14 New Kids' Books About African-American History

african-american black history month kids new 2015 chapter picture books a book long enough

February is African-American History Month, which means it's a time of year when several new picture and chapter books for kids appear on the horizon. I'm excited to share 14 new titles with you that have just been released in the last few months! Thirteen of the titles are picture books, and one is a very special chapter book. Four books are fictional, while the rest are non-fiction. This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs 2015 Black History Month celebration, which you can learn more about here. Don't miss it -- there's a giveaway of books, a DVD, a doll, and other educational materials!

The Case for Loving by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (ages 6-9)

This picture book about the struggle for marriage rights during the 1960s is important because it's the only children's book to cover this topic. Author Alko relates the story of the Lovings of Virginia, an interracial couple who were arrested for marrying in the early 1960s. (They crossed the state line to Washington, D. C., where interracial marriage was legal, and attempted to move back home as a married couple.) The mixed-media artwork is particularly powerful and engaging, and even more so in that the illustrations were dually executed by Alko and Qualls. In addition, there is a personal story that coincides with the historical one -- Alko and Qualls are themselves an interracial couple; and Alko explains in an endnote why they were compelled to share the Loving's Supreme Court victory. Interesting parallels can be drawn to current headline news on marriage equality, as well. 

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner and James Ransome (ages 7-11)

This is perhaps my favorite new picture book for African-American History Month. I appreciate so much a children's author who can tell a life story with lyrical language that makes for a beautiful read-aloud. In this way, kids get to learn about history, and I still get to tell an attention-grabbing story. Turner is an experienced children's writer, and it shows here; she's a master at telling Truth's story from the first-person point of view, and especially resonant words are enlarged so that they travel across pages. Ransome is an equally acclaimed illustrator; his watercolors make the emotions of Truth's difficult life, and the sheer power it took to overcome them, powerfully alive. Don't miss this wonderful addition to children's biographies. 

Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Suzanne Slade and Nicole Tadgell (ages 8-11)

I really enjoyed this thought-provoking book about the little-known friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, which lasted nearly four decades. It provides a perfect way to drive home just how unusual a 19th century relationship between a white woman and a black man was, as well as a parallel between the women's and African-American civil rights movements. This dual biography is well-written, and extensive author notes help kids understand how an author must make choices when the historical record isn't clear. Friends for Freedom is an inspiring story about two people who refused to stop working for what they believed in, sometimes at tremendous personal cost, and will inspire discussion about bravery and enduring relationships.

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford and Raul Colón (ages 7-10)

As soon as you open this gorgeous picture book biography, you won't be surprised that it's earned starred reviews from numerous children's book review journals. This is Weatherford's third outing that features a lesser-known African-American of historical significance. The lyrical text (most likely intentionally) sings the story of an opera star who struggled to be heard in segregated America: “The song of her soul soared on the breath of her ancestors.” Colón's stunning artwork features swirls of colors that demonstrate Price's talent and emotions. Don't miss this beautiful picture book tribute to a woman unafraid to see her dreams into reality.

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass and E. B. Lewis (ages 8-11)

Seeds of Freedom provides a unique look at the American Civil Rights Movement through the lens of the experience of one town. Young readers learn how the residents of Huntsville, both black and white, peacefully negotiated desegregation in the early 1960s, despite the violence that took place in other parts of Alabama. A quiet, thoughtful look at a microcosm of the movement. 

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper (ages 5-8)

Celebrated picture book illustrator Floyd Cooper just published this story-within-a-story. Modern day Mazie learns about Juneteenth, the celebration of freedom for Texas' slaves, which happened two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. (The 150th anniversary of Juneteenth will take place this summer.) Mazie's father tells a somber, but proud, story of her ancestors' struggles and freedom, with a look at slavery, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the election of Barack Obama. Cooper's oil paintings paint a tender portrait of one generation's efforts to preserve family history by sharing it with the next.

New Shoes by Susan Meyer and Eric Velasquez (ages 6-9)

While many young kids understand that Jim Crow laws meant riding in the back of the bus and using separate water fountains, they may not know that African-Americans were not allowed to try on clothing in the stores they shopped in. New Shoes is the story of a young girl who encounters this racism when attempting to buy new shoes. She and her friend come up with the unique solution of doing chores around the neighborhood in exchange for gently-used shoes, which they sell in a "shop" they set up outside. I think kids learn so much from books that take an element of a larger issue, like segregation, and create a story around it. Children will enjoy the girls' ingenuity and optimism, despite the difficulties of their situation. End notes are provided to explain Jim Crow laws in the American South of the 1950s, the time in which the story takes place. 

