28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr., Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2015. 54 pages.
Non-fiction picture book.
I don’t recall if I purchased this book or was given it as a gift, but it was one of the early books that inspired the 30 day project. This book features 29 days that chronologically tell the story of Black History.
Each day has either a single page or a two-page spread. I am quite curious about the process used for this book, because the text and the pictures are perfect matches. It’s quite clear that a great deal of time and thought was put into the illustrations and the layout. Besides the gorgeous artwork of Shane Evans, the book has several features which allow it to be used at a variety of age, reading, or interest levels.
First the date is stated month/date/year. Then one sentence briefly describes the event featured for that day. The name of the person featured, or event occurring, is in a different font. Then the poem or writing follows. This is the most varied part of the book, with rhyming poems, acrostics, free verse, eulogies, or quotation from documents, speeches, or songs incorporated into various pages. I see this portion as having classroom applications not only for Black History Month, but also in April for National Poetry Month.
Finally, each day ends with a paragraph in smaller type that gives additional background about the person or topic for that day. This means there are four methods of interpretation for each day: the picture, the date and factual sentence, the poem or quotation, and the informative paragraph. The parent or teacher reading this book aloud could choose to read only one or two sections, or they could read all of them.
One thing to remember when reading this book aloud is that the poetry sections vary quite a bit. Harriet Tubman’s eulogy fills two pages, while Matthew Henson’s poem is 11 words long. Some of the poems rely on the reader being able to see the poem, and others are meant for two voices.
Another important consideration is the content. This book is marketed at ages 4-10, however there are some pages which may worry younger children. Consider the child or group of children you would be reading this book to. The kids were rather upset reading about the Dred Scott decision on Day 2. Even though it is overturned on Day 4, if you are reading it one page each day, that may be too long. I was able to use this book with older students as an introduction/review.
This book hits all the major court cases and many of the major “names” in Black History, along with others who may not be as familiar. This was our first introduction to Madam C.J. Walker, although we later read a brief chapter book about her. Matthew Henson and Robert Smalls might not be as familiar as Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson. One odd digression is Nelson Mandela on Day 26, as he is not an American (but for some reason often included in African American history). However, in general we really enjoyed reading a variety of poetic forms and learning about many moments in history and great figures, with vibrant illustrations to match.