African-American History

All posts tagged African-American History

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.

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.

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.”