African-American

All posts in the African-American 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.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace, by Jeanette Winter

Published April 20, 2015 by Dagmar

In celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd, I highly recommend Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa.  I shared this book with my swangaritudents from first grade to fourth grade.  We started our discussion with things we could do to protect the earth. We talked a lot about litter clean up and the 4 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot).  This book gave me the opportunity to introduce the importance of trees.

Each page in Wangari’s Trees of Peace has just a sentence or two accompanied by a colorful, simple picture.  The book’s simple format makes it accessible to students of all ages and leaves time for questions. The story shows students how deforestation hurt Wangari’s country of Kenya and the value of trees.  Trees not only provide oxygen for us to breathe, but also provide fertile soil, protected from erosion, firewood, and habitat for birds.

My favorite part of the book is the way it shows my students that one person can take action and make change.  Wangari’s determination, even going to jail to protect the trees, made a big impression on my students.  At the end of each class, students clapped for Wangari’s Trees of Peace.

Wangari Maathai was born in 1940 in Kenya.  After seeing the cost of deforestation in Kenya, she enlisted women to plant indigenous trees.  Her Green Belt Movement resulted in the planting of over 30 million trees by 2004.  Maathai won the Nobel Peace Price in 2004.

Happy Earth Day, everyone.  I hope we can all make an impression on children that the Earth needs our protection not only on Earth Day but everyday.

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.

Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson

Published December 6, 2013 by Dagmar

mandelaYesterday, Nelson Mandela passed away.  He fought for freedom and won it for his people.  He was a tremendous man.  He lived 95 years and is a symbol of the power of protest for so many around the world.  President Obama said, “Let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived–a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

How lucky for us that we have Kadir Nelson’s beautiful picture book about Nelson Mandela to help children understand the life and work of Nelson Mandela.  The book, written in verse, leads the reader through Nelson Mandela’s life from the time he was a child through the end of apartheid and his election as South Africa’s first black president.  The illustrations are full-page and incredible in the way that they capture the emotion of each scene.

On the back cover of the book, the author says, “My work is all about healing and giving people a sense of hope and nobility.  I want to show the strength and integrity of the human being and the human spirit.”  He certainly succeeded in this book.

Highly recommended.  Best for third grade and up, but could work for younger students as well.  Thank you to Junior Library Guild for introducing me to this book.

The Girl Who Spun Gold, by Virginia Hamilton

Published October 18, 2013 by Dagmar

thegirlwhospungoldRumpelstiltskin is a favorite Grimm’s fairytale.  The Girl Who Spun Gold, by Virginia Hamilton retells the story in a West Indian setting. This refreshing version captivated my fourth graders not only because of Hamilton’s writing, but particularly because of Leo and Diane Dillon absolutely captivating, colorful illustrations.  Hamilton read a version of this tale in West Indian dialect in 1899.  While she loved the retelling, she found it hard for modern audiences to understand.  So, she re-wrote it in more familiar language.  The version is long and took longer than one class time to complete, but was well worth the time.  Click here to see a lesson idea comparing two different retellings of the Rumplestiltskin story using this book.

Lesson idea: The Girl Who Spun Gold and Rumplestiltskin

Published October 18, 2013 by Dagmar

Here’s a lesson idea, contrasting two different retellings of a fairy tale, that worked really well with my fourth graders.  I love the book The Girl Who Spun Gold, by Virginia Hamilton and wanted to pair it with the traditional telling of Rumplestiltskin.  I used a very old copy of Rumplestiltskin thegirlwhospungoldthat we had in our library.  I wasn’t thrilled with this older book and ordered Paul Zelinsky’s version of the book after this lesson (winner of the 1987 Caldecott Honor).  The illlustrations are full of vibrant color that are sure to attract students and compare nicely with Leo and rumplestiltskinDiane’s illustrations in The Girl Who Spun Gold.

I took two class times to read Virginia Hamilton’s book, about 20 minutes, in all.  I then read the traditional telling of the story.  My students were jumping up to offer me similarities and differences between the two retellings of the story.  It was a lot of fun to see them so excited.

