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.
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
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
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!
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