Review: Let the Truth Be Told

This picture book biography of Ida B. Wells gives a lovely overview of her life.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Meyers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.
Amistad Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 37 pages including timeline and quotes.
Lexile:  AD900L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 0.5 points)

Ida B. Wells stood up for truth and justice with her words and actions, and foreshadowed the civil rights movement in many of her actions.  With an illustration at least every other page, and excellent explanations of difficult topics such as lynchings, this book makes Wells’ life accessible to middle grade readers, and could even be read to some younger children with a parent.

Let the Truth Be Told cover resized
Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.

Continue reading “Review: Let the Truth Be Told”

Review: Coretta Scott

“things nature never intended / a child to see / haunted them / tragedy accompanies growth / no matter who we are” p. 22

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Amistad imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009.
Biographical poem picture book, 30 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: this book is an illustrated poem.

Ntozake Shange has written a poem and Kadir Nelson has illustrated it in this gorgeous, but non-traditional biography.

Coretta Scott cover

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this book.  Probably something more like Martin’s Big Words because the cover style looked similar to me.  Actually, it was quite different and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I’ve ordered another, more traditional children’s biography of Coretta Scott King which I’m hoping will compliment this one nicely.

Continue reading “Review: Coretta Scott”

Web: In the Public Domain

Anybody who loves 18th century literature has heard of Project Gutenberg and similar online methods of obtaining books which no longer have a copyright, but when we browse these websites, it is often easier to find books with racist commentary or ideologies than to source books by authors of color.  Today I have a few sources to help you.

The list Black Writers in the Public Domain has a variety of genres available mostly through Gutenberg, but also from some other Public Domain sites.

The same website also has a review of a novel called The Conjure Woman, which is set in the antebellum South and was written by a black journalist.

There are two bookshelves available on Project Gutenberg.  One is African-American Writers, and the other (which has some overlap) is the Slavery bookshelf.  The Slavery bookshelf has some international writers, but is mainly about African-American slavery, which means it includes abolitionist writings by white authors.

Following this rabbit hole eventually brought me to The Antislavery Literature Project, which is all about trying to source original texts about the American antislavery movement from a variety of public domain sources and link them in their database.  This includes writings by white abolitionists as well as trying to source a variety of early writings by authors of color.  Their website is helpful for finding items from smaller digitization projects and gives a brief synopsis of each work.

If you’d like to do a unit on poetry by black authors, is a great starting place.  They have biographies, essays on, and at least one or two poems by everyone from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to comparatively newer poets like Claudia Rankine.

This website is full of sources for teachers, including recommended poems for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and other occasions, searchable by poetic form.  Get even more in-depth for Black History Month with this part of the site that includes poems, essays, and original source documents.  There are also areas for movements like the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts.  I’ve only covered the African-American areas, but this site is pretty good about including poets from a variety of traditions and ethnic backgrounds; if you’re interested in poetry, it’s definitely worth a look!

Oh, and for a starter, here’s an anthology of poems, The African American Experience.  I’m reading this and a nonfiction book from the first list electronically and enjoying both.

Update October 2019: Since this post has recently been getting a lot of attention from search engines, I’ll also mention that if you’re interested in freely available works, check out my freebies tag, which has all of the free online books that I’ve read and reviewed so far.  I typically only review ebooks that are available as a free download or can be freely and legally read online in my home country (USA).

If you know of a site or have a link to your own freely available or public domain work, I might be interested.  Please do not contact me asking me to create ebooks from published works I have reviewed on this blog.  I respect copyright and will not respond to those requests.

Review: D is for Drinking Gourd

Despite a few flaws, this surprisingly informative A-to-Z book is highly recommended for families and teachers.

D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet by Nancy I. Sanders, illustrated by E. B. Lewis.
Sleeping Bear Press, reprinted by Scholastic, New York, 2008.
Picture book non-fiction, 38 pages.
Lexile: AD1110L  (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR level: 7.7 (worth 1.0 points)

This is one of the core texts I used for the 30 day project.  Although I was familiar with Sleeping Bear Press from their lovely state books, I wasn’t familiar with this title until I came across it at my local used bookstore.  (Remember when I started to be known as that lady who buys up all the diverse books?  This goes back to my first trip.)

As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect complement to 28 Days, with the only difficulty being 26 letters in the alphabet and 28 (really 29) days in the Smith book.  I got around that by combining some days and finagling so that some topics aligned.

As with all Sleeping Bear Press books I’ve seen so far, I found this book absolutely lovely.  Each letter has either a full page or a two page spread.  There is a short couplet including the featured letter or word.  This couplet is found amidst the illustration, then off to one side the letter is repeated in both upper and lower case along with at least two paragraphs giving further information about the topic and people associated with it.

There was a wide variety of topics and historical figures covered, including several I was not yet familiar with.  As soon as the third page, I was learning about the Buffalo Soldiers and cowboys on the western frontier.  Although one would think that the alphabet format would be limiting, since the topics were general and the paragraphs covered a wide range of people, there was a surprisingly large amount of information presented.

