I am thrilled over the ever-growing shelves of exceptional books shining a light on issues of racial justice. Today I’ve got five, all new in 2015, and I hope you read every one!
You would be amazed how much depth of understanding you can gain and how many facets of the Civil Rights Movement you can learn about through excellent picture books created by gifted authors and artists. And they’re not just for children, either. I learn many new things from picture books.
Take a look, and then search my Subject Index under Black History/Civil Rights Movement for many more powerful titles.
Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box, by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
Michael’s granddaddy is a hard-working, strong man, kind, patient as the day is long when the two of them sit together fishing, waiting for a bite.
One surprising day, Granddaddy dresses up in his Sunday best, hugs Grandma jubilantly, and takes Michael by the hand. Off they walk on a mysterious errand. Michael cannot imagine where they’re going!
Turns out it’s voting day, and for Granddaddy, who has awaited this moment for a long and weary time, it’s the happiest moment of his life. You can understand, then, how bitterly Michael feels when a long day of disrespect and a gallingly-unfair voting test deprive his grandpa from casting his ballot.
Many years later, grown-up Michael does vote, a privilege with a weight of meaning for him.
Rich, dignified strength pours from James Ransome’s paintings in his striking faces and figures and the autumnal palette. An Author’s Note tells more about the manner in which voting rights were denied for so long to African Americans until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Ages 5 and up.
New Shoes, by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez published in 2015 by Holiday House
Here is a prime example of a picture book that taught me something new, revealing a facet of Jim Crow I had never realized existed and sharpening my understanding of the pain and dehumanizing scourge of racism.
It is almost unbelievable to me that this was accepted practice it is so absurd and humiliating, but African Americans under Jim Crow were not allowed to try on clothes, hats, or shoes in stores. I can hardly bear to write that.
This lovely story manages to present this ugly situation in such a way as to emphasize the grace, dignity, and shrewdness with which two young girls circumvented that problem. I love the approach. Award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez matches that tone withhis beautiful little girls, and all of the eagerness, innocence, pain, and resourcefulness expressed on their faces.
An Author’s Note explains the nature of Jim Crow segregation more fully. Ages 4 or 5 and up.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
The gorgeous cover image on this book echoes the fortitude and zeal of Fannie Lou Hamer. Her life story is narrated through a series of riveting free verse poems in this powerful book.
What a life this woman led. Born in 1917, the granddaughter of slaves, youngest of 20 children in a Mississippi sharecropper’s household. A childhood of intense poverty, polio, discrimination. Deprived of the right to bear children by duplicitous doctors. Threatened and severely beaten as she worked for equal rights. Struggling. Marching. Singing. Encouraging. Refusing to sit down on the job.
Reading these poems is an extraordinary introduction to Hamer’s life and a gut-wrenching walk through 50 years of civil rights history for anyone ages 10 and up.
Then, Ekua Holmes’ artwork! Wow. I’m speechless. Simply stunning collage work that’s vigorous, textured, throbbing with dignity and the indomitable figure of Fannie Lou. Tropical, earthy colors dominate the pages, yet sun-hot gold radiates into each illustration as well, symbolic of the light of justice carried by these courageous people. Last week, Holmes was awarded a well-deserved Caldecott Honor for this book. To see more of her ravishing work, please visit her website. I think you’re going to want to buy some of her prints.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama, by Hester Bass, illustrated by E.B. Lewis published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
Obviously, the tone of many, if not most, books on civil rights accents grit, injustice, perseverance through pain and struggle — and rightly so.
If you look at the cover of Seeds of Freedom, the candy-colored balloons floating up into a blue sky, so airy, light spilling onto upturned faces, you sense right away that this book’s focus is hope. And that’s a nice contrast.
It’s not that the struggle is absent. The entire background, the soil in which these seeds of freedom are planted, is racism and segregation. People are arrested for sitting at a lunch counter. A baby goes to jail! Children are turned away from schools. Leaders spout hateful speech.
Yet the trajectory of the book is upward and hope-filled. Interestingly, even one element that helped bring desegregation to Huntsville without violence — the space program — has rockets heading up, up to the moon. It’s an interesting story, well-told, with narrative that flows and informs with ease.
E.B. Lewis’ gorgeous paintings are dappled with light at nearly every turn. There is soberness, even bleakness, and at the very worst, the “light” appears more like metallic shards amidst a confusion of dark terror. But the overall feeling you get from his art is the light.
Ages 6 and up. A lengthy Author’s Note outlines a great deal of civil rights history, written for older readers.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko published in 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
I think no other picture book has addressed this issue before, and husband-wife team Selina Alko and Sean Qualls have handled it impressively.
Incredibly, the name of the husband and wife who won the Supreme Court case declaring it unconstitutional to make interracial marriage a crime, was Loving. Richard and Mildred Loving. Making a slam dunk title for this book!
It tells the story of how these two met in Virginia in 1958, fell in love, and then crossed into Washington, D.C. to have a legal marriage ceremony. And of how, back in Virginia, police barged into their home in the middle of the night and arrested them for “unlawful cohabitation.” The Lovings were forced to move to D.C. inorder to live together as a family, but began the court fight which, in 1967, was decided by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling.
The tone of the narration is calm and direct. The beauty of the races, and the joy and love of this couple, shine out in both language and warm, valentine-heart-studded illustrations. Then, on a dime, we turn the corner and slam into the pain of injustice. Yet even with the grief of this situation, the story glides strongly toward the happily-ever-after conclusion.
Striking illustrations draw us into the story and bond us immediately with this likeable Loving family. An Author’s Notetalks about the blending of Alko’s and Qualls’ styles and temperaments as they co-labored on the artwork, and a bit of their personal story. Ages 5 and up.