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.
The problem? Teachers, and schools, tend to focus on the Big Five:
(Paraphrases of inaccurate comments I’ve heard from schoolchildren in parenthesis.)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(that guy who dreamed the Civil Rights Movement. Oh and they shot him. That’s sad.)
(King’s wife who sat down on the bus. She was so tired she just couldn’t get up again!)
(they let him play baseball with the white guys, and he was good at it.)
(she freed all the slaves, so Lincoln almost had nothing left to do later.)
And of course, Abraham Lincoln
(he’s white, but he helped the slaves so much. Oh and they shot him. That’s sad.)
Sometimes Nelson Mandela is thrown in, even though he is African, not African-American!
There are a few reasons for this. African-American history and culture is so ignored by the mainstream culture, I’ve actually encountered people who don’t know that there were other notable blacks. Not to mention, Husband (who doesn’t study this, but has been around when the kids and I read) got more questions right on a Black History Month quiz even compared to his African-American co-workers. I would say that this blog helped educate him, but this was before blogging, when we were just starting to study Black History!
A very basic text explaining the holiday to very young students.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day by Robin Nelson.
First Step Nonfiction, Lerner Publications Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2003.
Early reader non-fiction, 23 pages including glossary and index.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level: 2.1 (worth 0.5 points)
This is a very basic early reader as part of a formulaic series for preschool to first or maybe second grade learners. It is typically marketed to teachers and schools as part of a holidays set, which is how I acquired it.
Learn more about two third-graders who participated in the Selma marches with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Singing for Dr. King by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.
Produced for Scholastic by Color-Bridge Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2004.
Picture book non-fiction, 32 pages (including back matter).
Lexile: 660L (for some reason, the illustrator is listed as the author)
AR Level: 3.8 (worth 0.5 points)
NOTE: Part of the Just For You series, level 3. This book is non-fiction.
This book is about Sheyann Webb and her friend Rachel West, two third graders who marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These nine year olds also sang for Dr. King and attended civil rights meetings, defying and later inspiring their parents and teachers by doing so.
This book instantly stood out from the pile of books because anything about Dr. King is hugely popular in my house. Then when I opened the book and read the first page, I knew it was non-fiction partly by the way in which the characters were introduced. Here is the opening:
“In 1965, Sheyann Webb was in the third grade in Selma, Alabama. She was smaller than most third graders, including her best friend, Rachel West. // Rachel was nine. She lived with her family in the apartment next door to Sheyann’s.” p. 5
Fiction books for young children simply don’t open that way, giving the full names, ages, and year on the opening page. It happened that I had just been reading A Child Shall Lead Them, so I quickly recognized the names and scenarios from that book. However, a reader who was not already familiar with these events could easily have mistaken this book for fiction that was written oddly.
A unique perspective on youth involvement in the civil rights movement, particularly in relation to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Martin Luther King Jr., Young People, and the Movement by Rufus Burrow Jr.
Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2014.
Academic non-fiction, 331 pages (including index).
In six chapters, this accessible academic work conveys the history of youth involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, with a special focus on youth interactions with Martin Luther King, Jr.
As soon as I saw this at the library, I had to check it out. Children, MLK, and the Civil Rights movement? All favorite reading topics for me. But when it came to writing this review, I dithered. For weeks months I have been thinking about this book, rereading sections, and trying to decide if I’ll write about it here. I’m simply not knowledgeable enough in this field to assess the author’s arguments and write what I would think of as a proper review. In the end, I am reviewing it as an interested layperson, since that’s how I read this book.
“She told M.L. how white people brought black people to America. They made black people slaves. Then in 1863, the United States government said black people were free. But some white people still thought they were better than black people.” p. 7
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Man Who Changed Things by Carol Greene.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1989, this edition 1999.
Early chapter book nonfiction – biography, 46 pages + index.
Lexile: Not Lexiled
AR Level: 2.7 (worth 0.5 pts)
This book is a prime example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (although we all do sometimes). When I was on a buying rampage as we began the thirty day project, this title came up on my Amazon suggestions repeatedly, but the cover was so irritating that I couldn’t stand to waste money on a book with such lackluster pictures.
Sometime later, I was browsing my local used bookstore and saw the book again, but at a steep discount. I decided to glance through and was delighted to see that 1) It is not illustrated as the cover would indicate but uses photographs, and 2) it is an early chapter book. I immediately bought it and am so glad I came across it in person.
This book is part of Houghton Mifflin’s Soar to Success reading intervention program, which is used in some schools as extra help and others as a reading program. Some teachers also use the books to supplement their classroom library. Although it might sound weird because this is a very thin chapter book which looks more like a picture book than your typical chapter book, this is a textbook and will likely come with textbook markings.
This picture book has been a staple of classroom celebrations for more than a decade.
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney.
Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book nonfiction, 28 pages.
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 0.5 points)
This simple text describes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and death to help children understand why we celebrate on the third Monday of January. It is titled Happy Birthday because originally MLK day was on January 15th to commemorate his birthday, but it became a move-able celebration when it became a federal holiday.
Here we have an all-star team who really know their audience and work splendidly together. Marzollo is best known these days for her I Spy books, and prolific illustrator (and sometime author) Brian Pinkney has many books about African-American history and culture.