Tuesday, January 29, 2008

February is Black History Month

It's not quite February yet, but I wanted to get a jump start on my Black History posts. Throughout the month of February, I'll highlight biographies of notable African Americans, African and African American folktales/poetry, and books about African American history. In this post, I'll highlight children's biographies about African American inventors.

When a young Kathryn Lasky brought her earnings from her lemonade stand to her mother, her mother exclaimed, "Goodness, Kathryn, maybe you'll grow up to be the next Madam Walker!" Thus began a lifelong interest in Madam C.J. Walker,
the first female self-made millionaire.

Sarah Breedlove was born the youngest and only free-born child of a Delta, LA family. Despite being orphaned at seven, married at 14, and widowed at 20, she created an empire of hair care products for African American women, at a time in which hair care products for African Americans were scarce or very damaging to hair.

Madam Walker was not only a savvy businesswoman, but a heavily invested member of her community. She encouraged customers to work as commissioned agents for her company and eventually left 2/3 of her estate to African American institutions such as the Tuskegee Institute.

Kathryn Lasky tells the story of this remarkable woman, who only lived to 51 years of age, in warm and delightful text. Nneka Bennett's lovely illustrations draw the reader to gaze at the illustrations instead of merely flipping past them. Vision of Beauty is recommended for 3-6 grades.

When Carver: A Life in Poems was published, it was awarded a number of awards, including a Newbery Honor citation. The inspiring life of George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee botanist professor and inventor of approximately 100 products created by using peanuts, is told through multiple narrators in verse. Although this would not be an ideal book to use for reports, it's definitely not to be missed. Mature situations make this book suitable for older readers in middle school.

Andrea and Brian Pinkney have created fine children's biographies of African Americans, and Dear Benjamin Banneker is no exception (Andrea writes; Brian illustrates). Despite having a very limited amount of formal schooling (Banneker was largely self educated), Benjamin Banneker studied astronomy and created an almanac that would be widely used. The Pinkney's superb combination of writing and illustrations make this an appealing choice for grades 2-5.

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