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Children's Literature to Celebrate Black History Month
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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