African-American History

All posts in the African-American History category

Love Twelve Miles Long, by Glenda Armand

Published September 20, 2015 by Dagmar

This book is so touching, that honestly, it’s hard not to well up as I read it.  I shared this book with my third graders for African-AmLove Twelve Miles Longerican History Month in February.

Love Twelve Miles Long is the story of young Frederick Douglass, whose mother travels 12 miles each weekend to see him. She works in the corn fields. Frederick works in the Big House. The story begins as she is about to leave to return to her work. She is tucking him in to sleep. Frederick asks her about her long walk back to her home. She tells him that each mile has a special meaning and helps make the journey shorter. The first mile is for forgetting, the second for remembering, the third for listening, the fourth for looking up, the fifth for wondering, the sixth is for praying, the seventh is for singing, the eighth is for smiling, the ninth is for giving thanks, the tenth is for hoping, the eleventh is for dreaming and the twelve is for love. Each mile is another expression of love for her son and hope that they will be able to live together as a family when they are free.

Colin Bootman’s illustrations are beautiful and bring Armand’s text to life. My students study Frederick Douglass’ life and know that he learned to read, became a free man and a great leader. Now they have the opportunity to imagine his life as a child.

Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni

Published March 22, 2015 by Dagmar

There are so many incredible books to share during African-American History Month.  This compelling book made a real impression on me and on my fourth graders.

rosaRosa is a dramatic retelling of Rosa Parks’ story.  It begins with Rosa going to work at her job as a seamstress in the alterations department.  She is good spirits, and her supervisor has let her leave work early.  When Rosa gets on the bus, she sits in the neutral section, the area where both blacks and whites can sit.  As she sits, she thinking about the meal she’ll prepare for her husband that evening.  Suddenly, she hears the bus driver yell, “I said give me those seats!”.  This exclamation, coming after such a peaceful beginning to the story is a jolt, to the reader, to the listeners, and, you can imagine, to Mrs. Parks, daydreaming after a day’s work.  The other black people in the neutral section slip back to the crowded black section of the bus, trying to avoid trouble.  Mrs. Parks watches them go but decides that she will just sit.

Nikki Giovanni wraps the story of Rosa Parks in the history of the time: the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education that stated that separate was “inherently unequal” and the death of Emmet Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi, shortly after the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.   It was these events and Mrs. Parks’ courageous action and arrest that led supporters band together with the Women’s Political Council, the NAACP and local churches.  The people gathered selected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as their spokesman.  Together, they chose to stay off the buses of Montgomery.  They walked in every kind of weather, at all times of day, every day.  On November 13, 1956, a year after Rosa Parks’ arrest, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was also illegal.

“Rosa Parks said no so that the Supreme Court could remind the nation that the Constitution of the United States makes no provision for second-class citizenship.  We are all equal under the law and are all entitled to its protection.”

Giovanni’s retelling of this important moment in African-American history is presented with the incredible illustrations of Bryan Collier.  This book won the Caldecott Honor in 2006.

Please don’t miss this great book.  African-American history month is over now; but, as a friend of mine correctly said, sharing the messages of this book is important all year long.

The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko

Published March 16, 2015 by Dagmar

I love looking for new books to share with my students during African-American history month.  This year, I found quite a few that I really enjoyed for all ages.  This book really resonated with my the case for lovingfourth and fifth graders.

The Case for Loving is the story of the marriage of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman.  The Lovings lived in Central Point, Virginia.  In 1959, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia and 16 other states; so, the Lovings went to Washington, D.C. to get married.  Upon return to their home in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for illegal cohabitation and sent to jail.  (I heard gasps from my students.  It does make you gasp, doesn’t it?)  They were told to move out of Virginia if they wanted to live together.  The Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. and had three children; but, they were not happy with their new urban life.  The Lovings wanted to return to Virginia where they could live in the countryside.  “By now it was 1966, and the times they were a changin’.”  The Lovings moved back to Central Point and filed a lawsuit, Loving v. Virginia.  The Loving case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Richard and Mildred did not attend the Supreme Court hearings.  Their lawyers read Richard’s words to the justices, “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”  These words were so plain and so honest, they resonated with all my students.

The Lovings were victorious in their battle and nine years after marrying, they were able to legally move back to Virginia to live.

When I finished reading this book, my students all asked if this book was true.  I found the author’s note at the end of the book particularly poignant.  Selina Alko, a white, Jewish woman, married Sean Qualls, an African-American man and one of the illustrators of this book, in 2003,  having benefitted from the Lovings fight for justice so long ago.

