This month is celebrating “Black History” and one of the best ways to celebrate it is by reading outstanding literature that deals with this subject. I’ll begin with books geared for kids ages nine and up. The five last books are picture books good for all ages.
The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, centers around twelve-year-old Deza living with her dear devoted family during the Great Depression in the Mid West. When her father loses his job, he heads to Michigan while his wife continues her job back in Indiana. Soon after, she loses her job and now the family is left homeless. However, through all of the tremendous challenges and difficulties her family faces, including racial tension, Deza’s family remains strong and committed to each other. The story is superbly written with a storytelling style connecting one event to the next and with great fluidity.
Where Do You Stay?, by Andrea Cheng, is a compelling story of loss and recovery when eleven-year-old Jerome, who tells this drama, deals with the loss of his single mother’s sickness and ultimately her death. He has to adjust to moving in with his mother’s sister who is also saddened by this death. His aunt plans to adopt him, but Jerome still feels alone and misses his mother, his home and his familiar surroundings. This story reads with poetic prose as Jerome ultimately discovers an older neighbor who loves music as he does and helps Jerome navigate his life back on course finding beauty in the rhythm of life.
The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, (I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly) Mars Bluff, South Carolina 1865, from the “Dear America” series, by Joyce Hansen, follows young Patsy as she and the other slaves living at Davis Hall can now leave after their emancipation during the Reconstruction Era. But she finds that slave life is still strongly tied to the plantations, as her life changes very little. She overcomes much in her life as she teaches herself to read and write and begins to help other slaves on the plantation. Patsy suffers difficulty growing up as she limps, stutters and is extremely shy, but education helps her lot in life tremendously. This story is told (as with all in this series) through diary entries, but don’t let that mislead – the story flows with much emotion and drama. And check out the historical information found at the back of the book.
Black & White, The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor, by Larry Dane Brimner, is an account of one of the most crucial and difficult times during the civil rights movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Reverend Shuttlesworth, an African-American minister, was striving to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Eugene “Bull” Connor was the Commissioner for Public Safety and was not about to let Blacks make any kind of change in the city even though it would improve their lives. This historical account is riveting and full of photographs making this a must for ages twelve and older.
Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, by Chris Crowe, and beautifully painted in acrylic by Mike Benny, tells about an important time in African American history when not only Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he signed to play in the National League, but Doby signed 11 weeks later to play in the American League. Doby doesn’t have the notoriety (of Robinson), but his outstanding ability while playing for the Cleveland Indians helped validate that race should not prevent any and all who want to play this sport. Young Homer tells the story of the first game in the World Series with Cleveland. He loves playing baseball, even though he’s been turned down to play on the Little League team because of the color of his skin. The story showcases Homer and his family listening to the game, back in 1945, on the radio. The paintings are full page spreads depicting this era. Be sure to check out the historical notes found at the back of the book.
Never Forgotten, by Patricia C. McKissack, and artistically painted with acrylic and watercolor on bristol board by Leo and Diane Dillon, is this year’s Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award book. This powerful story is told in verse and begins with a young black boy being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Each poem tells a compelling story of the events to this family’s ancestors and the bond that holds them all together. The iconic cover illustration begins the tale with the strength of the father holding up his infant son for all to see.
What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, and ingeniously illustrated by Ben Boos and A. G. Ford, is an overlarge book with flaps that open to reveal commentaries of young Ella as she humorously writes reflections on lesser-known African American inventors. The book reads like an adventure as Ella and her brother learn about these inventors from a handyman. The book is well documented and the children’s interactions with the handyman keep the entire book entertaining and enjoyable to read.
The last two picture books are based on true events and both deal with the struggles and segregation of the 1960’s. Both of these books would be a good introduction to open discussions with younger children. They are: White Water, by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, and beautifully painted by Shadra Strickland, and Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, and gloriously painted by John Holyfield.