28 Days: Moments in Black History The Changed the World by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans (ages 5-10)

I'm very excited about this unique picture book because it's both a look at history and a work of art in itself. Smith highlights 28 days (one for each of African-American History Month) in which various events pivotal to black history took place. Some are very well-known, such as Matthew Henson reaching the North Pole or the Dred Scott Decision, while others are less obvious, like a tribute to black tennis players Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson. Smith uses multiple methods to portray each moment, including concrete poetry, free verse, and other forms of written art. Evans' accompanying illustrations boldly highlight each accomplishment. Finally, a 29th day is offered in which kids are challenged to make a little history themselves. Reference books are rarely as entertaining as this one. 

Freedom's School by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome (ages 6-8)

This is a thoughtful look at the concept that legal emancipation didn't mean freedom in many ways. A recently freed African-American community struggles to educate its children. Although obstacles abound, the value of education is deeply cherished. Ransom's beautiful watercolor paintings bring the emotions, struggle, and power of this story to life. 

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jamey Christoph (ages 6-8)

I'm always excited when an art bio appears that is written about someone who has never been the subject of a children's picture book. Twentieth century Renaissance Man Gordon Parks, the last of 15 children, was a self-taught photographer who chronicled segregation, first while working for the United States government, and then for Life magazine in the 1940s. He also wrote poetry and fiction, and even became a Hollywood director. Readers are treated to Parks' keen eye through spare, poetic prose and stylized art that includes collages of Parks' work. An important addition to children's literature, Gordon Parks received three starred reviews upon its release this month. 

Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans and Joe Cepeda (ages 7-10)

I very much enjoyed the award-winning Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, which I reviewed here. Swing Sisters is reminiscent of that book, in that it features female African-American jazz musicians, and is enhanced by lively, accessible illustrations that bring the appropriate level of movement and excitement to a soundless medium. During World War II, this band of women experienced discrimination similar to that encountered by other African-American performers of the Jim Crow era. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, many of whom hailed from the American South, ironically (and unfortunately not unusually) could perform and travel freely in Europe, but not in the region of their birth. This picture book would pair well with some time spent listening to swing music. (I dare you to try to keep kids still once the music starts playing!)

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson and Benny Andrews (ages 9-12)

I'm still waiting to check out this picture book biography about Benny Andrews, which is illustrated exclusively with the work of the artist himself. It's a lesson in the power and possibility of art in the pursuit of social justice, and it's already received two starred reviews. Here's what School Library Journal wrote about Draw What You See: 

Benny Andrews began drawing when he was able to hold pencil in his hands and "once he started, he never stopped." He was born in 1930, one of 10 children to sharecroppers, and attended high school at a time when few of his friends had similar opportunities. After the service and college, Andrews went to New York City, where his work began to blossom: in scenes of Harlem life, the jazz world, and of his Georgia childhood. Social causes and injustice, particularly the civil rights movement and the exclusion of African American and female artists from museums fueled both his art and activism. Thick with broad, vibrant swatches of greens, blues, and reds and incorporating collage elements, the artist's folklike paintings depicted the world around him—and illustrate Benson's moving and accessible picture book biography ...  A powerful work about an influential artist and activist.

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Six Guiding Beliefs by Angela Farris Watkins and Sally Wern Comport (ages 6-11)

See my review of this picture book here

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (ages 8-12)

I'm thrilled that Sharon Draper has published a new chapter book! She's a phenomenal writer who has garnered several much-deserved awards. This time she uses her own family history as inspiration for the tale of a young African-American girl growing up in Depression-era North Carolina. Stella is 10 years old when she and her brother witness a Klan meeting that takes place very close to her home. Stella lives in a close-knit community that strives to overcome oppression and economic hardship with dignity and determination. Stella hopes to become a journalist when she grows up, and much of the novel consists of her journal entries. Her own journey is paralleled with an effort in the community to get three registered African-American voters to the polls.

There are several qualities that make Stella by Starlight a beautiful and engaging novel. First, Sharon Draper is a fine writer. She knows how to tell a story that is difficult to put down. Second, she's created a character that is extraordinarily brave, yet immensely humble and likable. Modern kids will find Stella, who is based on Draper's grandmother, a wonderful role model for creativity, courage, and strength of character. They'll also rip through Draper's storytelling, unable to put this novel down.

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Don't forget to visit the Multicultural Kid Blogs 2015 Black History Month Blog Hop to register for the giveaway!