My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris

Published January 17, 2014 by Dagmar

my brother martinI have some favorite books to read when celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his tremendous life.  One, is Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport.  Like me, most teachers love Martin’s Big Words as well.  So finding something different but accessible to young audiences is a always a challenge for me in the library.

Here is a book that I discovered this year that I love for younger audiences.  Published in 2006, it provides a different perspective on this great man’s life that students haven’t heard before.  When I introduce this book to my students, I remind them that before Dr. King became “Dr. King”, he was a child just like them.  My Brother Martin was written by Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s older sister.

In My Brother Martin, Ms. King Farris tells of Dr. King’s childhood on Auburn Street in Atlanta, Georgia.  There are funny pranks that the children, Christine, M.L. (Martin Luther) and their younger brother A.D. (Alfred Daniel) played on neighbors and their piano teacher.  These stories made all my students smile.  Ms. King Farris also tells of the painful time when the children of a white store owner on their street were no longer allowed to play with Negroes (a word I had to explain to my younger students).  The white family sold their store and moved away.  After years of shielding their children from the injustice and cruelty dealt to black people, this episode brought all that home.  Christine, M.L. and A.D. were confused about why their friends would no longer play with them.  Their mother explained about all the “Whites Only” signs.  She also told her children that this injustice was there, “Because they just don’t understand that everyone is the same, but someday, it will be better.”  M.L. then replied, “Mother Dear, one day I’m going to turn this world upside down.”  And that he did.

M.L. and his sister and brother now were aware of segregation.  They watched as their father, a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church spoke out against it and how he practiced what he preached.  Their father did not allow others to treat him differently because of his skin color and took his business elsewhere when store owners did.  Their parents’ example and the pain of their childhood friends’ leaving provided the inspiration for Dr. King’s pursuit of justice.

This is a heartening and inspiring story of Dr. King that provides insights other books don’t provide.  I highly recommend it to elementary school audiences.  The illustrations by Chris Soentpiet are wonderful.

Review: Jefferson’s Sons, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published August 6, 2013 by Dagmar

Here’s a book from my summer reading list that surprised me.  I was worried that this book would be heavy handed.  Instead, I found a rich story; and, although it is a fictionalized account, this story based largely on historical fact.

jefferson's sonsIt took me a little while to get into the book.  As I kept reading, the writing seemed to become smoother, and I became totally absorbed in the story. I couldn’t put it down. I will definitely recommend this book to tweens and middle school.

Jefferson’s Sons starts with the story of Beverly, Thomas Jefferson’s oldest son with Sally Hemings, his slave. Beverly pines for his father’s love and is constantly reminded that he may never speak about his father to people outside his family. I was starting to wear on this theme but became really interested in the book as it changed voices to his next son, James Madison, or Maddy for short.  Maddy’s voice is angry.  He feels the indignity of being a slave more deeply and is bitter that of all Sally Hemings children, he is the only one that can not pass as white because of his dark skin.  With each changing voice, the author provides another perspective to being Thomas Jefferson’s child. This technique added a lot of interest for me. As the story progresses, readers learn of the huge debts that plagued Thomas Jefferson’s household and how those debts would ultimately affect the lives of everyone at Monticello.

The author’s note at the end is excellent. She tells which parts of her book are based on historical fact and where she filled in parts of the story as she felt they might have occurred. This author’s note is great for students who wonder, “How much of this story is true?”

I was so interested in this story that it sparked my interest in Thomas Jefferson. I spent time on the Monticello.org web-site, reading about Sally Hemings and her children as well as looking at the Monticello grounds and pictures of Thomas Jefferson. There, on Monticello.org, you’ll find that there was a DNA study done that confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings children.

I’m excited to recommend this book to my students and teachers in the fall.

Richard Wright and the Library Card, by William Miller

Published July 23, 2013 by Dagmar

richard wrightThis book is a great read aloud for African-American history month.  I plan to use it with my third and fourth graders.  The illustrations by Gregory Christie are excellent.

Richard Wright loved to read but had no access to books as a child or as a young man.  He would read scraps of newspaper or whatever words he could find.  When Richard finds work at an optician’s office, he notices that one of the white men there seems different – as he would understand Richard’s need for books.  Richard gathers his courage and asks the man if he can use the man’s library card.  When Richard goes to the public library.  When the librarian questions him about the books he is checking out, Richard lies to her and tells her that he can’t read.  He tells her that he is just picking up books for the card’s owner.  White people in the library snicker at him.

This is the fictionalized account of an important episode in Richard Wright’s life, written about in Wright’s famous autobiography, Black Boy, published in 1945.  Highly recommended.

