Children’s Nonfiction Titles to Celebrate Black History Part 1

The banning of children’s books on Black history (And children’s books on the LGBTQIA+ experience) has greatly risen recently throughout the United States. Students and teachers are fighting back. One student and teacher victory (for now) led to the rescinding of a book ban instituted by the Central York Pennsylvania School District board. Alyssa Shotwell wrote in her article in the Mary Sue, “Last year, heated school debates resulted in the York, Pennsylvania schools banning (and, in some cases, holding ongoing ‘reviews’ of) a four-page list of materials. In the list sent to teachers across the Central York District, books banned from use in the classroom included titles like a biography on Rosa Parks and 19 other books in the “Who Is/Was _____?” series. (Not about everyone, of course. Just people like Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Susan B. Anthony, Frida Kahlo, etc.) They include a whole list that is just a spreadsheet of books, based on grade level, that lists recommendations of books by or about people of color.” If you’d like to learn more about the battle, I recommend Alyssa Shotwell’s article in the Mary Sue, “Students Fight Back as Schools, Parents Seek to Censor Even Malala, Sesame Street on Race” and Isabella Grullón Paz and Maria Cramer’s article in the New York Times, “How Students Fought a Book Ban and Won, For Now.” In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and in solidarity with those who are fighting censorship battles throughout the country, I have put together a list of 50 notable children’s Black history nonfiction titles, most of which have been written and illustrated by highly-acclaimed Black authors and illustrators.This blog (part 1) highlights 25 titles, and I’ll be highlighting another 25 in my next blog in honor of Black History Month. Included in the lists are titles you can share with your preschoolers to titles for older children – enjoy throughout the year!

Black History Month Grab & Go kits (for K-3rd Grade) will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis starting Monday, January 28th, 2022.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson
(Grades K-5)
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“Past and present are quilted together in this innovative overview of black Americans' triumphs and challenges in the United States.Alexander's poetry possesses a straightforward, sophisticated, steady rhythm that, paired with Nelson's detail-oriented oil paintings, carries readers through generations chronicling ‘the unforgettable,’ ‘the undeniable,’ ‘the unflappable,’ and ‘the righteous marching ones,’ alongside ‘the unspeakable’ events that shape the history of black Americans. The illustrator layers images of black creators, martyrs, athletes, and neighbors onto blank white pages, patterns pages with the bodies of slaves stolen and traded, and extends a memorial to victims of police brutality like Sandra Bland and Michael Brown past the very edges of a double-page spread. Each movement of Alexander's poem is a tribute to the ingenuity and resilience of black people in the U.S., with textual references to the writings of Gwendolyn Brooks, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, and Malcolm X dotting stanzas in explicit recognition and grateful admiration. The book ends with a glossary of the figures acknowledged in the book and an afterword by the author that imprints the refrain ‘Black. Lives. Matter’ into the collective soul of readers, encouraging them, like the cranes present throughout the book, to ‘keep rising.’ An incredible connector text for young readers eager to graduate to weighty conversations about our yesterday, our now, and our tomorrow.” – Kirkus Reviews

African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste
(Grades 5 & Up)
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“Ten historical African figures' biographies are interspersed with notes on the history of the continent. What Baptiste accomplishes in only 139 pages of narrative is near miraculous. She lifts the veil intentionally cast over African history, granting readers a veritable feast of information and inspiration. Readers meet, among others, Menes, who unified Upper and Lower Egypt in the 31st century B.C.E.; Amanirenas, first-century B.C.E. queen of Kush, who expelled the Romans; and Idia, the 16th-century queen of Benin who wielded kingmaker powers and ensured diplomatic ties with Portugal. Wilson's portraits of each figure exude such beauty, strength, power, and, above all, dignity as to be nearly breathtaking. Each one gazes out at readers with a regal confidence that's sure to inspire them to gaze back. Wilson also provides lush landscapes and spot illustrations throughout. Pictures of historical artifacts are also included. Black leaders of any age will see themselves reflected in the amazing lives chronicled, many of whom may be new to readers. Non-Black readers will get a window into the marvelous history of a continent oft overlooked and relegated to a single narrative. Refreshingly free of generalizations, this impressively researched work was clearly a massive undertaking (as evidenced by the source notes), presenting figures from multiple parts of the continent in the truth of their cultural and historical richness. The result is empowering, necessary, and required reading for all. Game changing. – Kirkus Reviews