Next week, I’ll do a book talk and read the first couple of chapters of Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, a new book by Liesl Shurtliff, a fractured fairytale.

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.

Summer reading update continued

Published July 4, 2013 by Dagmar

Happy 4th of July!  Summer is my favorite time to hunker down with my books, and I’ve read three more books from my summer reading list.  You can see the reviews of the first three summer reading list books I read, here.  My hope is to find great books to recommend to my tween and middle school students next school year.  I’m happy to say that I found one book that I absolutely love, one that I liked, and one that I know I should like but feel lukewarm about.  Let’s start with the good news.

PSBeElevenThe book I absolutely loved and just know will fly off my shelves is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it’s best to first read One Crazy Summer (click the link to see my blog post).  Briefly, in One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  These three young girls leave Brooklyn, where they live with their Pa and grandmother, Big Mama to fly to Oakland, CA, to meet the mother that abandoned them. Their mother, Cecile, is unapologetic about leaving her children to become a poet in CA.  Life in Cecile’s neighborhood in North Oakland means learning and living with members of the Black Panthers, something very foreign to the girls’ family in Brooklyn.  (My public school is located just blocks from where One Crazy Summer takes place in Oakland.) The girls, who have always taught not to make a spectacle of themselves, learn the words “oppression”, “revolution” and “Black Power”.  I didn’t know what to expect from P.S. Be Eleven, but I was so pleased that it picked up right at the end of One Crazy Summer.  In P.S. Eleven, the girls continue their relationship with Cecile by writing to her often.   But, in this book, you enter their lives with Pa, Big Mama, their uncle Darnell, fighting in the Vietnam War, the sensation of the Jackson Five, and the girls’ new stepmom. I love the way the three sisters interact, and I had to smile every time they said “Power to the People”.  I also love getting to know Delphine and her family a little more.  This book is excellent – just as good as One Crazy Summer, but different.  In One Crazy Summer, you admire Delphine’s strong, independent and reliable nature.  In P.S. Be Eleven, you wish that she didn’t have to be quite so strong and reliable, and you root for Cecile as she tries to convince Delphine to just “Be Eleven”.  While I think I got even more out of this book, because I lived at this time, I think kids will get a valuable glimpse into the late 60s and early 70s.  I can’t wait to recommend this to my students.  My son, who loved One Crazy Summer, has already declared that he plans to read it.

Lincoln's Grave RobbersI am a big fan of Steve Sheinkin’s books.  Although I haven’t written about it yet, I loved his book, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, as well as his award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and steal – the Most Dangerous Weapon in the World. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers was a good book, but it wasn’t great.  It tells the story of a fantastic plot by counterfeiters in the 1870s to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body and ransom it.  The book begins with various stories of counterfeiters and the birth of the United States Secret Service, the organization formed to catch them.  Only after several chapters do you understand how their stories link to the plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body.  Once the link is made, the book is off to the races, and lots of suspenseful chapters ensue.  When the story is completed, the book goes into true tales of body snatching that are somewhat interesting (a little gruesome, maybe) but again, disconnected from the rest of the book.  So, while an interesting premise and a suspenseful story, this book just didn’t knock my socks off, as Sheinkin’s other books did.

out of the dustI was really looking forward to Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, after reading her fabulous book, Witness, about the infiltration of the KKK into a small town in Vermont in 1924.  Out of the Dust won the 1998 Newbery Medal.  Written in verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of girl named Billie Jo who lives with her mother and father on a small farm in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  Her father tries to make a living farming through the many dust storms and drought.  The family becomes very poor.  The family’s struggle extend beyond their financial circumstances to a terrible tragedy.  I can appreciate that this book is powerful and tells of an important time in our nation’s history.  I just can’t move past the grim feeling I had as I read much of the book.  I was glad that it took a happier turn at the end, but think it will be tough to enthusiastically recommend this book to my students.