“The Power of a Dream”
A Wynk, a Blynk, and a Nod to African American History Books
African American History Month, or Black History Month, as it is often referred to, is observed every February in the United States. There are so many wonderful books that were published this past year. Narrowing down our list has been difficult at best.
Just a few weeks ago, the American Library Association announced all of the children’s literature awards for 2015. Several of the books that we decided to feature for African American History Month are among those awards:
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson
This book actually won several accolades, including a Caldecott Honor (the Caldecott Award is given for illustration), a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and perhaps the most coveted award of all, the Newbery Award, which is awarded to the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature for the year. This is also the first time that a Latino author has won the Newbery Award. The idea of a picture book winning the Newbery medal has caused quite a lot of discussion in the library world, but, it has actually happened a few times in the past. A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen won the Newbery medal in 1982. It was also named a Caldecott Honor book that same year. Newbery Honors have also gone to Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman (2011), Doctor De Soto by William Steig (1983), and Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1929). In Last Stop, a young African American boy learns about the beauty of urban life while riding the bus across town to a soup kitchen with his grandmother.
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illus. by Bryan Collier
This picture book autobiography of Troy Andrews, the Grammy nominated New Orleans musician, won the Coretta Scott King 2016 Illustrator Award. Collier has illustrated over 25 award winning picture books.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Ekua Holmes
This vibrant picture book biography, done in stunning collage, celebrates the life of Fannie Lou Hamer who became a hero of the Civil Rights movement. It, too, was a multiple award winner, racking up the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, a Caldecott Honor award, and a Robert F. Sibert Award for most distinguished informational book.
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Gregory Christie’s illustrations have won awards in the past, and this book is no exception, having received a Coretta Scott King 2016 Illustrator Honor. The text and illustrations tell the story of Lewis Micheaux, the author’s great uncle, who started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore. This picture book is a companion to the book No Crystal Stair by the same author/illustrator duo, which is a work of historical fiction on the same topic, but for older readers. That work also won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor in 2013.
New African American History Books
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illus. by Shane W. Evans
From Crispus Attucks to Harriet Tubman to Barack Obama, this picture book looks at twenty-eight events and the men and women that changed the course of black history as well as world history.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illus. by Don Tate
This is an inspiring picture book biography of John Roy Lynch who grew up enslaved in Mississippi but after emancipation was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He went from being a teenage field slave to Congressman in just ten short years. He served during the age of Reconstruction and worked tirelessly to bring about peace and justice. The illustrations are done in mixed media, ink and gouache and bring the story to life for young readers.
Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illus. by Ed Young
This unique picture book plays tribute to Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie who, in the mid 1940’s, created a new kind of music called bebop. The accordion pages of the book pull out forming a single continuous panel. An afterword provides some background information on bebop. Ed Young’s free-flowing illustrations provide much visual energy. Young is a Caldecott winning illustrator and has illustrated over eighty books for children, many of which he also authored.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Husband and wife team Alko and Qualls recount the story of Richard and Mildred Loving who were behind the 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage. This is a much needed addition to library collections, as one of the only other books that addresses the issue is the classic Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (c1973).
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson, illus. with paintings by Benny Andrews
Benny Andrews was a 20th century African American artist and arts activist who pushed for change in the art world by protesting the exclusion of women and artists of color from museum and gallery collections and exhibitions. He illustrated many books for children, even winning a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. An author’s note and detailed timeline provide additional information.
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illus. by E.B. Lewis
This is the story of four-year-old Sarah Roberts, whose parents took the case of school segregation to court in 1848 in Boston, Massachusetts. Though they lost the case, her cause won over the people and in 1855, Boston became the first American city to officially integrate its schools. The watercolor illustrations capture the vulnerability and somber mood of the story.
Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport, illus. by London Ladd
Frederick Douglass, though born a slave, went on to become a renowned writer and lecturer, advocating for the abolishment of slavery and equal rights for all people. His own words are interwoven throughout the text. The cover of the book itself is striking, and the illustrations throughout highlight the events of Douglass’ life.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Slaves in New Orleans counted down the days until Sunday, a day of rest, when they were allowed to gather in Congo Square to set up a marketplace, share news, sing, dance, and play. The text, which is written in verse, is accompanied by folk-style illustrations.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Jamey Christoph
Parks, born in 1912, became one of the most important photographers of the 20th century. He bought a camera for $7.50 and taught himself the art of photography. Through his photographs, which ran in Vogue and Life magazines, he portrayed the African American struggle against racism and segregation.
Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, illus. by Christopher Myers
Published by The Museum of Modern Art, this work on Jacob Lawrence tells the story of his move from Philadelphia to Harlem at the age of thirteen. The energetic and vibrant illustrations provide the perfect imagery to accompany the text.
Love Will See You Through by Angela Farris Watkins, illus. by Sally Wern Comport
The author of this book is actually the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. She shares his six guiding beliefs and principles that he practiced and lived by throughout his struggle to end segregation and discrimination. Experiences and episodes in his life are given as examples of each. The mixed media illustrations are very effective in conveying the text.
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan, illus. by John Holyfield
This picture book biography provides an introduction to the life and career of gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who eventually sang at the historic March on Washington in 1963. Rich acrylic paintings accompany the text, which is suited for grades K-3.
My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illus. by James Ransome
The author employs free verse, incorporating the voice of the abolitionist herself, to tell the story of Sojourner Truth. Born a slave, Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth’s given name) escaped slavery and spent the remainder of her life as a civil rights activist preaching against the evils of slavery. Ransome’s watercolor illustrations evoke emotion throughout the story. An author’s note provides additional historical details.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate
A slave in 19th century North Carolina, George Horton taught himself to read. His passion for language led to his composition of poetry. He became the first African American published poet in the South. He earned enough as a poet to purchase his time, though not his freedom.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illus. by E.B. Lewis
This gentle, beautifully illustrated book shares one of the lesser known stories of the civil rights movement, the peaceful end to segregation in a small southern town. Sit-ins at lunch counters and the boycott which led to Blue Jean Sunday helped to bring about a non-violent resolution in the fall of 1963. This is a very moving and inspirational story.
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This story is that of a little known historical figure, Harriet Powers, who grew up as a young slave girl on a Georgia plantation. She learned to sew and quilt from her elders. After she married and had five children and after the Civil War, she used that skill to provide a livelihood for her family. She stitched story quilts, two of which eventually came to rest in The Smithsonian and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The endpapers feature reproductions of those two existing quilts. This is a great introduction to a lesser known character in African American history.
Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans, illus. by Joe Cepeda
The Piney Woods Country Life School in Jackson, Mississippi, was actually an orphanage for black children opened by Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones in 1909. As a music lover, he created an all-girl swing band in 1939 and named it the Sweethearts. When the girls left Piney Woods, they kept the band together and moved to Washington, D.C., hoping to make it as musicians. They took on new band members and became an inter-racial band that went on to travel the world. Though many doors were closed to them, because of race and gender, they did pave the way for women of the future. The colorful illustrations are full of energy and musicality.
Women in Black History: Stories of Courage, Faith, and Resilience by Tricia Williams Jackson
Included are the stories of notable African American women, both famous and lesser known, from colonial times through the 20th century. For older readers.
There were indeed many recently published noteworthy books, too many to review. So, instead of listing our old favorites (which you can still access via our blog post from February 2014), we’ve listed several outstanding African American historical fictional picture books.
Favorite New Historical Fiction Picture Books
Freedom’s School by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. by James E. Ransome
Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illus. by James E. Ransome
Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Michele Wood
Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
Harlem Renaissance Party by Faith Ringgold
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illus. by Shane W. Evans
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illus. by John Parra
New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illus. by Eric Velasquez
One Today: The Inaugural Poem for President Barack Obama by Richard Blanco, illus. by Dav Pilkey