Monday, February 09, 2015

Celebrate African-American History with Children's Books

February is the month to spotlight the achievements of African-Americans throughout our country and within our community. Books are an excellent place to begin. Here are a few favorites, old and new, including fiction and non-fiction, to get you started. Stop by your local Richmond Public Library and check one out!

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother save their money to buy a big comfortable chair. Suffused with warmth and tenderness, A Chair for My Mother celebrates family love and determination. A Caldecott Honor book. 

Donald Crews is an African-American illustrator and writer of
children's picture books including two Caldecott Honor Books. He is the winner of the 2015 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honoring an author or illustrator, published in the United States, whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.  His titles include Freight Train, Ten Black Dots, Bigmama's, and many other children's favorites. For more information on this talented author/illustrator go to         
Donald Crews, author/illustrator

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Clover's mom says it isn't safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives.  The two girls forge their own friendship and get around the grownup's rules by sitting on top of the fence together.  This picture book could be a great conversation starter with children.

Another title by Woodson is the semi-autobiographical picture book Show Way.  "Show Ways", or quilts, once served as secret maps for freedom-seeking slaves.  This is the story of seven generations of girls and women who were quilters, artists, and freedom fighters.

Woodson has also written widely for older elementary and secondary school age readers, including series titles and other fiction. She recently received a National Book Award for brown girl dreaming.  This autobiographical fiction title for middle grade readers tells of her childhood and growing up in South Carolina and New York. 

A complete list of titles and more information about the author may be found at her website. 

For older readers, check out a new book by Kekla Magoon titled How it Went Down.  This novel, published prior to the events in Ferguson, MO, eerily reflects present day tensions and misconceptions.  When sixteen-Year-Old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar.  Tariq was black.  The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. The story unfolds in many voices and in the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, and no two accounts of the events are the same.  
For a different perspective, try The Rock and the River, published in 2009.  Fourteen-year-old Sam Childs must choose between the passive resistance of his father and the activism of his older brother whom he idolizes.  Set in 1968 Chicago, Magoon includes a compassionate and realistic perspective of the early Black Panther movement and one of their original goals of serving people in underserved communities through after-school care, food programs and free clinics.

Non-fiction titles reflecting civil rights and the African-American experience are found in all of the Richmond Public Library collections.  Some of the highlights include:

March:  Book 1 and recently published 
March:  Book 2 by Congressman John Lewis, a key figure in the civil rights movement.  These books are two thirds of a graphic novel trilogy sharing the story of Lewis and his youth in rural Alabama, his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his participation in non-violent resistance that led to profound change.  The graphic format illustrates this story effectively for 21st century readers. Both are an excellent accompaniment to the current film Selma, which portrays Lewis' initial meeting with Dr. King.

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges is a first-hand account of the author's experience as a
six-year-old child entering an all white elementary school in 1960s New Orleans.  Photos, news clips, and other first-hand accounts fill out the details of this brave story.

Andrea Davis Pinkney grew up in a household that was active in the Civil Rights movement and this is evident in the many books she has written and published.  Her husband is the talented artist Brian Pinkney, a prolific illustrator of children's books.  A sample of some of Ms. Pinkney's most recent titles include:

Hand in Hand:  Ten Black Men Who Changed America.  This collection of short biographies includes details about ten different individuals who played important roles in American history, from slavery to the current century.

With the Might of Angels:  The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson is set in Hadley, VA in 1955. This fictional diary tells the story of a young, African-American girl who excels at baseball and her studies.  She becomes the first African-American to attend an all white school and her diary outlines the triumphs and challenges.  Historical data about the time period is included in this title from the "Dear America" series.

A 2010 collaboration with her husband, Brian Pinkney, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in.  Sit-in:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down is an picture book about four college students who staged a nonviolent protest at a lunch counter for "whites only" and ignited a spark that grew.

These titles only skim the surface of her contributions to children's literature.  Stop by the library and check out other titles by this wonderful author.  For a simple profile published in the Horn Book, go to A Profile of Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Whether through historical fiction or a non-fiction title that shares exacting details, the range of titles for children and teens covering the African-American experience continues to grow. Stop by your local library and check one out!


Carmel decroz said...

My kid love to read African American books

Anna Scott said...

Interesting post.. I read a lot of books about African American history and this particular website( was so helpful to me