From picture books to photo essays, these books can provide learning for young readers about segregation, civil rights and appreciation for many efforts in attaining civil rights as celebrated during Black History Month.
“WE'VE GOT A JOB: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March,” by Cynthia Levinson, Peachtree Publishers, $19.95, 176 pages (nf) (ages 10 and up)
In 1963, 4,000 black elementary, middle and high school students voluntarily went to jail with the support of parents and grandparents. Their goal was to end segregation in the most racially divided and violent city in America — Birmingham, Ala. Four of those young people become the backbone of this book as they tell their stories of punishment at the hands of authorities, being degraded and suffering from overcrowding and heat. “It was something that was very, very much a part of me. I really, really believed in the Movement,’” recalls Arnetta Streeter, a 14-year-old.
James Steward, although from an "advantaged household," felt "a sense of resolve. I had enough of the segregation, discrimination, hatred, violence, white signs, colored signs, all of it! Now was the time to confront it all!’”
Cynthia Levinson’s thorough research includes extensive notes, a time line, maps and bibliography for further reading. While this is not a delightful time in United States history, the author provides a glimpse that must be read and remembered.
Another book about marches in 1963 by activists against segregation is “WE MARCH,” by Shane W. Evans (Roaring Brook/Porter, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 4-8).
Marching as a family, these stylized figures portray a solid front of support for their human rights.
In minimalist text, Shane W. Evans relates the chants and rhythms of the family and other marchers, such as “We follow our leaders/We walk together/We sing.” The marching concludes with the spirited “I Have a Dream” speech and an image of Martin Luther King in his glory. Younger children will understand the need to “act.”
“BLACK & WHITE,” by Larry Dane Brimner, Calkins Creek, $16.95, 80 pages (nf) (all ages)
The subtitle of this book, "The Confrontation Between Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene 'Bull' Connor," is really the gist of “Black & White.” Set in Birmingham, Ala., during the '50s and '60s, protest and segregation earned the town a name of “Bombingham.” Central to the turbulence and symbolic to both sides of the civil rights movement were the Rev. Shuttlesworth and his adversary, commissioner of public safety Eugene Connor, nicknamed "Bull" for his loud voice and commanding presence. Shuttlesworth’s stand against Bull Connor’s views on segregation while exposing the Klan in Birmingham helped bring about national change when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Black & White” is an intriguing read about one of many conflicts that existed among diverse views on civil rights. Many photographs, oral histories, FBI records, archived newspapers and source notes add to the interest and validity.
Linda Barrett Osborne follows her acclaimed “Traveling the Freedom Road” with “MILES TO GO FOR FREEDOM: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Years” (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 128 pages, $24.95, ages 10 and up). With its setting during the years when blacks and whites were separated both physically and psychologically — leading to the tests for literacy, voting rights and the noted Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 — this book is supported by the Library of Congress and contains comprehensive information on race relations in American history.
Two biographical accounts of Frederick Douglass, anti-slavery crusader, orator and writer, draw from his early life and provide glimpses of his hopes and determination.
Young Frederick Douglass and his mother live on plantations far from each other. On one “special night,” Mama walks the 12 miles to be with him. Each mile she walks is a lesson that she teaches the boy. The first mile is “When I do my forgetting,” forgetting how tired she is; and "When the forgetting is done, I start remembering” is the second mile.
Each subsequent mile is special: thinking happy thoughts, looking at the stars, praying for freedom and finally the 12th mile is for love.
“WORDS SET ME FREE: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass,” by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Simon & Schuster/Wiseman, $16.99, 32 pages (nf) (ages 6-12)
Written in Frederick Douglass’ voice, the young slave tells of the hardships and cruelties of the plantation. His desire to learn to read, which his owner forbade, was fulfilled when he acquired a newspaper and clipped out words that he repeated over and over. With simple writing skills, he forged a letter supposedly written by his master that was meant to release him from slavery. Although this did not come to fruition at that time, he did escape three years later and was guided by the North Star to freedom.
The story is tender and meaningful, and James Ransome’s exquisite acrylic and oil paintings make this a masterpiece to treasure as an introduction to a noble statesmen.
Fictional stories and biographies for all ages bring meaning to Black History Month. Following are a few to consider:
“JUST AS GOOD: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game,” by Chris Crowe, illustrated by Mike Benny, Candlewick, $16.99, 32 pages (ages 6-10)
Utahn Crowe tells the story of Larry Doby, who became the first African-American player in the American League and in 1948 helped the Cleveland Indians win their first World Series in decades.
“FREEDOM SONG: The Story of Henry 'Box' Brown,” by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls, Harper, $17.99, 30 pages (ages 6-10)
This is the story of a Virginia slave named Henry Brown who actually mailed himself to freedom. While the myths have existed for years about such a thing, Sally M. Walker brings it to light with an actual letter written by an abolitionist in Philadelphia who claims to have received the box with Henry inside.
“BLACK BOY, WHITE SCHOOL,” by Brian F. Walker, HarperTeen, $17.99, 256 pages (f) (ages 14 and up)
When a young boy from a poor neighborhood goes to a prep academy, there are problems among groups. Brian F. Walker’s debut novel has some violence and racial clashes that are more appropriate for older readers, but the messages of race and misunderstandings are well stated.
"BLACK ALL AROUND," by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Don Tate, Lee & Low, $8.95, 32 pages (ages 4-8)
A celebration of the color black is posed next to acrylic paintings of the world around us. “Look high/look low/ look everywhere The wonderful color black is there!"
“Daddy’s arm is black as are the headlines in the daily news.”
Children will have great fun finding black objects while appreciating the “beautiful black all around.”