Black History Month

Black History Month

   Black History is American history. It is observed annually in February to coincide with the birthdays of Black Leader Frederick Douglass (February 14) and President Abraham Lincoln (February 12), whose friendship is explored in the Russell Freedman book listed below. Negro History Week was established in 1926 and grew to become Black History Month in 1976.

   With the titles on this list, young people will come to know and understand not only the facts, but in many cases, the emotions of those living through this part of our history. Kadir Nelson's beautiful paintings capture Dr. King's passionate words and feelings in I Have a Dream and is a must see book on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Search CLCD for other Coretta Scott King award books around which to build programs or lessons promoting understanding.

   Information and activities about Black History Month can be found online at:

Contributor: Peg Glisson


Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
Russell Freedman

The winner of the Newbery Medal for Lincoln: A Photobiography returns to his award winning subject to focus attention on the history-making friendship between two self-made men whose stances against slavery changed American history forever. Freedman provides numerous parallels between the lives of these two American icons, most strikingly that both studied the book The Columbian Orator, "a collection of speeches and dialogues about freedom, democracy, and courage," as preparation for becoming two of the most stirring orators of the nineteenth century. An escaped and then freed slave, Douglass abhorred slavery; Lincoln's first exposure to slavery sickened him, but his political career was initially built around halting the expansion of slavery rather than abolishing it completely. Lincoln welcomed Douglass to the White House, the only black man bold enough to seek an audience with the president: "Mr. Douglass, I know you Sit down, I am glad to see you." Lincoln heard, and heeded, Douglass's complaints about unequal treatment of black soldiers in the Union army; Douglass came to understand why Lincoln, facing unbearable political pressures, had been slow to take the decisive step of emancipation. The two men forged a lasting friendship based on their intersecting goals: "Douglass needed Lincoln's help to rid the nation of slavery. Lincoln needed Douglass to help him end the war and reunite the nation." Freedman's book is enormously readable, engaging, inspirational, and moving. Illustrated with numerous period photographs and drawings, the book also contains a list of relevant historic sites to visit, selected bibliography, source notes, and index. 2012, Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 14, $18.99. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, PhD (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780547385624

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage
Alan Schroeder
Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu

Baby Flo is a lovely nonfiction book about Florence Mills who sailed to stardom in the early 1920's. Florence began singing and dancing when she was just three years of age. She was a happy, vibrant child with an engaging personality. Starting on the small stage and dealing with racial prejudice, Florence continued to impress people. Audiences could not get enough of her delicate singing voice and her wonderful dancing ability. In 1917, when she was 21 years old, she joined a vaudeville act. In 1921 at the age of 25, she joined the cast of Shuffle Along and became the most popular black female entertainer in New York. Florence had many admirers including Charlie Chaplin, Duke Ellington, and Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson. She went on to perform at a hugely successful cabaret show at the Plantation Room in New York, and then she sailed to London to perform in Dover Street to Dixie. Florence was a sought after performer, and people enjoyed working with her. Then, sadly and suddenly she came down with tuberculosis in 1927, and passed away at the age of 31. Thousands of people showed up for her funeral in order to honor her. Both interesting and entertaining, this book offers colorful and large illustrations and easy to read text. This book will fit nicely in an elementary school social studies or history classroom. 2012, Lee & Low Publishing, Ages 6 to 9, $18.95. Reviewer: Cheryl Williams Chang (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781600604102

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, American's First Black Paratroopers
Tanya Lee Stone

The blatant injustice and grim irony of fighting European fascism in World War II with a segregated United States military may have been ignored or buried by the top brass, but it certainly wasn't lost on the black soldiers trained for combat and then relegated to service positions. The extraordinary convergence of a Democratic president (FDR) up for reelection, a black sergeant (Walter Morris) determined to improve his company's morale, a first lady (Eleanor Roosevelt) with an activist agenda, and a black Brigadier General (Benjamin O. Davis) putting pressure on the War Office made the formation of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company (later Battalion) a reality. The Triple Nickles, as they were nicknamed (the alternative spelling is traditional), seemed destined to break the pattern of blacks barred from combat. As highly trained as the white paratroopers with whom they nominally shared facilities, the 555th were battle ready and anxious for deployment, but it wasn't until the close of the war that they were finally sent to Oregon on a mission to put out forest fires ignited by Japanese balloon bombs, the very existence of which was kept under tight wraps by the government. Was this a legitimate assignment, or simply another ruse for keeping a group of unwanted men from fighting alongside white soldiers? To date, Stone reports, no definite answer has been reached, but the lingering discrimination in the military throughout the war, and the skill, loyalty, and heroism of the paratroopers themselves, is unquestionable. Richly illustrated with photographs, this compelling story of the Triple Nickles' training and Pacific coast mission will be of particular interest to young teens who have read Shelley Pearsall's Jump into the Sky (BCCB 10/12), and the appended bibliography, timeline, notes, and index will guide their further exploration of these heroes.2013, Candlewick Press, Ages 11 to 16, $18.95. Reviewer: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780763651176

