While children learn about the history and contributions of Caucasians throughout the school year, the contributions of other races and cultures are often bypassed in our schools. In order to help address this inequity and ensure that those contributions get, at least, some notice, months have been designated to explore the contribution of these groups to our nation. February is Black History Month.
Here are several books that explore the history of African Americans in our nation, or simply show African American living as we all do. In order to prevent developing more stereotypes read from each category so you aren't focusing only on slavery or the Civil Rights era. Use these books to start conversations about social justice, freedom, diversity, community, and democray, as well as to introduce children to the history of our nation.
Slavery/The Founding of the United States
For many people, the story of blacks in the US starts with slavery, and while that was the experience for most blacks, they played a larger role in the early years of our nation. Here are a few books about that period of our history. Talk with children about how these stories only represent a small part of the contributions of African-Americans to our nation.
Scott Russell Sanders and Thomas B. Allen's A Place Called Freedom tells of the founding of Lyle Station, Indiana by the Starman family. Told from the 7-year-old son's viewpoint, he recalls his memories of his father bringing his family and then others to the town. This has been one of my favorite books since I found it about 15 years ago. Although it is now out of print you can still find it on Amazon and it is a wonderful story of the fulfillment of the American Dream.
Molly Bannaky by Chris K. Soentpiet and Alice McGill reveals the story of white women, Molly, who is sent from England as an indentured servant as punishment for spilling her master's milk. She does her service and is rewarded her freedom, along with a wagon, mule, and tobacco seed. Once free, she starts a tobacco plantation but realizing she needs help, she purchases a slave. Having essentially been a slave, she vows to set him free once she no longer needs his help. Instead, they fall in love and marry.
Throughout the history of the United States, blacks have fought, in both little and big ways, for their freedom and justice, but the fight became very visible starting in the 1950s. Explore the impact of segregation as the impetus for demanding justice, as well as the different ways people stood up for their rights, with these books. Discuss with your child what it feels like to be excluded and ask them to think of ways they can ensure to include everyone.
In Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jerome Lagarrigue, Connie's favorite part of shopping is stopping to get a soda from the soda fountain, but because of her race she is not allowed to sit at the counter and, therefore, cannot have the banana split she really wants. She complains about how they are kept separate and in the back, but things are starting to change and in this fictionalized account of the Greensboro sit-ins, both her brother and sister participate in the protests. Ultimately, they succeed in their attempts to gain equality and she is able to finally have that banana split at the counter.
In Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney, a girl's grandmother allows her to go into town alone for the first time to visit "someplace special." The trip there is challenging because of the humiliations of Jim Crow laws, but she finds the courage to overcome her fears and doubts and makes it to the special place which is the library.
Dizzy Gillespie's young life was one of abuse, but the introduction of a trombone changes all that for him and allows him to escape his home life even when he is still living in the same house as his abusive father. Dizzy by Jonah Winter and Sean Qualls explores these early influences on Dizzy Gillespie's life and his success.
The story of African America isn't only about struggle. It is, also, about just being a kid and living a life that is similar to everyone else. Help your child keep that perspective by reading these books that present kids being kids.
Busy Toes by C.W. Bowie is the perfect book to celebrate a toddler's toes! A delightful book that shows how much our toes help us explore our world!
Jamaica finds a little-stuffed puppy at the park, and rather than turn it into the lost and found, she decides to keep it. However, the day wears into the night and the next day, she finds her conscience has gotten the best of her and she turns it in. Find out what happens next in Jamaica's Find by Juanita Havill and Anne Sibley O'Brien.
As always, I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Feel free to share with credit to Words Reflected and Kim Bogren Owen on Facebook, your website, or in your newsletter. Please add your recommendations for additional books about African American history in the comments, and keep an eye out on Twitter and Facebook for additional recommendations on this subject all month long.
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