“Paris was not the place for me or my son. The French could entertain the idea of me because they were not immersed in guilt about a mutual history…” p. 165
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books. Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating. I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies. Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.
This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.
Our thirteenth board book, this simple biography of Rosa Parks proved more engaging and interesting than expected.
The Story of Rosa Parks by Patricia A. Pingry, illustrated by Steven Walker.
WorthyKids/Ideals, Nashville, Tennessee, 2007.
Board book biography, 26 pages.
This deceptively simple biography of Rosa Parks covers all the major events in her life in a manner appropriate for even the youngest children.
Honestly, I was surprised by this book. We have several of Pingry’s religious board books, and they are solid additions to the church rotation but not especially moving.
If we teach kids about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. as toddlers, then by grade school they should be ready to learn about Lonnie Johnson, Fannie Lou Hammer, Dave the Potter, Mae Jemison, and more. Then in middle school they can move on to studying people like Claudette Colvin, Misty Copeland, Ida B. Wells, and John Lewis. That’s the ideal, right?
This book was purchased for Baby. I did not expect the older kids to show any interest in it. However, N picked it up under the guise of “reading to baby” and kept looking at it even after Baby went off for a diaper change. My new reader wanted to use it for reading practice. The kids sat through more than one reading of it.
“The curious thing is that the word ‘colorism’ doesn’t even exist. Not officially. […] So how does one begin to unpack a societal ill that doesn’t have a name?” p. 8
Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.
Nonfiction, 203 pages including sources and index.
This is the study of something few non-academics want to talk about – colorism. While everyone can get behind fighting racism, colorism is more insidous, deeply rooted in American racism and refreshed as immigrants arrive with their own cultural ideas of colorism. Tharps combines information from experts with deeply personal stories from families that are biologically related, but have different physical appearances.
A short introduction first tells how Tharps became interested in colorism – she’s African-American, her husband is from the south of Spain and identifies with dark-skinned people, but her three children each appear very different. Tharps then gives some background information on colorism and an overview of the book.
Four chapters focus specifically on different groups. Tharps explains that she chose to work only with biologically related families because she wanted this book to be focused on colorism specifically and adoption adds other dimensions. However she also states adoptive families will find much to relate to here – I agree.
This introduction to Barack Obama is informative enough to hold even an older child’s attention.
Barack Obama 101 by Brad M. Epstein.
Michaelson Entertainment, Los Angeles, CA, 2008.
Informative non-fiction board book, 26 pages.
Barack Obama 101 packs a surprising amount of practical information into a board book, covering both basic facts about the presidency and Obama’s life up to his presidential election.
Every time I shop at my favorite used bookstore, I take a minute to peruse their used board books. They never have more than a few shelves, mostly of the same titles, so it doesn’t take long. And I’ve never purchased any there. Why look? I’m determined to create a diverse board book library, which means I can’t turn down a chance to find books that might be out of print and difficult to obtain.
“Coretta’s mother, Bernice, believed that education was the key to a better life. She encouraged her children to work hard in school.” page 11
History Maker Bios: Coretta Scott King by Laura Hamilton Waxman, illustrations by Tad Butler.
Originally published by Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, my edition Barnes & Noble, New York, 2008.
Biography, 48 pages including extras and index.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 1.0 points) .
A biography of Coretta Scott King, best known as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although she was a civil rights activist herself as well.
Not long ago, I came across a Barnes and Noble that had all these little History Maker Bios and quite a lot of Sterling Biographies on clearance for a dollar each! I spent a happy hour picking out all the African American ones.
“Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.” page 285
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2008.
Adult nonfiction, 309 pages including notes and index.
Lexile: 1080L .
AR Level: 7.8 (worth 13.0 points) .
What do geniuses, rice paddies, hockey players, a Korean airline, a small town in Kentucky, and young Jamaican twins have to do with each other? These topics and more are woven together in Gladwell’s explanation of success.
This book goes beyond the ten thousand hours to achieve mastery theory to examine what else can effect our success or failure in life. Gladwell looks at how community can change health, how Germany jumpstarted the Beatles, what made one Jewish lawyer wildly successful while his father struggled, and what linguistic difference makes Chinese children understand math more easily.
Here are five books for the youngest readers that focus on different African Americans. Some you may have heard of before, others may be new to you!
(Perhaps these will help you go beyond the big five.)
Dave must have been very strong, as he was able to create pottery that not many could. He knew how to read and write, because he wrote poems on the side of some of his pottery. This book shares the beauty and artistry of his life without ever ignoring the harsh reality that he was a slave.
This picture book does a great job of presenting the life story of Ida B. Wells, including difficult topics such as lynching. Because of the subject matter, I’d recommend this for older picture book readers, or as a family read so parents can address any questions children might have.
Did you know that Major Taylor was the first black world champion bicyclist? He used hard work and athleticism to prove that race did not determine ability at a time when the world was determined to prove him otherwise. This would be a great book to read before or after a bike ride, or when the weather keeps you indoors!
This nonfiction early reader is actually written by Ruby Bridges herself, and includes photos of her historic integration of a New Orleans elementary school. This is one of my earliest reviews for this blog, so I was hesitant to link it, but there aren’t enough diverse early readers and this book should be better known.
I’m not much of a music person, so it’s surprising how much this book delighted me. The story of DJ Kool Herc is fascinating and covers topics like immigration, community, and of course music! The illustrations never fail to delight new readers and this remains a favorite in our house.
(Note: technically Kool Herc is a Jamaican-American, but he’s seen as part of the African-American community, which is why I included him on this list.)