“The girls in the circle / have painted their toes. // They’ve twisted their hair / into big yellow bows. ” pages 4-7.
The Girls in the Circle by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson.
Produced for Scholastic by Color-Bridge Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2004.
Poem illustrated as picture book, 32 pages (including back matter).
AR Level: 1.9 (worth 0.5 points).
NOTE: Part of the Just For You series, level 2. This book is poetry.
The Girls in the Circle is a well-known poem, here presented with illustrations and additional commentary and activities. A group of girls staying at Grandma’s dress up in all her things. But when Mom arrives, she won’t let them leave until they change back… or have they?
“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.
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.
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.
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, poets.org 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.
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.
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.