While this book is not quite as versatile as 28 Days, it is another great choice for a 30 day project.  I think this one would be a particularly good choice for schools, since classrooms would not be doing a day on the weekends.  For example, in 2017 there will be 20 weekdays in February.  There are 18 two-page spreads in the book.  That leaves two days for introducing and concluding the project, or to accommodate any days off your school might have.  This book lends itself to combining with coloring pages and picture books, although you might have to include a few historical fiction picture books in order to cover some of the more obscure topics.

Off the top of my head, there are several other ideas that could be used with this book for older children: Students could each learn one of the short poems and recite them in a skit for other classes.  Individual students or teams could be assigned to learn more about topics or to read an outside book and write a report or present to the class (easy to differentiate by the materials available and difficulty of topic).  The original publisher also has a teacher’s guide which might be helpful.


The children generally enjoyed this book.  They personally found the alphabet format more understandable and relatable than the timeline version.  However, they did not like the illustrations as much.  They felt that the illustrations were darker and it was harder to understand what some of them were depicting, and I have to agree with them.  While I found them appealing, in some it was difficult to know which, if any of the people from the informative paragraphs was shown in the illustration.  This was particularly obvious in comparison to the lively illustrations by Shane W. Evans.  My feeling was that the illustrations by Lewis were calmer and more relaxing, but this didn’t translate for the children.

There was one moment during the reading where we were thrown for a loop.  The Politicians page does mention Barack Obama, but does not have him listed as president, and his picture is not featured.  I was a little surprised until we looked at the copyright date – 2007.  I can only assume that more current editions have updated this page.

I was a little iffy on the letter Q which stood for quilt.  One of the informational paragraphs stated “quilts may have been used to help slaves escaping north along the Underground Railroad.  A quilt hung on a porch rail might be a signal that the house was a safe place to stop.”  While it does use the words “may” and “might,” it doesn’t reflect the reality that, despite this lesson being taught in many classrooms even now, this myth was a complete fabrication.  I felt like those two (out of eight total) sentences could have been more productively used to add more information about Harriet Powers or Faith Ringgold or to provide information about how quilts were made or used.

Some people may also be bothered by the religious references in Z, so be aware of your context and whether it is appropriate to read about the influence of religion on African-American history.  The Nation of Islam also gets a brief mention on the Malcolm X page.

Overall, this is a great book for families or particularly teachers of about 1st to 6th grade (depending heavily on the maturity and background knowledge of students, and whether it will be read independently or out loud, etc.).

Continue reading “Review: D is for Drinking Gourd”

28 Days Book Review

In short, this book is a must-have for every school library, and highly recommended for home and classroom libraries as well.

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.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans

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.

Continue reading “28 Days Book Review”

Coloring Book Review: Great African Americans

This coloring book is a win on every front… except including women.

At the spur of the moment, I decided to add coloring pages to the 30 day project, mainly because this Dover Coloring book kept popping up as I added diverse books on my Amazon wish list.  For us the coloring pages were a fun supplement to the main books – we usually didn’t read the text.  However, if you were looking for a easier, cheaper, or simpler alternative to the 30 day project, you could certainly do a 30 day project just coloring these pages and reading them.

The kids colored the pages as I read to them.  Sometimes they would race to finish first, or try to complete the page before we finished reading for the day, other times they would take their time and complete a page more slowly.

Nearly all of the pages corresponded to the “extra” picture book we were reading for the day, however occasionally we had a page that corresponded to one of our core texts, and a picture book that corresponded to the other.  Z found this very confusing, so if I do this project again, I would either avoid that, or explain more clearly who was who.

I think for some of the historical figures it would also have been helpful to have a picture or portrait to look at.  Some had photos or drawings in the books we were reading, but others didn’t.

Dover Coloring Book: Great African Americans

The first book I purchased was Great African Americans.  This book has 45 different coloring pages representing different figures from African American history.  Pages are arranged according to the person’s last name, and a wide range of people are included.  Some of the poses will be familiar from photographs, and the most dynamic pages were definitely the athlete pages.

Each page has a short paragraph at the bottom giving a brief overview of the person’s life and accomplishments, so one could definitely use this book alone for a 30 day study of African American history.  There were two pages which might bring up some questions parents must be prepared to answer: Marcus Garvey’s page, which discusses black separatism, and Mother Clara Hale’s page, which includes information about drug addiction and AIDs.

Of the coloring pages, there are 5 pages which have colored-in examples.  Frederick Douglas is on the cover, Harriet Tubman on the inside front cover, Elijah McCoy on the inside back cover, and smaller images of W.E.B. Du Bois and George Washington Carver are on the back cover.

Out of the 45 people featured in this book, only 10 are women.  After looking through the book, I quickly realized that if I wanted to include the many African American women who have contributed to American history, I would need to expand.  Luckily, there is another Dover Coloring book called Famous African-American Women.

Continue reading “Coloring Book Review: Great African Americans”