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransom & James E. Ransom
(Preschool – 3rd Grade)
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“This striking reverse chronology opens with a regal portrait of an elderly Harriet Tubman, after which the Ransomes chart her decades of work in pursuit of equality. ‘Before she was a suffragist/ she was General Tubman/ rising out of the fog/ armed with courage/ strong in the face of rebels,’ writes Lesa Cline-Ransome, her incisive free verse emphasizing Tubman’s bravery in the face of a multitude of dangers. James Ransome’s watercolor portraits imbue Tubman with a steely determination—at every age—in lush scenes often set against blazing summer skies and blue, moonlit nights. Beyond its recognition of all that Tubman accomplished, the book serves as a powerful reminder of how all children carry within them the potential for greatness.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson NASA Mathematician by Lesa Cline-Ransome and Raúl Colón
(Grades 1-4)
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“Emphasizing Katherine Johnson's unquenchable curiosity, as well as her persistence in the face of discrimination against women and African Americans, veteran biographer Cline-Ransome describes Johnson's childhood, accelerated education, and path to NASA, culminating in her successful calculations for America's first orbital spaceflight. The book's final spread hints at Johnson's future involvement with Apollo 11, and an author's note provides further facts about her life. Illustrator Colón's signature lithographs enhance the book's tone: layers of watercolors and colored pencils draw readers into the lush, textured scenes that range from expansive (capturing the immensity of starry skies) to nostalgic (capturing atmospheric period details). Most effective is a motif of swirling colors in Johnson's clothing, a visual reminder of how her mind swirled with numbers and questions. VERDICT Although the scientific content of the text is best suited to older elementary school students, the tone is straightforward and inviting. A solid choice for most libraries, especially those seeking to strengthen their STEM collections.” – School Library Journal

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez & Lauren Semmer
(Preschool – 3rd Grade)
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“An impressive array of names, events, and concepts from Black history are introduced in this alphabet book for early-elementary readers. From A for anthem (‘a banner of song / that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong’) to Z for zenith (‘the top of that mountain King said we would reach’), this picture book is a journey through episodes, ideas, and personalities that represent a wide range of Black experiences. Some spreads celebrate readers themselves, like B for beautiful (‘I'm talking to you!’); others celebrate accomplishments, such as E for explore (Matthew Henson, Mae Jemison), or experiences, like G for the Great Migration. The rhyming verses are light on the tongue, making the reading smooth and soothing. The brightly colored, folk art-style illustrations offer vibrant scenes of historical and contemporary Black life, with common people and famous people represented in turn. Whether reading straight through and poring over each page or flipping about to look at the refreshing scenes full of brown and black faces, readers will feel pride and admiration for the resilience and achievements of Black people and a call to participate in the ‘unfinished…American tale.’ Endnotes clarify terms and figures, and a resource list includes child-friendly books, websites, museums, and poems. A substantive and affirming addition to any collection. – Kirkus Reviews

Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve
(Grades 5 & Up)
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“A young enslaved woman successfully escapes bondage in the household of George and Martha Washington.Ona Judge was the daughter of a white indentured servant, Andrew Judge, and an enslaved woman, Betty, on the Mount Vernon plantation, growing up to become Martha Washington's personal maid. When George Washington was elected president, it was up to Martha to decide who among their enslaved would go with them. “The criteria were clear: obedient, discreet, loyal slaves, preferably of mixed race.” After the seat of government moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons were subject to the Gradual Abolition Act, a Pennsylvania law that mandated freedom for any enslaved person residing in state for more than six months. The Washingtons chose to rotate their enslaved out of the state to maintain ownership. In 1796, Martha Washington decided to give Ona as a wedding present to her granddaughter–but Ona made her escape by ship to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, setting up years of attempts by allies of Washington to return Ona to slavery. Despite poverty and hardship, Ona Judge remained free, thwarting the most powerful man in America. Dunbar, whose adult version of this story was a National Book Award finalist, and co-author Van Cleve have crafted a compelling read for young people. Ona Judge's determination to maintain control over her life will resonate with readers. The accessible narrative, clear context, and intricately recorded details of the lives of the enslaved provide much-needed understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the country's founding. Necessary.” – Kirkus Reviews