Barbara Wright

The somewhat sheltered, studious son of a Howard University graduate, twelve-year-old Moses has grown up as part of Wilmington's thriving African American community in the late 19th century. His father is a city alderman and a reporter/manager of the only Negro daily in the South; his mother is the daughter of a slave and works as a maid to a rich white woman. Racism is part of Moses' life but not a dominant concern; summer fun is what is on his mind. As the summer passes and elections loom, there is mounting tension in the city, primarily stemming from an inflammatory editorial run in his father's paper. Using Moses' friendships and activities to inform the reader of the social strata in both the white and black communities, Wright subtly lays the groundwork as hostilities increase and the naive Moses becomes more aware--and involved. He helps the editor escape town and races to his father's office to warn him of the oncoming white supremacist mob, which succeeds in burning down the newspaper's offices. Violence and political corruption overtake the city as Moses faces the harsh realities of his world. Wright adroitly creates her main characters, most especially Moses and his grandmother Boo Nanny, an uneducated, former slave, who tries to help Moses understand the world in which he lives. Blending real and fictional characters and telling the story through the eyes and feelings of young Moses works extremely well. The gripping tale, based on a little known uprising, provides readers with an emotional, yet realistic, look at life for Blacks at the time. Moses is a credibly drawn young man, forced to face disturbing injustices. This outstanding historical fiction novel will linger in readers' minds and should be read by literature circles or in social studies classes. 2012, Random House, Ages 10 to 14, $16.99. Reviewer: Peg Glisson (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375869280

The Great Bicycle Experiment: The Army's Historic Black Bicycle Corps, 1896-97
Kay Moore

The bicycle, similar to today's modern bicycle, was invented and popularized in the late 1800s. By that time, American army officers were beginning to re-think the Army's method of moving troops around. Horses required food, water, and rest; they were noisy; they made messes; they panicked at times; and they died. Bikes seemed a perfect alternative, especially since they were known to work in Europe. A young commander, Lt. James Moss, proposed an experimental bicycle corps. Eight Buffalo Soldiers, the African American soldiers who protected the fort from Indian raids, volunteered, and the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Experimental Bicycle Corps was born. On several levels, the experiment was a success. The corps made the 2000-mile trip without any long-term ill effects; and the people they encountered along the way, many of whom had never seen a black face, greeted them with courtesy, curiosity, and even warmth. Both teachers and readers will appreciate this look at the dauntless effort to succeed in the face of diversity. The book would be appropriate for curriculum support. Moore does not coast along; she breaks the ribbon at the finish line as she tackles a rarely mentioned facet of history in the most interesting light possible. 2012, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Ages 9 to 14, $12.00. Reviewer: Bonita Herold (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780878425938

I Have a Dream
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Paintings by Kadir Nelson

On August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of his most important and quoted speeches known as "I have a dream." In it, King looks beyond the racial turmoil of the day to a future of freedom and justice for African Americans, a time of brotherhood. The speech is printed in its entirety in the back of the book. The enclosed CD is also a recording of the entire speech made by King that day. Nelson has chosen to illustrate just the most famous part, the dream. It concludes with King's exhortation to let freedom ring. All God's children "will be able to join hands and sing…Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" The large pages are used primarily to house realistic close-up oil painted portraits of King and of illustrations taken from the speech that include children, adults, and scenes from nature. The solidity of the representations reinforces the solemnity of the inspirational speech. 2012, Schwartz & Wade/Random House Children's Books, Ages 8 to Adult, $18.99. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375858871

