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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.
The end of a month
I read a statement on a publisher’s blog that resonated with me: “Black History is American History.” (The publisher is Lee & Low, a press known for publishing diverse books.)
I’ve written about this before and still believe that the sooner we get rid of hyphenated Americans, the better off we’ll be, able to have fuller discussions and let readers of all ages revel in the diversity that is us.
In any case, there have been some recent books that seem to reflect the reality of the publisher’s line. And it seems to me, that these books encourage children’s empathy and allow readers of all ages to witness unfair situations yet thrill in the ability take positive action.
Take The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated by the author with her husband, Sean Qualls (Scholastic). It wasn’t fair that Mildred and Richard couldn’t get married in 1958 just because they lived in Cedar Point, Virginia. It was illegal under Jim Crow laws for a white man to marry an African American woman and remained that way until Richard and Mildred Loving changed that in 1967, winning a Supreme Court ruling turning over the ban on interracial marriage.
Women and the African Americans have shared the struggle for rights in America. Two 19th century women, Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony talk about their common struggles and interact with other luminaries of the time in Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts (Scholastic). Together the words of Nikki Grimes and strong illustration by Michele Wood present a rich, well imagined portrait of the women and the times in which they lived.
An all-female, primarily African American jazz band that toured the U.S. in the 20th century had to combat similar prejudices against women and African Americans. It’s presented in a thorough, accessible and upbeat look in Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans with lively illustrations by Joe Cepeda. The International Sweethearts made music against the odds.
Just like the number of days in February, the words of Charles Smith and Shane Evans bold illustrations present 28 specific events over the course of American history that continue to have an impact on virtually all aspects of the world in which we live. From the establishment of the United States to modern entertainment, significant contributions by African Americans continue to be felt brought to life in 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World (Roaring Brook).
A book for younger children brings earlier times into focus. Two African American girls start their own shoe business when they cannot try on shoes in a store in New Shoes by Susan Meyer, illustrate by Eric Velasquez. This tale of ingenuity is based on real events during the Jim Crow era that continued in many places until the 1960s.
The world is different now because of the brave actions taken by Americans of African descent. They are imbedded in American history and should be explored, recognized, studied, and celebrated throughout the year.