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan & R. Gregory Christie
(Grades 1-4)
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Fifty years on, readers reminisce with a young black girl who recalls how black sanitation workers launched a movement for equal rights and safer working conditions and stayed committed to justice amid tragic loss. Basing her story on the true accounts of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, Duncan creates 9-year-old Lorraine Jackson to tell the full story of the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968. The story begins not with the entrance of Martin Luther King, who would arrive in March, but in January, when the tragic deaths of two black garbagemen due to old, malfunctioning equipment added to calls for change. The author's choice to not focus on the singular efforts of King but on the dedicated efforts of the community signals a deeply important lesson for young readers. Strong historical details back up the organizing feat: ‘In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.’ The narrative is set in vignettes that jump between verse and prose, set against Christie's bold paintings. Lorraine learns that ‘Dreamers never quit’ after reminiscing on what would be Dr. King's final lecture, delivered on April 3. The struggle doesn't end with King's death but continues with the spotlight cast by Coretta Scott King on the sanitation workers' demands. ‘Freedom is never free,’ Lorraine notes before closing with the thought that it remains our mission to ‘Climb up the MOUNTAINTOP!’ Encapsulates the bravery, intrigue, and compassion that defined a generation, presenting a history that everyone should know: required and inspired.” – Kirkus Reviews

We March by Shane W. Evans
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
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“Written in the same spare style as Evans’s Underground, this account of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—identified only in a concluding note—drives home the emotion and the drama of that event. Brief, blunt sentences propel the narrative and place readers on the scene: ‘We follow our leaders. We walk together. We sing.’ Evans spotlights a family of four, first pictured rising with the sun and creating placards with their church congregation. Buses bring them to the Washington Monument, where they join others in the march that culminates in Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Though the day unfolds through the family’s perspective, what emerges is a communal voice that conveys a strong sense of solidarity and purpose (‘We lean on each other as we march to justice, to freedom, to our dreams’). Similarly minimalist, Evans’s art features angular characters whose expressions capture their passion and commitment. Evans’s predominantly cool palette is warmed by the diffuse light of the sun, which appears in full blaze behind a closeup image of King. A moving introduction to a historic day.’ – Publisher’s Weekly

Hidden Black History: From Juneteenth to Redlining by Amanda Jackson Green
(Grades 3-7)
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“Discussing issues of great importance, the Fight for Black Rights series (6 titles) traces Black Americans' past and ongoing struggles for civil rights and equality, and it presents the tools available to help affect change. Hidden Black History addresses how the stories and achievements of Black people have often been ignored in the teaching of history and suggests ways to incorporate Black experiences and voices through Black-created art, such as books, movies, and television. Short, clear chapters are accompanied by black-and-white and color photographs and illustrations that show persons and events referred to in the text, with yellow boxes highlighting important individuals and asking readers thoughtful questions to inspire discussions. A timeline of events and list of recommended websites and books are included in each title. A well-organized and timely series.” – Booklist

