Friday, February 07, 2014

New (ish!) Books for Black History Month

Although there's still work to be done, I am quite optimistic about the diversity of children's books centered on African-American history.
For too long, the majority of children's books about black history were either focused on slavery or the civil rights era.  While strong books on these subjects are still important for young readers' collections, I'm always on the lookout for black history titles that are set in other time periods. Here are some recent (2013 or 2014 publication dates, with two that were published in December 2012) books that we've received. Several are not yet on the shelf yet, so I've not read some titles (I've indicated them as such).

Brick by Brick (December 2012)
Building the White House was a momentous task, a great deal of which was undertaken by slaves.  Many slaves purchased their freedom after they became experienced in specific skills (the White House was built in 1792). We have not yet received Brick By Brick, so I'm looking forward to reading it soon!

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers
I've blogged about this book several times; just in case you missed reading about it, here it is again! Many people know about the Tuskegee Airmen, but the Triple Nickles are not nearly as well known.  This is a remarkable read about courage, injustice, and inspiration.

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream
A 2014 title! Happy dance!  We just ordered A Dance Like Starlight, and I can't wait to read it. Told through the eyes of a young girl growing up in Harlem during the 1950s, this introduces young readers to Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina. This has already earned a starred review from Kirkus, as well as other positive reviews.

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave is a stunning picture book (and Caldecott Honor title) about the South  Carolina artist/potter and slave; Andrea Cheng's verse novel about the versatile artist tells his biography through his own perspective.  We are still waiting for this one, so it's definitely on my to-be-read list!

March: Book One
I recently blogged about March: Book One, but it's such a fantastic book that I couldn't not include it. March: Book One details the childhood and young adulthood of civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, as told to a young family (and aides) as he prepares for President Obama's first inauguration.  This is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels; March: Book One ends just after the Nashville lunch counter sit ins. Comic Book Resources published a superb lengthy article about the creation of March: Book One and plans for the second and third installments.  The trilogy is not specifically published for young readers (which is why it's not shelved in our children's or YA sections), but middle and high school educators (and parents of those students) would find this enriching for their classes. This is an extraordinary read.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, And the Fight for Civil Rights
Steve Sheinkin's previous history books for children have been extraordinary (Bomb earned a Newbery honor), so I have no doubt that The Port Chicago 50 will not be an exception. I had never heard of the July 17, 1944 Port Chicago explosion that killed 320 men and injured almost 400, the majority of whom were African-American, before I learned about Sheinkin's latest project.  When it was time to reopen the port, 50 African-American sailors protested the unsafe environment, and were charged with mutiny and threatened with execution as a result.   The civil rights struggle didn't appear out of nowhere in the 1960s; books on pre-civil rights movements and African-American military history are vital. As can be expected from Sheinkin, this has already received numerous starred reviews.  This is a 2014 title (yay! new books!)

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America
I'm always happy to read a new book by Tonya Bolden; whether she writes picture book biographies of African-American historical figures (George Washington Carver, Muhammad Ali), lengthy looks at the Emancipation Proclamation, or historical fiction, I know I'll read books that inform and inspire.  Her latest sounds like a knockout, and has earned multiple starred reviews.  Sarah Rector's family were "Creek freedmen," meaning that they were black members of the American Indian Creek tribe.  When oil was found on land accorded to her by treaty, she received $1 million. As she was only twelve years old, this caused not only legal wrangling, but a great deal of media attention. Children's books on  early 1900s African-American history are few and far between, so the fact that a distinguished children's author took on this story is quite exciting. (I met her several years ago when she was honored at a Jefferson Cup luncheon, and she was a delight to meet and talk to!) Another 2014 title!

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
I was delighted when A Splash of Red was honored with a Sibert Honor and the Schneider Family Book Award (children's division).  Horace Pippin drew everywhere he could, even in the trenches of World War I. A debilitating injury to his right arm might have put an end to his ability to draw, but Pippin learned to compensate for his disability, so much so that his artwork was noted by critics, other artists (including N.C. Wyeth) and displayed in museums and galleries around the United States.  Books about African-American artists or African-American involvement in World War I are rare, so this is a welcomed treat.

What Was the Underground Railroad?/What Was the March on Washington?
I'm a huge fan of the Who Was..?/Who Is...? series, so that fact that the series is expanding to include historical events is wonderful news.  They are ideal for elementary school students needing more information than a picture book biography, but not quite able to tackle 100+ paged history/biography books.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
A children's picture book history of the birth of hip hop? I was most intrigued when I started reading enthusiastic reviews of this unique look at the creation of hip hop.  This biography of Clive Campbell not only traces his childhood in Jamaica and the Bronx, but also shows how the creation of break dance (which tied into the rise of 1970s hip hop) helped counteract gang violence in the immediate community.  Illustrator Theodore Taylor III received the John Steptoe Award for New Talent from the Coretta Scott King Book Award committee; this is not an award given every year (much to the consternation of many when last year's awards were announced), so this is quite an honor. And well deserved, too.   Theodore Taylor III is also a VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) alum, so there's also a local connection!

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (December 2012)
We just received this, so I haven't had a chance to look through it.  Although this encompasses civil rights leaders not part of African-American history (Gandhi, Nelson Mandela), this would undoubtedly be a great choice for quick read alouds in history or language arts/literature classes.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!
Jonah Winter's You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!  is an inventive, witty, and inspirational look at the Jewish baseball player who had to make a pivotal choice between a World Series game and observation of the Sabbath, so I was eager to read his follow up, featuring one of the African-American baseball pioneers. Mays was  "Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Joe DiMaggio all rolled into one;" Jonah Winter and illustrator Terry Widener movingly and creatively present Mays's childhood, career in the Negro Leagues, and his history-making career with the New York (now San Francisco) Giants.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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