Black history is American history: 14 books for young readers - MetroFamily Magazine
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Black history is American history: 14 books for young readers

by Camille Landry

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

“Do you want to hear a story?” I asked my grandson Isaiah. “Yes! I want a story about firefighters who are strong and brave and have adventures and save people.”

I pulled a book from our shelves. “The chief looks like Daddy!” he said as I turned to the first page. “That’s how I’m gonna look when I get big and become a firefighter.” He read along with me and asked if he could take the book home when we finished. “Got any more books about firefighters?”

“I don’t think so,” I told him, “but I have plenty of books about other kinds of heroes. How about this story of a little girl who changed America by being brave and standing up for what is right?”

He took the book home. I thought little of it until the day he stood in front of hundreds of people and shared the story of little Ruby Bridges, the girl who defied segregationists and walked into school surrounded by federal marshals while people shouted, spat and called her foul names. Isaiah told the people assembled in a football stadium: “If you are brave and you stand up for what’s right, even if you’re young and small and afraid, you can change the world.” 

Books inspire. They teach. They give comfort. They entertain. Books, and the information they impart, change people – usually for the better. Books that reflect your own culture and reality are critical.

February is Black History Month, a time focused on sharing the rich history of African Americans. It’s a time when Black people look to their past and celebrate their culture.

There’s another side to Black History Month, though. Black history *is* American history. Knowledge of the story of Black people’s experience in the USA is fundamental to understanding this nation. It is even more critical in today’s climate of increased racial tensions and social division that non-black people gain a better understanding of their black neighbors. Literature offers one of the few tools we have to get inside the heads and hearts of other people. So here is a list of books that inform and celebrate the Black experience and will be enjoyed by young readers of every race and nationality:

  1. Baby Dance, written by Ann Taylor and illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden. A delightful board book based upon a 19th-century poem about a baby and father enjoying themselves as mama naps.
  2. Bye-Bye Binky, written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout. A simple and engaging book presents a little girl who’s full of confidence that she can manage this important transition from baby to big kid.
  3. The Hello, Goodbye Window, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka. This delightful picture book tells the story of a biracial little girl and her relationship with her grandparents, who provide a magical place for her to stay when Mom and Dad are busy.
  4. Cool Cuts by Mechal Renee Roe. A joyful celebration of natural hair in all its expressive possibilities. We see boys with twists and cornrows, afros and waves — each proudly declaring the book’s repeated affirmation: “I am born to be awesome!”
  5. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson. Nelson takes the old spiritual that has become one of America’s best-known songs and turns it into a beautiful picture book following a boy and his family.
  6. Baby Loves Gravity by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan. The Baby Loves Science series is a welcome addition to the category of STEM books, which celebrate diversity along with the value of science.
  7. A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory. A clear explanation of what racism is and how to know when you see it, for ages 5 and up.
  8. Lullaby (for a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Quall. Taken from the poem by Langston Hughes and beautifully illustrated by Qualls, this book is all about the love between an African American mother and her baby.
  9. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison and Kwesi Johnson. Two picture books that chronicle some of the exceptional people in Black history. These books are sure to be a welcome addition to any child’s library. They will also serve as inspirations for children to know that they can do anything they set their mind to, no matter what challenges they may face in life.
  10. Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Centered around Arturo Schomburg, this book tells the story of how his collection of books, letters, music and art found its way to becoming a collection at the New York Public Library.
  11. The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. The Watsons are headed to Birmingham to visit their grandmother. During their visit, their Grandmother’s church is bombed. Taking place at the time of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, this book is a different view on a tragedy that shook the entire nation.
  12. My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane Evans. This book teaches about autism and highlights that this something that anyone, regardless of race, can have.
  13. Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell. A young boy writes four poems based on his family experiences and highlights the loving relationship between a boy and his father.
  14. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate. The Harlem Resistance comes to life in this tale of a young girl at a pivotal point in her life.

These books are available at Nappy Roots Books, nappyrootsbooks.com, 3705 Springlake Drive, Oklahoma City 73111, and other retailers nationwide.

Check back next month for suggestions on books for older readers.

Camille Landry is a writer, political activist and the owner Nappy Roots Books, an independent African American bookstore, art gallery, gathering space and community center. Nappy Roots offers literacy and cultural programs and other activities to benefit the community. The store spotlights a variety of literature by, for and about Black people. To order books, visit nappyrootsbooks.com/order-books

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