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nicole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson & Nikkolas Smith
(Grades K-4)
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“When a Black child, this story’s narrator, feels shame surrounding a family tree assignment (‘I can only count back three generations, here, in this country’), their parents and grandparents offer what an author’s note calls ‘a proud origin story.’ In meticulous, forthright poems by Newbery Honoree Watson and 1619 Project founder Hannah-Jones, the family reaches back to the Kingdom of Ndongo, where their ancestors ‘had a home, a place, a land,/ a beginning.’ Subsequent spreads describe the child’s West Central African forebears, who spoke Kimbundu (‘had their own words/ for love/ for friend/ for family’), were good with their hands and minds, excelled at math and science, ‘and they danced.’ When the lines recount how, in 1619, those ancestors were shackled and ferried across the Atlantic to Virginia on the White Lion, the authors clearly but non-graphically confront the horror of chattel slavery, emphasizing the resilience of the enslaved people who survived this impossible journey. Alternating between realistic and surreal images, Smith (World Cup Women) works in a saturated palette to create emotionally evocative scenes: dark, mostly monochrome tableaus convey tragedy or violence; brightly lit, multicolor palettes illustrate scenes of peace and joy. While detailing the specifics of an often-obscured history and its effects, this volume powerfully emphasizes that Black history is not merely a story of slavery and suffering but one of perseverance and hope.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey From Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert & Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Preschool – 3rd Grade)
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“Born into slavery on a Georgia plantation, Harriet Powers learned to quilt from a young age, developing into a skilled artist. Brantley-Newton’s collages incorporate photographic snippets of burlap, cotton, and other textiles, while Herkert ably places Powers’s life in historical context, as she was eventually forced to sell the two ‘story quilts’ she created in order to make ends meet after the Civil War. The quilts themselves (which now hang in museums) get large-scale reproductions on the endpapers, as well as numbered explanations of the biblical and real-life events reflected within their panels.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, The First African American to Fly by Louisa Jagger, Shari Becker & Floyd Cooper
(Grades K-3)
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“This picture book biography recounts the story of James Herman Banning, from his first encounter with a real ‘birdman’ in Thomas, OK, in 1911 to a lifelong love of flying. Despite his passion and hard work, Banning struggled to find someone willing to teach him to fly because he was a Black man. Ultimately, a white lieutenant named Raymond Fisher became his teacher and friend. After Fisher was killed in a plane crash in 1926, Banning had to build his own plane from scrap and spare parts to continue his career in aviation. In 1929 Banning took a position at William Powell's all-Black flight school, the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, in Los Angeles. Then in 1932 with airplane mechanic Thomas Cox Allen-the Flying Hobos, so named because of the help they received from the communities where they landed-he undertook a 21-day journey from Los Angeles to New York City in an Eaglerock plane. Back matter explains that Jaggar and researcher Pat Smith pieced together this account of the Flying Hobos based on articles from historical Black newspapers, interviews with Banning's descendants, and an unpublished manuscript written by Thomas Cox Allen that detailed their flight across the country. Cooper's expansive illustrations are rendered in muted earth tones, with an impressionistic, dreamlike quality. VERDICT A pathos-filled picture book that celebrates the life of a figure in American history who hasn't been featured often in children's books. Recommended for all nonfiction collections.” – School Library Journal

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & Kadir Nelson
(Grades K & Up)
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“There’s something exhilarating about viewing Nelson’s (Heart and Soul) paintings of Dr. King and the March on Washington while reading the words of the speech King gave that day; it’s hard to imagine a better representation of their historical significance. Nelson pictures King in front of a forest of microphones, his brow furrowed with concentration. ‘I have a dream today,’ he repeats as Nelson shows him in sharp profile—it almost seems possible to feel the warmth of his breath. ‘With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together,’ he continues, accompanied by a painting of two clasped hands, black and white. Though it’s a clichéd image, Nelson’s up-close rendering of the hands gives the picture startling freshness. American landscapes glow, and schoolchildren of every color look viewers in the eye, full of confidence. The speech is lightly edited in a way that makes it understandable for children of any age; a CD of the speech is enclosed. A glorious interpretation of a bedrock moment in 20th-century history.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani King & Bobby C. Martin Jr.
(Grades 2-5)
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“This inspiring title chronicles African American accomplishments from the Revolutionary War to the present. On alternating pages, the question, ‘Have I ever told you that…?’ is posed, then answered by focusing on important Black trailblazers in disciplines such as science, arts, and politics. Each colorful page features bold fonts that vary in size and outlined portraits that resemble pop art. King's introduction explains the need for Black children to see themselves in young people's literature. He hopes that readers will understand that ‘all people-including native peoples; people of color; people with disabilities; ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities; and LGBTQIA’ are integral to the fabric of America. Following the main text, short biographies provide further information. This unique format works for a wide range of reading levels. The intention of Black empowerment can be achieved with these inspiring role models, and the eye-catching design enhances the powerful message. This book will appeal to fans of Kwame Alexander's The Undefeated. VERDICT A must-purchase that will empower Black children, and expand all readers' knowledge of African American history.” – School Library Journal

