February is Black History Month

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and hope of the slave. / I rise. / I rise. / I rise.” ~ Maya Angelou, Still I Rise.

Whenever I think about Black History Month, I always think of this amazing quote from Angelou. She eloquently states that she has learned from her ancestors’ history and lives her life with their hopes and dreams (as well as her own) at the forefront. It’s a very inspirational quote that we can all learn from. Keeping Still I Rise in mind, each of the titles that I have chosen has an impressive message that people of all colors and creeds can appreciate. If you are looking for similar titles, check out my ALA Mock Youth Media Awards post (specifically the Coretta Scott King Award picks), as well as Lindsey’s Historical Fiction for Elementary School post.

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neir. Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. 2011.

Twelve-year-old Coltrane is always getting in trouble at school, and his mother cannot take it anymore. She decides to drive him to Philadelphia to meet his father for the first time. In Philly, Cole is in for many surprises! He learns that his father is part of a group of black urban cowboys who save horses from slaughterhouses. They use the horses to teach the neighborhood kids how to be responsible for the care of another life. The kids groom and feed the horses as well as help with the upkeep of the stables. In exchange, they get to ride the horses as payment. I really enjoyed the fact that this story is based upon an actual group of urban black horsemen in North Philadelphia. A wonderful and inspirational story for children and adults, it will have you cheering and crying at the end!

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. 2011.

An African folktale mixed with historical fiction tells the story of an 18th century West African boy, Musafa, raised by his blacksmith father and the Mother Elements (Earth, Fire, Water and Wind). One day Musafa disappears and is captured by the slave traders. The Mother Elements try to save him, but to no avail. Luckily, the wind is able to bring Musafa’s father news that he is still alive and working as a blacksmith. McKissack’s Coretta Scott King honor book will haunt you in many ways, and the free-verse will beat across the page at you like a drum. An amazing story with beautiful acrylic and watercolor illustrations. A must for any library collection!

Little Rock Girl 1957; How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Marie Tougas. 2011.

A worthwhile and honest approach to the events surrounding the Little Rock Nine’s attempt to integrate Central High. There are 64 pages of clearly addressed history, which is appropriate for its target audience (5th-8th graders). The book concentrates not only on the events of the three years of attempted integration, but on other things such as what happened with the photographer, the students, and many of those who opposed their chance at education (such as Hazel Bryan, who will forever be known as the lewd girl following Eckford). Little Rock Girl is an excellent resource for those looking for more information on this aspect of the Civil Rights movement.

Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander and Bettye Stroud. Illustrated by John Holyfield. 2011.

This story centers around the people of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the part they played in the struggle for civil rights for all citizens. This community, or “Benders” as they are called, were motivated by a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take the ferry to Camden to register to vote. Upon their arrival at the river, they are stopped by the white sheriff who has shut the ferry down. So the Benders pack up their wagons and hitch up their mules, Belle included, and make the trip to register to vote. As you can imagine, it was not a peaceful resolution. In April 1968, Gee’s Bend is saddened to hear of  the assassination of Dr. King, but some of that grief is eased when they find out it was Dr. King’s wish to have mules pull the wagon with his coffin. Belle and Ada, the mules of Gee’s Bend, became part of history in tribute to the late civil rights leader. The story is framed around a young boy named Alex, who hears the whole story from Belle’s owner. Young readers will relate to Alex as he realizes that the people he’s learned about were not just characters in a book; they were real people. A fantastic nonfiction picture book that belongs on every library and classroom shelf.

*More new Black History reads:
Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Fred McKissack. 2012.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson. 2011.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 2011.
To the Mountaintop!: My Journey through the Civil Rights Movement by Charlayne Hunter-Gault. 2012.
White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein. Illustrated by Shadra Strickland. 2011.

Kristin J.