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!
“In the years following her husband’s death, Coretta committed herself to fulfilling Martin’s dreams and a few of her own.” page 65
Coretta Scott King: Dare to Dream by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Anna Rich.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1994.
Biography, 81 pages including index.
Lexile: 790L .
AR Level: 6.4 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: Part of the Women of Our Time Series.
A middle-grade biography of Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a civil rights activist herself.
“In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.” Introduction, key point 5.
Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, a report of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Published online at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/, Montgomery, Alabama.
Accessed in July 2017.
This report walks the reader through the events surrounding racial terror lynchings in America, including case studies of individual lynchings and photographs, illustrations, legal reactions, and original source quotations.
I don’t recall how this crossed my path. Normally I prefer to read books in person, whether I purchase, checkout from the library, or borrow from a friend. However, some popular books are easier to get from the library as ebooks and older books that are out of print can often be found online for free.
This book doesn’t fit either of those categories. Instead, this is a report from a team led by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. His book’s been on my TBR for a while now (I even had it checked out, but had to return it as there was a hold). After reading this report, Just Mercy got bumped up on my must-reads.
“To us / it is just dirt, / the ground we walk on. / Scoop up a handful. / The gritty grains slip / between your fingers.” page 3
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Little, Brown, and Company Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
Picture book biography, 40 pages including end notes.
Winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, 2011.
2011 Caldecott Honor recipient.
Lexile: AD1100L (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 6.0 (worth 0.5 points) .
Dave the Potter was a real-life African-American slave and artist. He must have been incredibly strong, because he was able to successfully make pots as large as forty gallons. He knew how to read and write, because he marked poems into the sides of some of his pots. Beyond that we may never know many of the details of his life.
This book came up several times before I bought it. The first time, it was mistakenly labeled as fiction. Later I realized it was non-fiction and added it to the bottom of my TBR. After reading When the Beat Was Born by the same author, I decided to purchase this book, knowing that the writing would be excellent. And I loved it!
Since so little is definitively known about Dave, this book focuses on the process of making his pottery that Dave would likely have gone through, using sparse poetry, detailed and realistic images of the process, and collage backgrounds imagining the world he inhabited.
“I felt differently. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to grow up and greet the world, and so did my best friends.” p. 27
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.
Square Fish Imprint, Macmillan, New York, 2009.
Age 10 + nonfiction, 150 pages including extras, notes, and index.
Winner of the National Book Award and a Newberry Honor Book.
Various other awards and best of lists.
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 5.0 points)
Before Rosa Parks was a household name, there was Claudette Colvin. The first black woman (really a girl) to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and be arrested for doing so, she knew and inspired Rosa Parks, but was not considered suitable to be the face of the movement. Her story is now coming to light for a new generation.
This is “The acclaimed true story of the girl who changed history” according to the front cover. What it is inside was a little different than I’d expected. Most books by white men about black history tend to assume an authoritative, know-it-all position that often leaves out details important to the people who were living that history.
Significant portions of this book are told in the first person, taken directly from extensive interviews with Ms. Colvin herself. Yet he is credited as the sole author. I’m torn. Hoose clearly made the best choice by letting Colvin’s voice shine and allowing her to narrate as much as possible of her book. On the other hand, he is receiving all the credit.