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Children's Literature to Celebrate Black History Month

Updated on August 30, 2011

Black History Month

February is the time that we focus in on the celebration on trials and triumphs of African American History.  Although it is important that we as an American nation do not limit our knowledge and awareness to just one month of the year, this is the time that we bring this part of our history into the limelight.  Good literature often is a springboard for conversation.  Literature based conversation is not one that should be limited to adults.  In fact, the earlier that parents and teachers alike bring books alive through talk, the more independent and critical thinkers our children will become.  As I celebrate Black History Month with my students, here are some quality books that I will share with my class.  I hope you find them as exciting and thought provoking as I do.  Share them with your students, share them with your children, but as always, happy reading!

The Watson's Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis Ah, the Weird Watsons. This is by far one of my all time favorite recent works of literature for children. In this story, the Watson's struggle with the challenges of raising a pre-teen son and decide he needs to learn some life lessons. They travel from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham,Alabama during the summer of 1963 so that Byron can stay with his grandma. Curtis writes with humor, honesty, and historical accuracy as he captures what life is like for this family. You will laugh, you will cry, you will probably make this one of your favorites too.

A Taste of Colored Water by Matt Faulkner In this picture book, two country children hear the tale of a friend going to the city and having a drink of colored water. Excited at the prospect of drinking colored water, the children create a scheme to get to the city. Their youth and innocence becomes apparent when they get caught up in a civil rights demonstration. This book captures the naivete of young children and the adult struggles that they sometimes are forced to face.

When Harriet Met Sojourner by Catherine Clinton Two amazing women during the time of slavery, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Each of these women overcame slavery and became legends in the fight against slavery. In one amazing moment in history, their paths crossed. This picture book captures this moment and causes the reader to think about the incredible journeys of each of these iconic women.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco Polacco doesn't let her fans down in this beautifully written picture book about two boys caught in a man's war. In this story, two young men are both fighting in the civil war for the freedom of African Americans. One is white and one is black. Their paths cross unexpectedly when one helps the other who is injured.  The creates a unique bond between the two young soldiers as they seek freedom for slaves.  This story is based on actual events and written by Polocco to help keep the memory of these brave soldiers alive.

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen LevineThis Caldecott Honor book is an inspirational story of Henry. Henry is a slave who wishes to have his freedom. In this true account, Henry goes to extreme measures in order to free himself from the ties of slavery.


The Innocence of Children

Racism is something that millions of people face daily. Although one could argue that things have gotten better for African Americans in our society, things are still not perfect. I was raised in a home that everyone was treated equally, there was no name calling or believing that your skin color, culture, or religion made you more or less important than someone else. Humanity came first. I credit my mother for instilling this belief in myself and my sister. In fact my mom was so against the use of racial or cultural slurs that we at times were unaware of some of them. I remember a time when we were visiting my dad. They were having a party and some of his friends were sitting around talking with us. Now, I love my family and my ties to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but the reality is that the area in which my family lives, there were few if any African Americans there in the early 1990's. One of my dad's friends asked us if we have many coons down there (down there meaning the Lower Peninsula of Michigan). I had heard this term before and knew exactly what he meant but my sister had not. She promptly replied, "yes but usually we just see them dead on the side of the road." Well you can imagine the roar of laughter that exploded from these grown men and the childish banter that ensued. My poor sister sat there with a look of confusion on her face. She had no idea what she had said. Although I can only imagine that she probably sat there feeling embarrassed at her misunderstanding of this comment, the embarrassment in my opinion, should have been on those grown men.  I can only hope that as a parent of young children, I will be able to teach my children tolerance, compassion, and to be non-judgemental of others in their lives as my mother did for me.


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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Ahhh, now I understand how I missed the other hub you wrote. I read this one and thought it was one and the same. I just finished your hub about the B.H.M. project. Nice job.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Great hub. I remember reading Bud, not Buddy with my younger son. It 's a good book and we enjoyed it.

      After I got married, my husband and I talked about moving to Alabama after he retired from the service. Any thought of doing so left my head when we went there for a visit after we'd been married a few years. It was "N" this and "N"that. I told him I would never raise children in a place where they used that term. He agreed and said he hadn't realized the language that was used until he'd been away from it for a while.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks RJ, I'm glad you enjoyed it. The ugliness of people is very sad. Not only for the people that they hurt but also for themselves. Thanks for stopping by, commenting, and voing up and awesome.

    • profile image

      reynold jay 6 years ago

      Wow! This is a big winner and you are perceptive to interpet the story as you did. I laughed outloud at the highlight and then, like you, are saddened by those who are so ugly in their outlook on others. Well done. Up one and awsome. RJ

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for the props Mom. Yes so funny yet so sad at the same time. One day you might find the time to read it. A Taste of Colored Water was new to me last year and really sparked some good classroom discussions.

      Sarah, I know you do find that story familliar. Bud Not Buddy is a great one too. I haven't read his latest Elijah of Buxton but I enjoy all of his work and have had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. Watsons was the first story I read and I fell in love with it within the first few pages. I actually just finished reading it to my class and they LOVED it. It always amazes me that my students only know of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. They really do not the other parts that were related to the civil rights movement. Sometimes I wonder if that is why there is such a lack of interest/desire to put forth an effort inot their education. That they really don't know how hard others fought for them to have equality in education. Ok, time to get off of my soap box.

      Thanks for the comments ladies! Sarah, feel free to pass the link on to any of the teachers at school.

    • profile image

      Sarah Webster 6 years ago

      Excellent hub, and very timely. As I was reading it, I held a copy of "Bud, Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis in my lap. I haven't read about the Watson's yet, but I intend to soon. Thank you for the personal example. It was a story I found all too familiar.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Hon-I am so proud of you. Thanks for including the personal example; I'd forgotten about it and had to chuckle-so I hit all of the buttons up including the vote. I love your selections. I have yet to read the Watsons, but I am aware of the raves it's gotten from you. Great blurbs. They all piqued my interest. BTW-that was a great selection to link HBN's hub with yours. It is just 'perfect' for the hub. Hugs to you, my socially conscious daughter.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      Happyboomernurse, thank you so much for taking the time to read this hub and for the kind commments. It was my pleasure adding your hub, it was very thought provoking for me. I'm glad I've joined hubpages too. It has been a wonderful experience in the 4 short weeks that I have been here. I am as equally proud of my mother as she is of me.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      What a great hub on a sensitive topic. I totally agree that good literature is an effective and fun way to help children learn and though I've never read any of the books you've recommended you peeked my interest just from the blurbs you've written about them.

      Your mother shared the same beliefs and values as mine did and I really related to "The Innocence of Children" section of this hub.

      Thank you for adding a link to my hub, "How My Swimming Pool Party Became a Civil Rights Lesson."

      I'm so glad you've joined Hubpages, and know your mother is very proud of the kind of woman you've become and the family values that you have.