SALT LAKE CITY — For the past 42 years, Black History Month has been officially honored throughout the country, but the idea goes back long before President Gerald Ford made it a nationwide celebration in 1976.
Spurred by the lack of information taught in American schools about the history of the country's black citizens, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History deemed the second week of February "Negro History Week" in 1926, according to history.com. They chose the date to honor the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, hoping the dedicated week would encourage public schools to teach black history.
Since its nationwide adoption in 1976, Black History Month has been honored every February through school curriculum, public programs and a host of TV programs and books. Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have also adopted their own versions of Black History Month.
We've rounded up five new picture books that highlight the lives of notable figures in American history, each with stories that are inspiring for readers young and old — and all these books have beautiful illustrations that should help keep young attention spans engaged.
"A CHILD'S INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY**: The Experiences, People, and Events That Shaped Our Country," by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Lynn Gaines, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 96 pages (nf)**
This illustrated history book starts with the origins of slavery and takes readers through slave life, the Civil War and up into current times, ending with the Black Lives Matter movement of recent years. Along the way, author Jabari Asim introduces his young readers to people such as Arthur A. Schomburg, a mail clerk who collected 5,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts and 2,000 African-American documents, art and artifacts, becoming the curator of a collection that eventually turned into the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is still housed in Harlem.
"MAE AMONG THE STARS," by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington, Harper, 40 pages (nf)
Young Mae Jemison was a day dreamer, and her biggest dream of all was to go to space and see Earth from "out there." Although her teacher didn't encourage her dream, her parents and loved ones did. Stasia Burrington's beautiful watercolors bring to life the story of Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, showing young readers that with encouragement and hard work, dreams can come true.
"THE UNITED STATES V. JACKIE ROBINSON," by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Balzer and Bray, 40 pages (nf)
Most people know the name Jackie Robinson, but Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen's concise, well-written history of an incident in the famous baseball player's life may educate parents along with their children. In 1944, Robinson was prosecuted for refusing to move to the back of an army bus in a five-hour court trial that resulted in a "not guilty" verdict. Just three years later, Robinson was the first professional baseball player to break the color line, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and going on to become one of the most famous baseball players of the 20th century.
"I AM HARRIET TUBMAN," by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, Dial Books, 40 pages (nf)
Dial Books' Ordinary People Change the World series is well worth looking into, with Christopher Eliopoulos' bright, appealing illustrations and bestselling author Brad Meltzer's first-person narrations of the lives of well-known historical figures. Tubman's tale is especially inspiring — an escaped slave who returned to the South 19 times, rescuing more than 300 hundred people from slavery and working as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.
"HIDDEN FIGURES: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race," by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, Harper, 40 pages (nf)
The 2016 film "Hidden Figures," starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, introduced many adult filmgoers to the lives of three female math geniuses and their contribution to NASA's space program. Now, Margot Lee Shetterly — the author of the book on which the film was based — aims to do the same thing for children with her new picture book. Laura Freeman's bold illustrations beautifully complement the inspiring tale of the four women — Dr. Christine Mann Darden wasn't featured in the film — Shetterly researched for her history.