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson & Raúl Colón
(Grades 1-5)
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“Michelson… deftly draws comparisons between Martin Luther King Jr. and the German-born rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as he describes what led them to walk together in the famous 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. His brisk narrative, divided in two parts, chronicles their parallel experiences: both have parents who instill self-respect, both encounter discrimination and hatred, and both follow their fathers into religious careers. The first half, which Colon renders in earthy hues, covers King, while the blue palette of the second half focuses on Heschel. (Blue reminded the illustrator of ‘old movies about Europe in the World War II era.’) Similar language in both sections, e.g., the titular ‘You are just as good as anybody,’ as well as scenes that echo each other, drive home the connections. Subtle variations in wording and layout keep the parallels from feeling contrived. Colon's (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart) trademark mixed-media illustrations incorporate wavy, etched lines full of movement, suggesting the dynamism of a pastor and rabbi who insisted on bringing about change.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, The Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle & Michael Long
(Grades 5 & Up)
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“Readers are introduced to Bayard Rustin, a brilliant, black, gay civil rights leader. Principle organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin was a landmark contributor to many of the turnkey moments of the civil rights movement, though his name and the fullness of his life have been relegated to the shadows due to his personal commitment to living as an out gay black man and his youthful relationship with communist organizing which he later renounced. Over time many people would attempt to weaponize these facts against him, yet Rustin remained true to his convictions, and his wisdom and clarity would ultimately be valued by many of those same people and institutions. This brief but comprehensive biography, written with the help of Rustin's longtime partner, Naegle, and featuring stunning archival photographs, covers the legacy of a man who utilized the roots of his Quaker faith to uplift movements throughout the world. In clear prose with informative sidebars that provide important context, it follows Rustin from his pacifist beginnings to his work mentoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his later years traveling the world to support the rights of refugees. In today's political landscape, this volume is a lesson in the courage to live according to one's truth and the dedication it takes to create a better world. An essential guide to the life of Bayard Rustin, architect of critical movements for freedom and justice.” – Kirkus Reviews

Dream March by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Sally Wern Comport
(Grades K-3)
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“The narrative opens with Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech, then traces the March on Washington back to the 1950s and 60s when “black Americans organized and fought extra hard. Their fight was called the civil rights movement.” Early protests and famous civil rights activists are mentioned, along with more information on King. The narrative eventually returns to the march and provides finer details about the day (‘The marchers crowded the Mall's Reflecting Pool. Some took off their shoes and socks to soothe their feet in the cool water.’). The text is surrounded by partial and occasional full-page illustrations. The artwork, done in muted tones with soft lines and washes of color, conveys the somberness of the mentioned events and depicts famous civil rights moments, protestors, marchers, politicians, and King with sensitivity. The text uses words and terms most emergent readers will know in a thoughtful and descriptive way. The author's note provides a paragraph on the 1964 signing of the Civil Rights Act. VERDICT A smart narrative and skillfully done illustrations make this introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement one all libraries will want to consider.” – School Library Journal

Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mara Rockliff & R. Gregory Christie
(Grades K-4)
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“Georgia Gilmore was just an ordinary person when she fed and funded the Montgomery Bus Boycott. ‘Georgia was cooking when she heard the news,’ the story begins. The year is 1955, and civil rights activist Rosa Parks has just been arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a White man on a bus. Gilmore had spent her entire life in Montgomery, Alabama, and was no stranger to segregation. Having had her own brush with a racist bus driver, she knew the pain of being treated unjustly. Georgia springs into action, joining her neighbors as they march through the streets in mass protest against the Montgomery bus system. Georgia begins selling pastries and dinners, including her famous crispy chicken sandwiches, keeping the people fed during Dr. Martin Luther King's church meetings. She then organizes a secret group of friends, dubbed the Club From Nowhere, to help her continue the venture. They use the money they make to support the boycott, which ultimately ends when a Supreme Court ruling makes segregation on public buses unconstitutional. Despite the hardships she experienced, Georgia persevered, eventually opening her own restaurant, which became a hub for Black community organizing. Christie's vivid acrylic paintings propel the narrative with a fine balance of pathos and power. The straightforward text uses food as an extended metaphor to underscore Georgia's tenacity and African American people's hunger for equality and justice. Young readers will find much food for thought in this inspiring profile of a lesser-known civil rights leader.” – Kirkus Reviews

