10 KidLit Books to Read for Black History Month
February is Black History Month, and in honor of that, we are sharing some of our favorite kidlit books that honor some remarkable people in our history. We love reading about amazing individuals. We look at black history month as an opportunity to learn about our history as Americans both good and evil and learn about some remarkable people who have accomplished some extraordinary things.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell illustrated by Christian Robinson, written as a free verse biographical poem Josephine is a piece of art all on its own! The words engage, educated and inspire the reader. I love the quotes from Baker punctuating the poem. Powell does a marvelous job painting the story of Josephine Baker for little readers; it takes inspiration from the life of an incredible performer and civil rights pioneer. Josephine Baker grew up in the shantytowns of St. Louis, often considered the home of ragtime music. At only 13, she left home to travel with a dance troupe, sharpening her skills and creating a silly on-stage persona and earning pennies. Through many unlikely but fortunate events, her talent discovered, and soon she was dancing the Charleston on a stage in Paris. Powell did an excellent job including most milestones of Josephine’s notorious career and turbulent life. Focusing on events that carried the most personal weight for Baker. The illustrations in this book are perfectly paired with phenomenal writing. Robinson’s colorful acrylics pop off the page. They honor both the Jazz era and Baker’s life. They are true works of art in their own right. This book is well researched and has a plethora of information offered to the reader creating innumerable conversation points. While this book is thick, it is a fun read that your child will engage, educate and inspire you and your children.
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman, written by Lousie Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger illustrated by Teresa Flavin. While this book is not nearly as long or as researched as Josephine, it is still a great book on a fascinating person. Bessie Coleman was a sharecropper’s daughter in Waxahachie, Texas. Having grown up poor, she moved to Chicago, Illinois to make a name for herself. Education was something she yearned for and worked hard to get. After years of hard work, Bessie determined that the only job she wanted was to become an aviatrix. She was probably met with a lot of racism and sexism, but that wasn’t discussed in detail. Scrimping and saving allowed Bessie to travel to France, where like Josephine she was accepted. She was able to earn her pilot’s license. Throughout the years Bessie would wow American audiences everywhere with her tricks. In the end, Bessie died in a plane crash and was buried in Chicago once more. Her life allowed her to become the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license. Not the first African-American woman, the first African-American ever! Which is amazing. This book is great, it tells Bessie Coleman’s story nicely, it is a pretty quick read. The illustrations are nice as well, but pretty standard, not displaying artistic freedom, which in association with the topic makes sense. It is still a great book to introduce readers to Bessie Coleman and her amazing accomplishments.
Martin & Mahalia
Martin & Mahalia His words Her Song, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney illustrated by Brian Pinkney, this book shares the story of two inspiring civil rights activists. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahalia Jackson. Almost everyone knows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but many may not have heard of Mahalia Jackson. This story shares both of their lives. At first, the stories are distinct, with an alternating pattern including dedicated spreads tracing their paths as gospel preacher and singer until their paths finally meet. The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 was the turning point of the story, Martin and Mahalia forge a collaboration that takes them through Martin’s most famous speech, at the Lincoln Memorial. The text is written in a careful rhythmic pattern mirroring the two individuals’ impact. The pictures are bright and colorful and full of creative expression.
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver, written by Tonya Bolden, this book is truly a plethora of knowledge about George Washington Carver. An excellent read to educate and motivate young minds or even older minds. The story of George Washington Carver is one that I believe everyone should read, in this day and age we could learn so much from this man. The writer does an excellent job telling the story including his early years being born into slavery and his tragic separation from his mother. They also explain some of the “masters” backstories in the captions of the photos. I love how the author traces connections form Carver’s early years throughout his career drawing connections from his early lesson in waste not, want not ….which led him to his devotion to finding new uses for the farm by-products. Bolden does not leave out any of the subtleties in George Washington Carver’s life. Sharing Caver’s trepidation about leaving the mostly white Midwest to join Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute which had less to offer. I love how Bolden continued to tie back to Carver’s early years reminding us of his Aunt Martha and the lesson to share his knowledge with his people. This book is well researched and covers Carver’s life beautifully. Photos and reproductions are comprised of many of Carver’s own paintings and photographs. They are exceptional, and their arrangement is in the style of an old-fashioned photo album. It makes the reader feel like we are looking through his old albums and journals.
of Thee, I Sing A Letter to My Daughters
Of Thee I Sing A Letter to My Daughters, written by Barack Obama illustrated by Loren Long, this book is a bit different from all the rest, and Isabella’s favorite. This book is written by our 44th president and is a sentimental letter to his little girls. He opens up his heart and uses people from history to inspire and uplift the reader. He is telling the reader that they have the same characteristics as these amazing people such as Georgia O’Keeffe (creativity), Jackie Robinson (courage), Helen Keller (strength), Cesar Chavez (inspiration). This book has wonderful illustrations that my daughter fell in love with and is a great introduction to the 13 American icons and heroes whom he wrote about.