Women of Hope: African Americans who Made a Difference, by Joyce Hansen

Published June 30, 2013 by Dagmar

Women of HopeI love to read parts of this book aloud to my students during African-American history month.  This book features quotes, black and white photographs and a page about many notable African-American women, including: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, The Delany Sisters, Septima Poinsette Clark, Ella Josephine Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Marian Wright Eledman, Alica Walker, Alexa Canady, Mae C. Jemison with a list of more notable women in the back of the book.

This book makes a great resource for teachers or a wonderfully inspiring book for young people.  Read a page here and there, or read the entire book.  Either way, don’t miss it.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Published June 2, 2013 by Dagmar

OCSOne Crazy Summer is an incredible book – not only because much of the book takes place just blocks from my school library in North Oakland, CA – but because the main character, Delphine, is a strong and capable 11 year old girl who really knows how to make the best of a bad situation.  I love her strength and her determination.  This book ran like wildfire around my school.

Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are three girls, 11, 9 and 7, who live with their father and Big Ma, their grandmother, in Brooklyn, NY.  Their mother, Cecile abandoned them when Fern was just a baby.  One summer, the girl’s father says the girls need to know their mother and sends them across the country to stay with their mother in Oakland, CA.  The girls, who don’t know their mother at all, are greeted by Cecile at the airport.  Cecile not only doesn’t hug them, when she takes them home, she doesn’t cook for them or care for them in any way.  Cecile sends them off every day to get their breakfast from the Black Panthers kitchen in the neighborhood and tells the girls to spend the day in the Black Panthers’ summer camp.  The girls learn all about revolution but also that the Black Panthers feed hungry people.  They also discover that their mother, a poet with a printing press, has been asked to print the Black Panther newsletter.

Delphine rises to the occasion.  She rejects her mother’s call to eat Chinese food every night and goes to the store so she can cook meals for her sisters.  She even plans an excursion into San Francisco so that the girls can actually see something of California, not just “poor people in Oakland”.  Delphine is smart. You just can’t help routing her on and hoping that her mother can see all the good that we see in her.

This book is a window into the world of the 1960s and those who believed in the work of the Black Panthers and those in the black community who saw things differently.  Delphine is forced to view both worlds, that of her father and grandma and that of her mother Cecile.  What a great book.  But, don’t just believe me.  This book won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Honor.  Don’t miss it.

I’m excited to read Rita Williams-Garcia’s new book, P.S. Be Eleven.

Langston’s Train Ride, by Robert Burleigh

Published May 11, 2013 by Dagmar

S640SchLangstonjkt_0.tifThis is another wonderful book for African-American History month.  Langston’s Train Ride begins with Langston Hughes walking down a sidewalk celebrating the publishing of his first book of poems.  He then flashes back to the train ride he took to Mexico to see his father when he was 18 years old.  As the train travels, he reminisces about his childhood.  When the train crosses the Mississippi River, he thinks of what it means to his people, the slaves who were sent “down the river” and Abe Lincoln’s trip on the river “where he saw a slave auction and learned to hate slavery.”  His view of the Mississippi brings words to his head.  He thinks of other ancient rivers in Africa and begins to write down the words to his first poem: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

This is a powerful book made more so by its incredible illustrations by Leonard Jenkins.  It is hard not to be moved by this book and the words of Langston Hughes’ first poem.

Story Painter, The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby

Published May 10, 2013 by Dagmar

Story_PainterI love to read books about artists to my students.  This book is a particularly wonderful book about African-American artist, Jacob Lawrence.  I used this book for grades 1 through 6 during African-American History month.  It was wonderful to show my students Lawrence’s beautiful art depicting the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, The Great Migration, and Toussaint L’Overture’s battle to liberate Haiti.

This book is also a jumping off point to talk about important points in history.  Like many African-American artists, Lawrence lived in Harlem.  His Theater series illustrates the shows in Harlem’s famous entertainment halls, like the Cotton Club, and the Apollo. Jacob Lawrence was also a part of the Easel Project, a government art program stated in the 1930s to help artists.  Jacob Lawrence was paid to paint and was paid more than many jobs during the Great Depression.

Jacob Lawrence painted on paper and cardboard using tempura paint.  Remarkably, Jacob Lawrence would create series of paintings about a subject, sometimes as many as 40 paintings, by painting one color at a time.  He would put up all the sheets of paper for the series on his wall and then would move among the panels until he had painted all the colors.

This book is really a non-fiction book, but the color panels of his paintings are so dramatic and beautiful in this book that it makes a wonderful book to use as you would a picture book with groups of students.

This book is won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award granted by the National Council for the Social Studies, an award given to books that “encourage the writing, publishing, and dissemination of outstanding social science books for young readers that treat topics related to ethnic minorities and relations sensitively and accurately.”