February is Black History month, and in my mind there is no better way to learn about and from history than through the power of story. From slavery to the civil rights movement, African Americans in our country have walked a road marked with hate and injustice. That said, I am reminded of a quote by Fred Rogers: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
It's true. In the midst of tough and scary things, there are always helpers; and in the darkest times of African American history in our country, there were bold and brave, multi-colored helpers.
Obviously, racial issues are still a struggle today. Reading stories of others who stood up to hate or were the target of it builds compassion in our kids. It opens the door to conversations that need to happen in our homes and in the larger world abroad. I hope this list of books is one that will help all of us seek to understand, help us to remember the past, and inspire us to continue to work towards healing and compassion in the future.
1. CHAINS BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON
I know, I know I just did a post highlighting this series, but I couldn’t make this list without it (plus it helped round the list out to an even ten). If you missed that post, go here to find out why I think this series is a must-read.
Readers age 10 and up
A novel in verse that tells the story of Grace, a slave girl who runs away with her family to the Great Dismal Swamp. This story touches on a piece of history I was unfamiliar with. I knew slaves escaped to the North, I did not know some of them escaped to the swamp! The story in Unbound is told through poetry in a way that is engaging and easy to read. Grace is a brave character and her story is a good one.
Readers age 9 and up
This is the true story of Frederick Douglass’s nine year old daughter as she is sent to an all white school. Told through Rosetta’s eyes, this short book is well-written and gives insight into Rosetta’s life and her famous father's. Short and easy to read, I loved this little book.
Readers age 6 and up
Elijah is an eleven-year old boy who lives in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just across the American border. Born free, Elijah is somewhat sheltered from the horrors of slavery, but when a friend who is saving up to buy his family’s freedom is robbed, Elijah goes on an epic and dangerous journey to help him and learn first hand the gift of being free.
Readers age 8 and up
Set in Gary, IN during the Great Depression, The Mighty Miss Malone follows a family as they fall into poverty and homelessness, and eventually rise back up. Told through the eyes of Deza Malone, the themes of the importance of family and sticking together rise up in this engaging, thought-provoking story.
Readers age 9 and up
Set in Mississippi in the middle of the Great Depression, Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry follows Cassie Logan and her family's struggle to hang on to their land in a hostile environment that wants to take it from them. A Newberry Medal winner, this is a small book that is thought-provoking and hard to put down.
Readers age 11 and up
Stella lives in the south before World War II when the KKK is alive and active. Throughout the story, Stella sees her father stand up for his right to vote, she sees her friends home destroyed by the KKK and through it all, she ultimately finds her voice. I loved seeing the importance of community come through in this story as they rallied around and supported each other.
Readers 9 and up
This is the story of three sisters who fly across the country (from New York to Oakland) to spend the summer with their mother, who left them soon after the youngest of the girls was born. Told through the eyes of eleven-year old Delphine, we follow the girls as they meet their mother, attend the Black Panther’s community summer school (in order to stay out of their mother’s way), learn about Power to the People and ultimately learn about their mother. I loved Delphine’s voice in this story. There are two more books that follow the girls’ adventures and after reading this one, I absolutely want to read more. I surely do.
Readers 8 and up
9. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
An autobiography and a novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of Woodson’s growing up years in the 1960s and 70s. I am always amazed at how engaging a well-done novel in verse can be; how the author can drive the story through the lines of poetry and this one is a well-done work! Winner of the Newberry, Brown Girl Dreaming is a coming of age story; it is the story of a young girl finding her voice.
Readers 10 and up
Not so much historical fiction, Last in a Long Line of Rebels is more of a mystery with a historical twist. I included it on this list because it is a book that explores some racial issues of today as 12-year old Lou seeks to uncover mysteries of the past and save her life-long, home.
Readers 10 and up
(PS Reader age recommendations are just that, recommendations. I list them, oftentimes pulled right off of Amazon, to give you a general guide.)
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