto children. It is written for Black girls and that by itself is perfect. But even if you have an all white patron base at your library (this should concern you, by the way!), you never know what child will connect with the message. I have seen my own daughter, who is so pale she looks blue, pick up these books in Melanin Origins’ catalog and love them and get a boost from them. I’m not saying kids are colorblind, but kids don’t always need the trappings of race to connect with a book and adults should be mindful of this when offering them books on the library shelves.

All in all, a great addition to the books that support Black girls. There are a lot of possibilities for this book in the hands of parents and educators. It would be perfect for kindergarten, first, and even second grade discussion and reading.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.