“Slavery corrupts the owners. The master’s sons are corrupted by their father’s immoral behavior. The master’s daughters hear their parents fighting about slave women and may overhear talk of their father having seduced or raped slaves.” page 30
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself by Harriet Jacobs, edited by Lisa Barsky.
The Townsend Library, Townsend Press, New Jersey, 2004 (first pub. 1861).
Slave narrative, 152 pages including editor’s afterword.
Lexile: 740L .
AR Level: 7.1 (worth 14.0 points) .
NOTE: I read a printed book which had been edited and contained additional back matter. Project Gutenberg has a free ebook version of the original text available.
The autobiography of a young woman born into slavery in 1813.
This book is remarkable, and I’m only surprised I didn’t read it sooner! But let me write a review anyway in case you need more convincing and haven’t clicked the link above to read it already. So many aspects of Jacob’s life are typical of her time, place, and station in life, but she herself is not very typical.
“We three stuck together / like the pages in a brand-new book. / And being normal young children, / we were almost always up to something.” page 10
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 0.5 points) .
Personal remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood from his older sister Christine.
I debated a lot before buying this book. Our local libraries didn’t have it and the cover, especially in a small thumbnail version, is just so unattractive. However, I was hoping for something different from the standard stories, which is exactly what this book delivers. Luckily the interior art is excellent!
The book does skew a bit toward older readers with denser text and more difficult words like chifforobe, Cyclorama, Auburn, cruelty, bigotry, nourishing. The main focus here is on MLK’s childhood, specifically on two fronts – both the ways in which he was an ordinary, sometimes mischievous little boy, and the events that shaped his personality.
“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.
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.)
A simple challenge to take this year’s Black History Month beyond the basics.
So let’s talk about something. America has a month devoted to African-American history (February). Most teachers and school districts these days fall in line with this and do at least a few activities relating to the theme.
“Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man.” page 136
A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew Henson, forward by Matthew E. Peary and introduction by Booker T. Washington.
Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
Available online at www.gutenberg.org/files/20923/20923-h/20923-h.htm
Accessed in September 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.
Matthew Henson was the black man who accompanied Peary on most of his expeditions, including to the North Pole. He received scant notice from the white people of the time, but his life story was very much in demand among African-Americans. Eventually he used his journals from the trip to write this book.
The book is a curious mix of direct entries from Henson’s journals, summations of journal entries, and his direct writing covering periods of time when he couldn’t write or adding information he felt was helpful.
Racism is very present in this book. For the most part, this is overt, although it does come out more blatantly. There are two main forms of racism present – against African-Americans, and against Native Americans.
“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 6.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.
Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books. As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all. However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.
I have no regrets about adding this to our collection. While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!