African American Books

All posts tagged African American Books

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.

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.

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.

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet, by Andrea Cheng

Published July 1, 2013 by Dagmar

Etched in ClayThis is a very moving book, written in verse, about Dave the Potter a slave who lived in South Carolina in the 1800s.  Andrea Cheng has woven the voices of Dave’s various masters, with Dave’s own voice and the voices of his two wives, Eliza and Lydia.  The book moves quickly and is filled with beautiful woodcuts that help illustrate the story.  I read this book in one sitting and immediately handed it to my 12 year old son to read.  He also read it in one sitting.

Dave was bought on the auction block when he was 17.  Bought to dig clay in the river in South Carolina, Dave’s master, Harvey Drake, the owner of a pottery company, teaches him to throw pottery.  Drake sees that Dave is talented at creating pottery and soon, Dave no longer digs for clay.  He only creates pottery.  Drake marries Dave to a woman named Eliza, who is sold off after a few years.  Dave misses her terribly.  When Drake, at his wife’s urging, helps Dave learn to read, Dave not only reads, he starts to think in verse.  Soon, he wants to write down his words on the pots he creates.  But, slaves who could write were feared in South Carolina.  In fact, a slave caught writing would be punished by lashing.  Despite the danger, Dave bravely continues to write verse on the pots he creates, showing the world that he made those beautiful pots. Dave moves from master to master throughout his life and even works as a type setter for a time before returning to creating pottery. He is married a second time to a woman named Lydia who has two sons he loves.  Again, they are taken away from him.  Finally, after the Civil War ends, Dave is free.  Yet, he continues to work for his last master, Lewis Miles in Edgefield.

This book portrays the cruelty of slavery in a meaningful way that I think will resonate with students.  Readers really feel his hurt from the time when his master decides what to call him to the loss of his wives and stepsons and the indignity of being told it is dangerous for him to read and write.

Highly recommended for middle and high school.  A Junior Library Guild selection.

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.