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
(Grades K-5)
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“Shabazz (Growing Up X) pays affectionate tribute to her father, Malcolm X, and his parents in this account of the activist’s childhood, which relies on family lore to reimagine Malcolm’s conversations and thoughts. The dense narrative mixes down-to-earth observations (Malcolm ‘was full of questions, a natural leader, and a fun-loving prankster’) with sometimes protracted metaphors; among the lessons Malcolm learned from his mother’s garden was that it ‘was an entire world of its own, where even the most sluggish of ladybugs and the fastest scurrying ants were all equally treated like esteemed and welcomed guests at a family Sunday brunch.’ What Shabazz relays more precisely is Malcolm’s resolve to succeed and remain true to his parents’ values after he loses his father ‘to the brute force of racism and the narrow-mindedness of the Ku Klux Klan,’ and his mother is deemed ‘no longer fit to care for her children.’ Ford’s (My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) oil paintings render joyous and desolate moments with equal skill.” – Publisher’s Weekly

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America by Angela Farris Watkins & Eric Velasquez
(Grades K-4)
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“This book is a worthy successor to My Uncle Martin's Big Heart (Abrams, 2010). Told from the perspective of Martin Luther King's niece as a young girl, the moving text powerfully describes the tremendous societal and legal changes that resulted from Dr. King's leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. Terms such as ‘justice’ and ‘brotherhood’ receive clear and succinct definitions, and repetitive phrases encourage children's understanding of them. (‘When Uncle Martin used the word NONVIOLENCE, people listened, and things began to change!’ ‘When Uncle Martin used the word FREEDOM, people listened, and things changed!’) The book depicts the oppression and persecution the Kings endured, including the bombing of their home and Dr. King's arrest, with no mention of his assassination. The narrative captures the complexity of the era while maintaining a fully realized child-centered voice. A comprehensive index features topics barely mentioned in the text, and the author's note seems unnecessary. Paintings in a vibrant palette show recognizable portraits of famous African Americans. A personable and powerful account of the human voice that emboldened a nation.” – School Library Journal

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford & Eric Velasquez
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Schomburg: El Hombre que creó una biblioteca by Carole Boston Weatherford & Eric Velasquez
(Grades 1-6)
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“An eccentric, smart, and quirky bibliophile, Arturo Schomburg fueled his life with books. This picture book of free verse poems, lavishly illustrated in oils, opens with stories from Schomburg's childhood in Puerto Rico, where he constantly asked why the history of black people had been left out of all the history books. Answering him, framed, date-stamped panels, appearing primarily on the right sides of the double-page spreads throughout, capture the stories of important historical black figures such as Philip Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, and Paul Cuffee. The poem ‘Whitewash’ will surprise some readers; Schomburg objected to the common practice of omitting from biographies the African heritage of prominent individuals such as naturalist and ornithologist John James Audubon, French writer Alexandre Dumas, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, and German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Alongside these, Schomburg's personal and professional life unfolds in unframed images. Schomburg worked as a mail clerk with Banker's Trust; his book collecting and library building resulted from his life's passion, not his vocation. All of the book's details paint Schomburg as an admirable, flawed, likable, passionate man whose lasting legacy, Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, opens its doors to all who would learn more about the people its founder knew had been left out of the written record. A must-read for a deeper understanding of a well-connected genius who enriched the cultural road map for African-Americans and books about them.” – Kirkus Reviews

