Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison, known to the world as Toni Morrison, is one of the most important American writers of all time. Over the course of countless essays, novels, and lesser-known children’s picture books, Morrison became an icon for works that centered on Black people and their experiences. As she put it, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Morrison, who passed in 2019, did so with a long list of accolades. She was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the first Black female editor at Random House, and the first (and only) Black female to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
This list includes several of her picture books for children, co-authored with her son Slade Morrison, and all of her novels.
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Toni Morrison Children’s Books
This book is about more than the pleasures of being able to check out books after getting your first library card. It’s also about a child finding solace and comfort among the stories and books the library card allows her to explore.
Little Cloud and Lady Wind
Lady Wind calls Little Cloud’s desire for a solitary life into question by helping her to learn there can be strength in unity. Inspired by Aesop’s fable, “The Bundle of Sticks,” this beautiful picture book imparts a lesson of balancing your independence with inter-connectedness.
Peeny Butter Fudge
Any kid who’s ever enjoyed delicious treats while spending time at Grandma’s house will eat this book up, much like the children in its pages devouring their Nana’s extra-special fudge. This story is brimming with life and energy.
The Tortoise or the Hare
This retelling of the classic fable not only delivers it with new wording but a new lesson, too. The hare wins the race in this take, but the tortoise gets the most out of participating when he realizes that by simply joining in, he’s gained a new friend.
Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper?
One of three Who’s Got Game? books, each reimagining an Aesop’s fable, this first volume reconsiders the story of the grasshopper and the ants. The book examines the bullying behavior of a group that doesn’t respect a way of life different than their own. Rather than choosing a side, Morrison’s take leaves it to kids reading it to see the validity on both sides.
Buy it: Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? at Amazon | Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? at Bookshop
Who’s Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse?
This second volume of the Who’s Got Game? books puts a fresh spin on the fable of the lion and the mouse. This time, the brave and, at times, cocky lion is forced to ask the mouse for help getting a thorn out of his paw. However, he’s not prepared for the mouse to enjoy a power trip because of it.
Buy it: Who’s Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? at Amazon | Who’s Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? at Bookshop
Who’s Got Game? Poppy or the Snake?
In this retelling of Aesop’s Man and the Serpent fable, Poppy feels guilty when he runs over Snake and risks being bitten to free the reptile. But Snake wants more than that, and this funny retelling gives children and adults something to think about.
Buy it: Who’s Got Game? Poppy or the Snake? at Amazon | Who’s Got Game? Poppy or the Snake? at Bookshop
Toni Morrison Novels
Perhaps Morrison’s best-known book, Beloved, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and frequently ranks among the most challenged and banned books of all time. The story is of an enslaved woman who kills her child rather than let her become enslaved herself. Years later, the ghost of the child haunts her in this stunning novel on the persisting evils of slavery.
Buy it: Beloved at Amazon | Beloved at Bookshop
The Bluest Eye
This slim novel, Morrison’s first, is told from the perspective of a young Black child who wishes to have blue eyes so that she will be considered beautiful per the white people around her. Morrison writes scenes that are gut-wrenching, but this novel is fearless.
Song of Solomon
Morrison’s third novel (published in 1977) put her on the map and won her the National Book Critics Circle Association Award for Fiction. The book is both a coming-of-age story and a family saga. The book follows main character, Macon “Milkman” Dead, as he strikes out from his Michigan town on a journey of self-discovery. Morrison develops every character Milkman encounters, and his odyssey is one that may require multiple reads before comprehending its full depth.
A lyrical and sensuous novel, Jazz begins with the funeral of the 18-year-old lover of Joe Trace. It’s set in 1926, ostensibly a time when things were supposed to be better for Black people. The novel goes back and forth in time, narrated by a character whose identity readers must imagine.
Buy it: Jazz at Amazon | Jazz at Bookshop
This slim but powerful volume centers on the friendship of two women: its title character and Nel. The novel also tackles the question of what it means to be the “right” kind of woman and what it means to be a woman who is truly herself.
Buy it: Sula at Amazon | Sula at Bookshop
Tar Baby features the stories of five characters, but its central story is the love relationship between two. Jade and Son could not be more different, despite being of the same race. Jade, raised and educated with the help of two rich white people, strives to stay connected to what she thinks of as civilization. Meanwhile, Son, poor and transient, wants her to peel away her rich trappings to understand where she came from.
Buy it: Tar Baby at Amazon | Tar Baby at Bookshop
A town called Ruby is the “paradise” of this title. The small town in Oklahoma was founded by nine Black men who wanted the residents to be free to pursue their own way of life. However, women’s needs were not considered in the patriarchal equation, and several have left to form their own community, called Convent. Now, the two towns are in constant battle. By no means an easy read, but a stunning and emotional one, this is not a story of paradise so much as a paradise lost.
Buy it: Paradise at Amazon | Paradise at Bookshop
Set in the 1680s, the early days of the American slave trade, this book is both a historical novel and a mother-daughter story. Morrison’s choice to go to the beginning of America’s greatest shame allows her to explore the nature of good and evil. She delves into the dangerous and shameful way Christians rationalized enslaving people and the way our country and capitalism were built together on the backs of those brought here against their will.
Buy it: A Mercy at Amazon | A Mercy at Bookshop
In this brilliant work, three generations of Black women have made their home in a once-thriving beach town that’s now more of a ghost town. They each remember the charismatic and exuberant hotel and club owner, Bill Cosey. Through their memories, the reader begins to understand the town’s glory days and what began its eventual decline.
Buy it: Love at Amazon | Love at Bookshop
This 147-page novel is short but powerful. Frank Money is a Korean War veteran who must return to the hometown to which he swore he’d never go back. It’s the only way to protect his sister, Cee. Morrison tackles so many subjects, including the army’s broken promises to Black soldiers and the way childhood trauma can leave people feeling like they’re unsure where home can be, in this slim and gorgeously written volume.
Buy it: Home at Amazon | Home at Bookshop
God Help the Child
“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” So says Sweetness, mother to this novel’s main character, Bride, who as a child was treated with disdain and neglect by her parents for having dark skin. Morrison’s last novel is a gorgeous, heartbreaking swan song.
Want more classroom library ideas? Check out our list of Judy Blume books!