King of the Mound: My Summer with Satchel Paige
Wes Tooke

Following a year of hospitalization due to polio, Nick fears that his life may never return to normal. He was the best pitcher in his local baseball league, possessing pinpoint control and amassing many strikeouts. Now, weakened by polio, he wears a leg brace and thinks his pitching days are over. His father, a catcher for a semi-pro team, gets Nick a job selling programs at the games. For the 1935 season, the team has added Negro League star Satchel Paige to pack the stadium for every game, and Paige delivers in a big way. Nick and Satchel form an unlikely friendship as the team encounters Jim Crow laws and unabashed racial hatred while on a barnstorming tour. In the span of one very memorable summer, Satchel teaches Nick to overcome his perceived limitations and to look at his life differently. This historical sports novel is a quick read that would appeal to readers of either gender. Sports fans will enjoy the 1930s-era baseball facts sprinkled throughout, as well as the realistic depiction of baseball action. Other readers will appreciate the innocent romance that occurs between Nick and his young neighbor, as well as between their widowed parents. The emphasis on Jim Crow laws and Negro League baseball make this a valuable classroom resource--it would pair well with Kadir Nelson's We Are the Ship. This book is recommended for upper elementary to middle school-aged readers, particularly those with an interest in baseball. 2012, Simon & Schuster, Ages 11 to 14 $15.99. Reviewer: Sherrie Williams (VOYA).
ISBN: 9781442433465

The Lions of Little Rock
Kristin Levine

Virginia author Kristin Levine brilliantly conveys the zeitgeist of the late '50s in Little Rock, Arkansas. She focuses on the tumultuous year following the integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine. In 1958, high schools, black and white, closed to avoid mandated desegregation. New to middle school, timid Marlee befriends outspoken Liz, who then strangely disappears. As she searches for her friend and the truth, Marlee helps an organization working to reopen the schools, deals with racist dynamite-carrying boys and learns to speak up for herself and others. Forgotten moments of history leap again to the fore in this powerful novel. 2012, G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, Ages 10 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780399256448

Me and Momma and Big John
Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by William Low

Young John, our narrator, greets his mother along with his sister and brother when she returns from work, tired and covered with gray dust. She has been hired to cut stone for the cathedral in the city called Big John. She describes for them how huge the cathedral is. After many days she has been working on just one stone. John expects to see his mother's name on the stone, like the art he has seen in the museum. When the stone is finished, the whole African American family goes to see it. Although her name is not on it, Momma knows that many people will come and see it, high atop the cathedral. And the family knows that their mother made it. This huge, impressive subject uses a large, double-page arena to tell its tale. Computer generated images, impressionistically naturalistic, fill the space with the young family, the strong African American artist mother, and the piece of stone she is shaping for the enormous cathedral. A note about the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City fills in the background of the story based on fact. 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780763643591

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Lewis Michaux might not be as well known to the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcom X, but he was just as important. This book is mostly factual though characters were added to tell of Lewis' journey in helping African American's find a voice during the civil rights movement. Lewis didn't always know what he wanted to do with his life--he just knew life was not always fair. Eventually he came upon the idea that if he could get people to read books by and about African Americans, then perhaps they would not forget their heritage, which is the first step in being somebody. With five books and a hundred dollars, Michaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, New York. Here, African Americans like Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni, and others talked about life, politics and everything in between. The short snippets of first person narratives (rather than pages of facts) make the text seem like something in-between a traditional historical fiction novel and a nonfiction book. The author does a great job of documenting where she got various bits of information, so although this is fiction, readers will learn just as much information about this lesser-known civil rights hero as if they were reading a biography. The only major frustration is that there were not more of the black and white sketches or corresponding photographs. 2012, Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner, Ages 14 to 18, $17.95. Reviewer: Joella Peterson (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780761361695

Praise Song: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
Elizabeth Alexander
Illustrated by David Diaz

The poem that creates the narrative for this beautiful picture book was commissioned for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The essence of the poem is that too often, we take little time to celebrate the concept of love and what our world might be like if we spent more time focused on our appreciation of our ancestors, our families, our friends, and those we come into contact with on a daily basis. The poet begins by noting that on most days, people stream past other people in a noisy mix that leads all of us to various jobs, activities, interactions, and hopes. Taking the time to understand what we accomplish each day and what our ancestors accomplished before us may help all of us move towards a better tomorrow for all of us. The illustrator does a phenomenal job capturing the language of the poem with his use of bright colors, slightly abstracted character types, and recognizable shapes and patterns that create their own energy page by page. This would be a lovely addition to any collection of picture books. 2012, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Ages 6 to 10, $16.99. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, PhD (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780061926631

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Wynton Marsalis
Illustrations by Paul Rogers

Narrated by a young African American boy, the story takes us through the music he hears in his typical day, such as from the noises he makes buttering his bread, hearing someone run from the bath all wet, a dripping tap, etc. He also includes, through alternating pages, the noises from many vehicles and, of course, a good selection of musical instruments. The playful onomatopoetic words Marsalis used for the sounds will entice children to continue reading the book over and over again. Additionally, the book is a good learning tool for music students to familiarize them with different instruments and the kind of sounds each makes. While most of the people depicted, which are not many in total, are black, Rogers also includes other races. His pictures are also fun, adding to the musical feel, a playful and entertaining disruption from static and silence. 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 3 to 8, $15.99. Reviewer: Heidi Quist (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780763639914

Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934
Charles R. Smith
Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Author Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrator Frank Morrison team up to tell the dramatic story of the Negro League All-Star Game of 1934 in Chicago. Their action-packed staging depicts the giants of black baseball as they bat, steal bases and make amazing catches, but it also captures the tenor of the times, with the announcer, fans and even a barber in a nearby shop ruminating in short asides on the segregated game and unjust Jim Crow laws. This is historical fiction sure to hook the sports minded, with its patter, personalities, stats and close calls, and with Morrison's dynamic graphite pictures of fiercely focused, quick-moving players. 2012, Simon and Schuster, Ages 7 to 11, $14.99. Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780689866388

The Story of the Negro Leagues
Bo Smolka

Baseball is a huge part of American culture. But, some of the best players in the history of baseball never played one inning in the majors. That is because Major League Baseball barred black players until 1947. The beginning of the end of the Negro League came when Jackie Robinson was promoted from the Brooklyn Dodgers' top minor league team in Montreal, Canada to their National League baseball team. Part of "The Negro Baseball Leagues" series, this title covers a dynamic time in American history and discusses the creation of the Negro Leagues, the first Negro League game and how the leagues were operational for more than half a century. Other titles in the series include: Great Hitters of the Negro Leagues, Great Pitchers of the Negro Leagues, and The Negro Leagues' Integration Era. Each book contains vivid photographs and informational text boxes that add to the narrative. Consistent throughout in format, the series contains a Table of Contents, timeline, glossary, select bibliography, resources, web links and places to visit. The series takes a comprehensive look at baseball's racial segregation in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly its social impact. A recommended curriculum resource for black history, civil rights, and social issues such as racism, equality and segregation for older elementary students. Teachers and librarians will find a useful resource for integrated lessons and activities related to economic, social, political, geographic, historical and educational issues. This is a book not only for baseball enthusiasts and fans, but also for readers wanting to put U.S. history in context. For example, what was happening around the world and in the United States at that time? A must for school libraries and classroom resources. The publisher offers a free theme-based Teachers Guide on its website. 2013, Sports Zone/ABDO Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 12, $32.79. Reviewer: Suzanne Javid (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781617835100

We March
Shane Evans

The issue of discrimination, lack of voting rights and access to jobs may be a hard concept for today's children. They don't have segregated facilities, schools and lives where they have little interaction with people of other races. The simple text describes an event that took place on August 28, 1963 when more than 250,000 people gathered at the nation's capital to participate in the march on Washington. It was predominately African Americans, but others joined them as the pictures clearly show. It was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream." He was promoting racial harmony and freedom for all. The text is straightforward and the illustrations are equally simple, but eloquently deliver the message. Young readers and those who have the text read to them should be able to understand the significance of that important day. An endnote by the author/illustrator explains what happened afterward--the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, which together opened up public facilities and made discriminatory voting practices illegal. Those practices had been successful in denying African Americans the right to vote. After the hard won struggles, young children should and young adults should be reminded of the importance of voting and how peaceful action can indeed change the world. 2012, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781596435391

Zora! The Life of Zora Neale Hurston
Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

Zora Neale Hurston is a lively subject for a biography but also a challenging one. As a collector of folk stories and "lies," she herself often played fast and loose with the truth, regularly changing her age to suit her purposes and lying to her friend and coworker Langston Hughes on multiple occasions. The Fradins parse truth from fiction carefully here, and they don't shy away from reporting on the mistakes, fits of temper, plagiarism, and other shady dealings that peppered Zora's fascinating and varied career. They introduce readers to her exuberant and fanciful childhood in the all-black community of Eatonville, Florida, a childhood that was shattered by the death of her beloved and supportive mother. Her father's remarriage proved disastrous to the cohesion of the family, with Zora and her stepmother even coming to physical blows at one point, resulting in Zora leaving her father's home forever. Zora possessed a keen intelligence and an unfailing confidence in herself; while she worked at various jobs throughout her life, she never gave up the idea that she was destined to be a famous writer. The Fradins trace her academic and writing careers during the heady days of the Harlem Renaissance, providing child-friendly explanations for why her work went largely unrecognized by the general public until after her death, and they explore in detail why an award-winning author found herself working as a housekeeper in her fifties. The biography thus features the humor and heartache of the life of a brilliant but largely underappreciated writer who only became really well known after her death. Two folktales that Hurston collected, a timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index are included. 2012, Clarion Books, Ages 13 up, $17.99. Reviewer: Karen Coats (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780547006956

Updated 02/01/13

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