I sat down to read a stack of Black History titles on a day my heart was weary and sad. I don’t often not feel like reading, but that day, even reading felt gray and blah.
In store for me was so much richness, such an expansion of courage as I stepped out of my world and into the lives of these immensely inspirational people. All the talent, all the overcoming, the wealth of life experiences, the intrepid fortitude in the face of twisted racism, rejuvenated my spirit.
At some point I would like to talk more about why White Americans should read Black history. There are lots of profound reasons. But here’s one for starters: It will do your soul good.
You could start right here, with this top-notch volume that I absolutely love.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
It’s packed with illustrated mini-biographies of 40 black women, arranged chronologically, from the colonial-era poet Phyllis Wheatley to Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes.
Vashti Harrison has written an engaging, compelling, page-long biography for each and illustrated them with appealing little portraits.
Drink up these stories of African American women forging new pathways in the arts and sciences, athletics and statesmanship, activism and education. I guarantee you’ll meet some new faces here and have your interest piqued to learn more. Highly recommended for ages 6 and up.
Young, Gifted and Black, written by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
published in 2018 by Wide Eyed Editions
This volume pulsates with energy and color! You cannot help but be cheered by one story after another of 52 black heroes, past and present, male and female. What a superb bunch of people!
Wilson’s biographies are very brief, eminently readable, tingling with the widely-varying accomplishments of her subjects. They are arranged willy-nilly so that we skippet about from a Jamaican nursing hero to an Arctic explorer, from a 19th-century businesswoman to a 20th-century star cricketer.
Unlike the volume of women above, this is very much an international collection. Pippins has illustrated it with marvelously flamboyant color and cartwheeling line. A black-and-white photo of each hero makes a nice addition to the back pages. A juicy treat for ages 8 and up.
Now, here are three new biographies whose subjects do not appear in either of these compendiums:
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, written by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2017 by Harper
Perhaps more than anyone, Frederick Douglass stands defiantly in the tide of American history to denounce the empty lies at the foundational level of racism.
Beginning with Douglass’s birth as an enslaved person in 1818, we witness his unstoppable thirst for knowledge and education, his passionate refusal to be bullied and enslaved, and his oratorical powers, addressing the injustices of our nation.
Meyers, who authored so many distinguished books, died in 2014. This book was published posthumously, with the gorgeous, commanding paintings of Floyd Cooper clothing it in quiet, fierce dignity. Excellent history for ages 7 or 8 and up.
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, written by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb
published in 2017 by Millbrook Press
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
When Billie Holiday sang those dark, raw lyrics about the evil of lynching for the first time at a jazz club, she was met with shock, silence…and then an explosion of applause.
Discover the painful path to stardom for Holiday and the story behind one of her most famous songs, Strange Fruit, in this gripping account. Riley-Webb’s aggressive, nearly writhing brushstrokes flood the pages with dynamic tension. You will be astounded at the audacity of both songwriter and Holiday in confronting audiences with the horrific reality of lynching. Ages 9 and up.
Schomburg: The Man who Built a Library, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
published in 2017 by Candlewick
Here’s another brilliant collaboration between Weatherford and Velasquez, bringing a man to our attention I’d never heard of before.
Schomburg was a kindred spirit to many of you, I suspect. A book-lover. A history-lover. An antiquated-book expert. A fact hound. What a fascinating person!
As a boy, he was told that “Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting.” Schomburg spent his life setting that record straight. Studying. Reading. Hunting down rare books. Collecting. Compiling. Researching. Building a vast library which eventually became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture within the New York City Public Library.
This tour de force of Black history and Schomburg’s life is presented in Weatherford’s remarkable free verse and brought to life with Velasquez’s powerful, sophisticated paintings. A brilliant read about a brilliant man for ages 10 to adult.
You can find many more Black History titles reviewed previously on Orange Marmalade via the link at the bottom of the blog. Enjoy!