One of the great benefits for me in writing Orange Marmalade has been a greater exposure to children’s literature covering Black History and the Civil Rights Movement. I’ve learned a lot about these tremendously important subjects, compellingly addressed by talented authors and illustrators.
You can find a long list of top-notch titles previously reviewed on my Black History list here.
Today I’ve got five more powerful and enlightening choices:
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, written by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2018 by Calkins Creek
Based in part on the memories of one who as a young child participated in the Memphis strike along with her parents, this narrative is marked by the vivid sense of immediacy that comes from a true life witness.
Enter her world, of rats scuttling through piles of uncollected trash, a father grieved and angered by the deaths of his sanitation co-workers, lively rallies swelled with freedom-singing, blood-spattered riots, a booming mountaintop oratory, and DJs weeping on-air over the loss of Dr. King.
It’s a robust account of this pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement illustrated with R. Gregory Christie’s distinctive art, blazing with heat, pulsing with dignity and determination. Ages 8 and up.
So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom, written by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter
published in 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
More than a century before Martin Luther King, Jr. took up the mantle of freedom-singer, a young, uneducated, enslaved woman “seized Freedom with her own hands,” escaped her subjugation, stumbled upon good people who paid off her master, and set her feet to an extraordinarily courageous path, struggling for the civil rights she saw denied to many all around her.
Sojourner Truth stood tall before juries to reclaim her son, rediscovered siblings stolen from her in childhood, trod a mighty journey preaching truth to power, organized charitable drives, taught liberated slaves, campaigned for humane prisons, and on, and on.
What a glory, this woman! Her steely courage, keen sense of justice, and monumentally self-sacrificial love, are powerfully captured by Gary Schmidt’s text and Daniel Minter’s extraordinary paintings. The appended Biographical Note, Bibliography, and Artist Note all greatly enrich our understanding of Sojourner and the rich artistry of this work.
Highly recommended for ages 7 through adult, this won one of my Orange Marmalade Juicies for 2018.
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
published in 2018 by Beach Lane Books
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s soul-stirring voice and magnanimous vision for public service are gorgeously revealed in this book. Text, artwork, even the trim size of the book combine to express her indomitable nature.
Barton traces the childhood, education, and pathway of this Texas-born gal to her seat in Congress, emphasizing throughout her gift of a powerful voice and the powerful ideals that caused her to raise it and use it for the common good.
I love every piece of work Ekua Holmes touches and this is no exception. Gobsmacking! Ravishing color, texture, dignity, and strength explode on every page.
It’s a beautiful introduction to a woman who made monumental steps for civil rights, served her country with integrity, but left us while still so young. Ages 8 and up.
P.S. I listened to a podcast of This American Life recently featuring a fascinating account of Barbara Jordan and her invaluable talent for procuring consensus among disparate political groups. It’s a great and timely story. You can listen here, if you’re inclined.
Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2006 by Candlewick
Here’s a slightly older title that packs a mighty punch. It’s a collection of accounts, a stalwart procession of civil rights figures and events.
In a medley of straightforward nonfiction and story-like narratives, punctuated by moving quotations and freedom songs of the civil rights movement, we meet Emmett Till, Mose Wright, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Elizabeth Eckford, John Lewis, Diane Nash, the Greensboro Four, James Farmer, Malcolm X, Fred Shuttlesworth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sheyann Webb, and many others. Each account is powerful, gritty. Rappaport does not shield her readers from the brutality faced by these men, women, and children.
Shane Evans’ paintings are commanding, often confronting us face to face with these individuals in powerful portraits. It’s a riveting combination of history and biography that covers a lot of ground, for ages 10 and up.
Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City, written by Phillip Hoose
published in 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux
179 pages + back matter
Finally, this fascinating history of Indianapolis basketball; the Crispus Attucks Tigers high school team in the 1950s; one of basketball’s all-time greats, Oscar Robertson; and how all these elements converged to advance racial integration near and far.
I grew up watching basketball, but compared with the frenzied, fanatical atmosphere of Indiana basketball I learned about in this book, I was left simply shaking my head. The basketball hysteria Hoose describes there is unbelievable.
That fandom collided with a terribly strong presence of the KKK in Indiana who went about preaching a message of fear and hate, commandeered elections and school policies, actually reversing the school integration which had existed in Indiana schools beginning in the 1920s.
Just as Jesse Owens confounded the racist stance of Hitler via his victorious presence in the 1936 Olympics, so this one awesomely talented, all-black high school basketball team and coach disproved the malignant message of inferiority preached by the KKK, setting Indiana and the rest of the nation on track to integrate the sport of basketball and their schools.
Even if you don’t drift towards sports stories, take my word for it: this one is an engrossing page-turner! For fans of sport, ages 12 through adult, it’s a sure-fire winner!