An American Story

by Kwame Alexander (Author) Dare Coulter (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

#1 New York Times Bestselling and award-winning author of The Undefeated, Kwame Alexander, pens a powerful picture book that tells the story of American slavery through the voice of a teacher struggling to help her students understand its harrowing history.

From the fireside tales in an African village, through the unspeakable passage across the Atlantic, to the backbreaking work in the fields of the South, this is a story of a people's struggle and strength, horror and hope. This is the story of American slavery, a story that needs to be told and understood by all of us. A testament to the resilience of the African American community, this book honors what has been and envisions what is to be.

With stunning mixed-media illustrations by newcomer Dare Coulter, this is a potent book for those who want to speak the truth. Perfect for family sharing, the classroom, and homeschooling.

Select format:


Starred Review
Beautifully crafted and brutally honest, this offers a thoughtful introduction to a necessary topic.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
"The focus in this poetry collection is on superpowers in tiny packages. Stone sings the praises of each... and Spires gives these peewee powerhouses confident looks to match the breezy tone and adds clever touches... Small wonders." Kirkus STARRED Review

School Library Journal

Starred Review

PreS-Gr 3--In lyrical verse, Alexander tells the powerful story of American slavery and African resilience through the eyes of a teacher navigating students through this horrific period in American history. The shifting narrative moves between the teacher's account and the students' reactions, with Alexander magnifying the unfolding terror of a people stolen from home and thrust into slavery: "About sly men/ from cold places/ scheming/ and laughing/ on tall ships.../ while people/ shackled below, / crammed in/ small, hot spaces, / cry and/ sometimes die." Coulter's stunning mixed- media artwork illustrates the unflinching brutality of slavery and the beauty of a resilient people who "hold history in one hand and clench hope in the other." Classroom scenes are sketched in black against a warm yellow background, with expressive students and teacher working through the difficult lesson. Author and illustrator notes provide further context. VERDICT An excellent and essential first purchase for all collections; whether for curriculum-building or classroom-sharing, this book is unforgettable.--Rosemary Kiladitis

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Alexander begins this picture book with a vital question: "How do you tell a story/ that starts in Africa/ and ends in horror?" As Coulter's art alternates between elaborately sculpted historical scenes and contemporary charcoal vignettes of schoolchildren in a classroom, the following pages reveal a history that "hurts/ and still loves." Images of photographed clay figures against painted backgrounds begin in Africa, where children "finish chores/ play games/ listen to old tales." Pages next portray enslaved African people in the bowels of a ship and toiling "for free" in America, as well as "refusing/ to stop smiling/ and loving." It's a layered, compassionate telling that considers how to relay difficult truths, and as the art converges into a visual of past and present together, stirring concluding lines suggest a route forward: "by holding/ history/ in one hand/ and clenching/ hope/ in the other." Creators' notes conclude. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Super cute, illuminating... the illustrations have an instant glossy appeal... [and with] giggle-grabbing verse." School Library Journal

Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, publisher, and New York Times bestselling author of 35 books, including the Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor-winning picture book The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, the Newbery medal-winning novel, The Crossover (an Emmy-winning TV series on Disney plus), and Becoming Muhammad Ali, co-authored with James Patterson. He is also a regular contributor to NPR's Morning Edition. He invites you to visit him at

Dare Coulter (she/her) is an award-winning artist, muralist, and sculptor whose primary artistic objective is to create positive imagery of black people and families. She received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for her art in An American Story. She lives in North Carolina but intends to have a global presence by installing sculptures depicting black joy around the world. She invites you to visit her at and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @darecoulter.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
January 03, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV039120 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Prejudice & Racism
JUV016010 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | Africa
JUV016200 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - Civil War Period (1850-1877)
JUV030010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Africa
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
United States
Civil rights
Social conditions
Race relations
Politics and government

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!