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Black History Month through Books
By Holly E. Newton

February is Black History Month and there is no better way to recognize awareness and celebration of this wealth of diversity and appreciation than through books. Here is a list of some of the best and newest books on this subject.

First, let me review some outstanding picture books that are great for all ages!

I Saw Your Face has to be one of the most extraordinary books I've come across. Tom Feelings, a well-known award-winning artist who recently passed away, spent his lifetime illustrating people of African descent. When he showed Kwane Dawes, a renowned poet and author in his own right, the faces he'd drawn from all over the world, this awe-inspiring book was conceived. You'll be moved by the beautiful charcoal renderings of children's faces, from South Africa to Louisiana, and the words that seem to ebb their way onto each and every page.

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Coming on Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson, recently won the Caldecott Honor Award. Ms. Woodson is a master at writing a brief text with just enough words to savor. Mama has to leave her daughter, Ada Ruth, with grandma as she travels to Chicago to work. It's the 1940's and there's a war going on. With all the men gone off to fight, the railroad is hiring black women to help. But this story isn't about mama. It's about the relationship of Ada Ruth and her loving grandmother. E. B. Lewis has captured the deeply rooted devotion of these two in his breathtaking watercolors as they wait for mama's return.

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Let's Talk about Race, by Julius Lester and brightly illustrated by Karen Barbour, is really a conversation with Mr. Lester and the reader. This insightful and clever text really takes a child to the level of what we all are. He clearly enlightens us to kindness and acceptance to all, no matter what color of skin. Because, after all, as Mr. Lester so unmistakably states: "Beneath the skin we all look alike."

An African Princess, by Lyra Edmonds and richly illustrated by Anne Wilson, is about a young girl of mixed race. Her mama always tells her that she is a princess of African descent. But Lyra questions how she could be an African princess with freckles and live in a high-rise in a city. Lyra, however, soon learns first-hand about her heritage and walks forever afterwards tall and proud.

This Little Light of Mine is based on the song of the same title. One look at the stunning watercolors that fill each page, and you'll easily recognize the famous E. B. Lewis. This traditional African-American spiritual has surely inspired Mr. Lewis because the glorious pictures reflect the inner beauty of one special African-American boy as he lets his light constantly shine on those in need. The reactions and expressions of the faces portrayed on each page will surely let some of that light shine on you!

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins, by Carol Boston Weatherford, is based on an actual occurrence at the Woolworth's counter in 1960, where only white people were allowed to sit. This enlightened story is told through 8-year-old Connie's eyes. There is much to learn from her simple vantage point. The full-page oil paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue help to set the tone and setting of the events as they took place.

A Sweet Smell of Roses, by Angela Johnson, is a celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous Peace March. Two young sisters slip away from their house to be participants in this important march. Eric Velasquez drew the charcoal illustrations with only a hint of red on the ribbon of a bear carried throughout by one of the girls, the American flag and roses at the end of the story. There is much symbolism in this simple story of hope.

The next two books are just great read-alouds that depict tall tales. I like the fact that they have nothing to do with prejudice or discrimination. The protagonists in both just happen to be black. A favorite author of mine, Jerdine Nolen, writes Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life. He's developed a story about tiny Hewitt, who has been born into a family of giants. There are some powerful lessons taught here that include courage and confidence. The larger-than-life illustrations, by Kadir Nelson, will completely thrust you into Hewitt's tiny world.

Roy Makes a Car, by Mary E. Lyons and dazzlingly illustrated by Terry Widener, is a rollicking read-aloud about the possibilities of the perfect car. Can Roy build that car? You'll be amazed at the imagination used in the building of an automobile!

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Here are two historical fiction books for 8-through-teen years. Seaward Born, by Lea Wait, is an exciting adventure set in the early 1800's. The book is about 13-year-old Michael as he decides to escape as a stowaway on a ship bound for the north as it leaves South Carolina. Few books tell the story of the struggle of slavery as well as this page-turner!

Journey to the Bottomless Pit: The Story of Stephen Bishop & Mammoth Cave, by Elizabeth Mitchell, gives an amazing account of a young slave who learned about all of the tunnels and underground passages throughout one of the largest cave complexes in North America. Here is another enlightened page turner for all to enjoy!

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About the Author:

Holly Evans Newton has taught Kindergarten through 7th grades for 25 years. She received her B.S. from Utah State University in Logan, Utah and her M.A. from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. She has three sons who have served full time missions and two younger daughters, plus two adorable grandchildren. She has been married to Dale Karl Newton for 30 years. She is currently serving as ward missionary and organist in Columbia, Missouri. She is the recent recipient of the prestigious Literacy Award presented to her by the International Reading Association. She writes a weekly children's book review for the acclaimed and largest distributed newspaper throughout Mid Missouri. She can be seen weekly on the local NBC affiliate news program where she also reviews children's books. She has set a goal to read every great book for kids! You can find her past book reviews on her website: www.geocities.com/newtonsbook

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