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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Celebrate Black History Month with Books

February 7, 2007

February is a month filled with chances to celebrate: Groundhog Day's promise of the start of a new season; it is the birth month of at least two U.S. Presidents; there's even a special day to show affection.

And the entire month is Black History Month, one of the richest opportunities for celebration and a fine time to focus our children's attention (and our own) on the contributions of African Americans.

It started out as Negro History Week in 1926, but later grew into a month-long celebration in 1976. There are many resources and ideas to support. (You can get to a number of useful and reputable links from "cloudscome" or Reading Rockets).

Not surprisingly, my favorite way to celebrate Black History Month, not only in February but all year long, is with books.

You may want to start by listening to the music of jazz great Charlie Parker, then see what a be bop looks like in Charlie Parker Plays Be-Bop, by Chris Raschka.

I particularly like the way Raschka's words and illustrations make the sound of jazz in a musical way ("Fisk, fisk ... Chickadee, chickadee, chickadee, chick") — a feast for eyes and ears. This Charlie Parker can be appreciated by children as young as three.

The book is ideal for reading aloud, and many young listeners will respond on their own (other children may need encouragement to repeat the sounds). Inspired by the rhythm of nonsensical sounds of the great Charlie Parker, ask children to create their own musical sounds with their voices and with crayons or paints on paper.

Just think, one child or an entire classroom can create a symphony in image and sounds, all inspired by a book!

But picture books are not just for the young. And so, I'll soon suggest picture books to continue the exploration of Black History with older readers.

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"Reading is not optional." —

Walter Dean Myers