Black History Month allows individuals of all ages to celebrate the many cultural contributions made by African Americans throughout United States history.
Experts at the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature have put together a diverse list of great reading material for this month, ranging from stories of game-changing athletes to barrier-breaking female mathematicians to a modern American remix of the classic Pride and Prejudice.
“These books are creative and illustrative ways of celebrating the richness of African American stories for children of varying ages,” said Susan Groenke, director of the CCYAL.
Picture Books (Grades 1–8)
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, tells the story of how the sisters became international tennis superstars. The author gives energy and action to the story with her mixed-media illustrations. This is a true story of determination, courage, talent, and strength. Grades 3–8.
The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, introduces Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who were important African American mathematicians involved in some of NASA’s greatest successes. The women’s achievements came despite living in a male-dominated and segregated America. This is the story of courageous women who were hired as “colored computers” and fought for social justice with their mathematical genius. Grades 3–8.
Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, written by Sandra Neil Wallace, is the 2019 Orbis Pictus winner. It tells the story of Ernie Barnes (1938–2009), a football player turned artist who grew up during the era of segregation. Even as an offensive linesman in professional football, Barnes found time to draw with swollen hands. His passion and skill allowed him to combine his love of art and experience in football to become the official artist of the American Football League. Grades 2–6.
Middle School (Grades 5–8)
Ghost Boys, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes, tells the story of Jerome, a 12-year-old black boy who is shot and killed by a white Chicago police officer. After his death, Jerome wanders the world with other ghost boys. Nobody can see them except Sarah, the 12-year-old daughter of the police officer. Sarah’s empathy for Jerome and the other ghosts grows throughout the story. This book allows for a valuable discussion about the parallels between historic and contemporary social injustice for a middle-grade audience but is just as suited for adults.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, is a beautifully illustrated book featuring poems, stories, and essays from authors answering the question “In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?” The wise words that result grow from the resilience and resistance of past generations. This book will be a gift that readers ages 8–12 can return to again and again as they shape our world.
All American Boys, written by Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiely, is a timely and thought-provoking story told through the alternating voices of two narrators, Rashad and Quinn. Rashad, a black teenager, is assaulted by a police officer in a convenience store while Quinn, a white teenager, witnesses the assault. The alternating narration gives readers a unique insider-outsider perspective of police brutality. This book is must-read call-to-action novel for young adults and adults alike.
Pride, by Ibi Zoboi, is a remix of the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice set in present-day Brooklyn, New York. The protagonist, Zuri Benitez, feels strong pride in her African American and Latino roots, her family, and her neighborhood. However, as Zuri’s neighborhood becomes increasingly gentrified, she is left to figure out her place in the changing environment. Pride addresses race, culture, heritage, and young love in a stunning remix of the classic text.
Brian Canever (865-974-0937, firstname.lastname@example.org)