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford & Floyd Cooper
(Grades 2-6)
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“One hundred years ago, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK, was a prosperous Black community. Restaurants, beauty salons, movie theaters, and dozens of other businesses thrived along ‘Black Wall Street.' Cooper's sepia-tone illustrations depict the bustle of everyday life as people hurried to shops or churches and gathered with friends. A stark spread signals the tragic turning point that resulted in the decimation of Greenwood's Black community. A 17-year-old white woman elevator operator accused a 19-year-old Black man of assault. Incited by calls to action printed in white-owned newspapers, thousands of armed white men headed to the jail, where they met 30 armed Black men determined to stop a lynching. The confrontation resulted in the deaths of two Black men and 10 white men. Angry that they didn't get to the jailed Black man, a white mob invaded the town, looted, and committed arson. The police did nothing to protect the Black citizens. Up to 300 Greenwood residents were killed, and more than 8,000 were left homeless. Seventy-five years passed before an official investigation occurred. Cooper's illustrations are infused with a personal connection. Not only did he grow up in Tulsa, but Cooper also heard his grandpa's stories of surviving the events. The powerful photo spread on the endpapers documents the destruction and smoking ruins. Cooper's final illustrations of Tulsa's Reconciliation Park offer a bit of hope. Weatherford's author's note provides additional background. VERDICT This moving account sheds light on shameful events long suppressed or ignored. All collections should consider this title's value in providing historical context to current conversations about racism and America's ongoing legacy of white supremacy.” – School Library Journal

Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress by Alicia D. Williams & April Harrison
(Preschool – 3rd Grade)
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“In this informative, accessible picture book biography, Newbery Honoree Williams profiles Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005), presenting her Brooklyn beginnings; her six years growing up in Barbados; and her subsequent education and fight to join the New York State Assembly and then Congress. Employing an italicized refrain of others’ judgments throughout Chisholm’s life (‘That young lady is rebellious!’), Williams relays the various challenges and achievements Chisholm faced at each stage: ‘Politicians keep making promises. Yet nothing changes./ So Shirley steps her white oxford heels back into politics.’ Acrylic and mixed media collage art by Harrison has a multilayered, folk art sensibility, featuring textures, angles, and expressive figures of differing skin tones. A solid primer on a Black political visionary. Back matter includes an author’s note.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Young, Gifted & Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past & Present by Jamia Wilson & Andrea Pippins
(Grades 2 & Up)
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“With a title that references the late Lorraine Hansberry's phrase ‘young, gifted and black,’ this exuberant collected biography is one readers won't want to miss. Students are invited to explore one and two-page vignettes of 52 compelling figures in black culture worldwide. Each profile recounts their beginnings and marvelous feats as scientists, writers, athletes, artists, or activists, both past and present. Exquisitely designed, each illustrated portrait is thickly outlined, colored digitally, and illuminated by irradiating forms that resemble papel picado. Each written entry follows a precise format: a clear definition of the person in a larger sans-serif font; the same but smaller font for the text; a bold handwriting font for a highlighted quote; and an outlined, all-caps font for the inventive titles given to each, such as ‘Conductor’ for Harriet Tubman, ‘Soul-Singing Superstar’ for Solange, and ‘Chess Grandmaster’ for Maurice Ashley. There is not a chronology or categories. There is a back matter and a ‘Hall of Fame’ photo album–like index of black-and-white headshots, each framed with a name banner and page number. In the preface, New York–based activist author Wilson and illustrator Pippins pinpoint the importance of telling stories of black success with the adage that ‘if you can't see it, you can't be it.’ VERDICT Share this book widely across generations as a launching point for more discoveries.” – School Library Journal

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein & Jerry Pinkney
(Grades 2-5)
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“The backstory of a renowned address is revealed. Martin Luther King Jr.'s ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ is one of the most famous ever given, yet with this book, Wittenstein and Pinkney give young readers new insights into both the speech and the man behind it. When Dr. King arrived in Washington, D.C., for the 1963 March on Washington, the speech was not yet finished. He turned to his fellow civil rights leaders for advice, and after hours of listening, he returned to his room to compose, fine-tuning even the day of the march. He went on to deliver a powerful speech, but as he closed, he moved away from the prepared text and into a stirring sermon. ‘Martin was done circling. / The lecture was over. / He was going to church, / his place to land, / and taking a congregation / of two hundred and fifty thousand / along for the ride.’ Although much hard work still lay ahead, the impact of Dr. King's dramatic words and delivery elevated that important moment in the struggle for equal rights. Wittenstein's free-verse narrative perfectly captures the tension leading up to the speech as each adviser urged his own ideas while remaining a supportive community. Pinkney's trademark illustrations dramatize this and the speech, adding power and further illuminating the sense of historical importance. Gives readers a fresh and thrilling sense of what it took to make history.” – Kirkus Reviews

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