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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Words come in many forms, including poetry, descriptive text, narrative text, and dialogue. Images, too, appear in varied forms: drawings, paintings, photographs, and more. Books capture moments in time through images and words. They present the past to help us get a clearer view into the future. Writer Pearl Buck once said that “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” 

You’ll meet the past in these moving books about people, places, and events that continue to have an influence today. A few of the books listed here were written for teens and adults, but can be shared together with mature readers of younger ages.

Quotable Quotes: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go. -- Dr. Seuss

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse

By: Walter Dean Myers
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Writer extraordinaire, Walter Dean Myers, created original poetry to accompany selections of late 19th (perhaps early 20th) Century monochromatic photographs of African American children. The result is a handsome, sepia-toned album of poems and pictures that not only read aloud well but also capture the universal joys of children and childhood. 

Freedom in Congo Square

By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: R. Gregory Christie
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Join the rhythmic countdown to Sunday afternoon, the one time when enslaved Africans in 19th century Louisiana could relax in what became known as New Orleans’ Congo Square. Vibrant paintings, reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence, further enliven the portrait of people as they toiled daily, culminating on Sunday. An introduction provides historical insight and perspective of this little known part of American history.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

By: Ashley Bryan
Genre: Fiction, Poetry, Historical Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Original documents from an early 19th century Southern estate that appraised enslaved Africans provided the inspiration for original poems and powerful, full-page paintings of eleven individuals who were bought and sold. The result is very moving — portraits in poetry and image of enslaved people whose lives, aspirations, and hopes have been mostly anonymous — until now.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

By: Roxane Orgill
Illustrated by: Francis Vallejo
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In 1958, photographer Art Kane gathered up a who’s who of jazz musicians on a New York City street for what is now an iconic image of African American artists. Original poems accompanied by vivid paintings depict the period, the people, and more. Not only is the original photo included, so are short biographies of each of the musicians as well as additional resources sure to inspire further exploration.

Loving vs. Virginia

By: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrated by: Shadra Strickland
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: Teen
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The saga of Mildred, a young African American, and Richard, a white teen, who met and fell in love in their Virginia town, is poetically told in an open, strikingly handsome format. Mildred and Richard’s courage to stand up for their right to marry and live where they wanted took them all the way to the US Supreme Court. Their struggle will be best appreciated by sophisticated readers. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls presents the family’s story for younger children, a picture book for children from 6-8 years old. 

March: Book One

By: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by: Nate Powell
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: Teen
Reading Level: Independent Reader

John Lewis, son of a sharecropper, grew up to become an activist and later, a U.S. Congressman. His life and crucial role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement is dramatically presented in word and image in graphic format in three volumes (March: Book Two and March: Book Three). The story of the young John Lewis can be shared with children as young as four years in the picture book biography, Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Martin's Dream Day

By: Kitty Kelley
Illustrated by: Stanley Tretick
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Photographs — many taken during the event and on site — document the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech. A lucid text provides information about the Civil Rights Movement, general information about the period, and its impact. The images, however, have their own power even without the worthy narration. 

One Last Word

By: Nikki Grimes
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

An introduction brings the Harlem Renaissance into focus, followed by a description of a particular form of poetry. Original “Golden Shovel” poetry by Grimes is interspersed with poetry by poets of the period including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen. Full-color art by a range of contemporary African American illustrators is interspersed in this small, handsome book. Additional information about the poets and artists concludes this unique collection.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By: Javaka Steptoe
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist born of a Haitian father and a Brooklyn born mother of Puerto Rican decent, became known as an artist whose work effectively made social commentary. The original illustrations call to mind Basquiat’s visual style while presenting his life and unique work, which broke old tenets of art to became popular in the 1980s.

She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

By: Loki Mulholland
Illustrated by: Charlotta Janssen
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Early experiences brought the inequality of America into focus for young Joan, a white southerner.  So she became an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Joan was a Freedom Rider, joined the sit-ins, attended the March on Washington in 1963, and even met Martin Luther King, Jr. Her story is part of a much broader story, presented in dramatic images, photographs, and actual documents from Joan’s memorabilia (e.g., an arrest record and a letter from a Mississippi jail to Joan’s mother).

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