Ella Fitzgerald A Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
Ella Fitzgerald A Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney illustrated by Brian Pinkney, this book was a wonderful tale of Ella Fitzgerald’s life, going into depth of how she started out as a kid playing on the street wanting a future in dance and changing her mind and using her voice to sing into the hearts of people all over the world. This book follows her career and life and informs the reader of all her struggles to stardom. Chick Webb made her work for her spot with him, and prove herself to him. The one negative is this book is narrated by a character called Scat Cat Monroe, and he is a jive fellow, however, Isabella didn’t care for him. The rhythm of the book is a beauty all its own, and the illustrations match it perfectly with a bit of magical imagination and wonderment it brings Ella’s story to life. A perfect pairing.
Molly, by Golly!
Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, written by Dianne Ochiltree illustrated by Kathleen Kemly. This book is a lovely book that not only teaches us about the amazing Molly Williams but also about how firefighters and engines used to be. Molly Williams was a cook for New York’s Volunteer Fire Company 11. She fed these men each day creating lovely meals. She was known to be a fabulous cook. Until one day when the snow was coming down, and men were getting sick with the flu. She saw and heard the signs of fire, and with only a few firefighters at the ready, she knew what she had to do. She grabbed her woolen shawl and set out to help her crew fight the blaze. This was an adventurous and engaging story, sure to keep a child’s attention and teach them about the first female firefighter and even about how fighting a fire was done “back in the day”.
Fredrick’s Journey: The Life of Fredrick Douglass
Fredrick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass, written by Doreen Rappaport illustrated by London Ladd. This book is a great introduction to Frederick Douglass’s life and journey from slave to international renowned writer and lecturer, with a detailed history of his childhood years where he suffered through slavery. It was even stated that Frederick Douglass’s father may have been the man who owned his mother which is why he was cast away and sent to live with his grandmother at the tender age of six was ripped away from the only family he knew and sent into a new home to be treated worse than a household pet. Once you get past his painful childhood, you learn how he escapes from slavery and buys his freedom with the help of his friends for $710.96. He went on the lecture in Great Britain and Ireland, started a newspaper and even got to know Abraham Lincoln and begin getting some much-needed change. He was even involved with the Underground Railroad. I love that Rappaport uses quotes from Frederick himself to punctuate the story. This is a great introduction to Frederick Douglass’s life, but just that an introduction for more on his life you will need to look elsewhere.
Nothing but Trouble The Story of Althea Gibson
Nothing but Trouble The Story of Althea Gibson, written by Sue Stauffacher illustrated by Greg Couch. This was a fun read filled with funny, interesting, relate-able well-researched knowledge jam-packed in it. Althea Gibson is far from perfect, in fact, she is “nothing but trouble”. “Alethea Gibson was the tallest, wildest tomboy in the history of Harlem. Everybody said so.” I could only imagine what kind of stigma that puts on someone to always hear they are nothing but trouble, but besides that, she was a rough and tough kid. Getting into trouble, playing sports being rambunctious (probably would be put on medication nowadays), no one seemed to see anything valuable in Althea Gibson except for play leader Buddy Walker. He saw Althea playing on the streets with the other kids, and in her, he saw potential. A whole lot of potential enough to change her life. It wasn’t easy and seeing the struggle in a story is so valuable. Althea eventually grows up to be the first ever African American to win the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, not the first African American woman, the first African American EVER! A great story filled with wonderful illustrations that bring the story to life.
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, written by Laban Carrick Hill illustrated by Bryan Collier. Dave the Potter was a beautiful book, the illustrations are works of art all on their own. Displaying Dave’s life and work, expressing power and beauty all on its own. The book is written in simple yet powerful sentences, outlining what goes into making a pot and inspiring young minds to look at the earth around them differently. While there is not much known about Dave himself two things are for certain, he was a slave in South Carolina, and he was a potter and poet of uncommon skill in those days when it was illegal for African Americans to learn to read and write.
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