black history is American history

Welcome to February, also known as Black History Month…


…a designation reminding us that American history is a diverse, color-full history. To understand our story and society accurately, we listen to diverse voices and views. There are extraordinary people to celebrate, as well as patterns of oppression to witness and grieve.

I’ve got a long list of fabulous Black History titles previously reviewed on Orange Marmalade that you can locate here.  And today, I’ve got five more:

a spy called james cover image

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2016 by Carolrhoda Books

One of the unsung heroes of the American Revolution finally gets a chance to shine in this intriguing story of James, an enslaved man who became a spy for the French general, Lafayette.

a spy called james interior by rockwell and cooper

Under Lafayette’s command, James disguised himself as a runaway slave, lingering near British General Cornwallis’s troops. In his tattered clothes and black skin, James attracted no attention from Cornwallis and his officers. This enabled him to collect and pass secret information to Lafayette with dramatic results.  It’s a fascinating slice of history, gorgeously illustrated. Ages 6 and up.

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Hammering for Freedom: The William Lewis Story, written by Rita L. Hubbard, illustrated by John Holyfield
published in 2018 by Lee & Low Books

Bill Lewis was born into slavery in Tennessee and learned the blacksmith trade as a young boy. He turned out to be an exceptional craftsman, so much so that his master allowed him to keep some of the money earned repairing articles for folks far and wide who heard of his work and came seeking Lewis’s skills.

hammering for freedom interior by hubbard and holyfield

The story of Bill’s steady, tireless work, his disciplined saving of the small pay he was allowed to keep, his single-minded goal of purchasing his own freedom and that of his entire family across decades of time, is heart-stirring indeed! What an incredible man! A lengthy afterword fills in more of Lewis’s story. Holyfield’s fine paintings enliven the pages, fill in many period details, and convey Lewis’s strength and devotion. Ages 5 and up.

midnight teacher cover image

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School, written by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by London Ladd
published in 2018 by Lee & Low Books

Lilly Ann Granderson was also born into slavery. As a young child, she was allowed to play school with her masters’ children and through a tremendous effort, learned to read. Lilly was a voracious reader and soon began secretly teaching other enslaved people to read.

midnight teacher interior by halfmann and ladd

The stakes for carrying on this clandestine school were high as it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write. Granderson and her students risked brutal punishment for their actions. And sure enough, one terrible night they were found out by a slave patrol. Discover the surprising, triumphant story of what became of the courageous Lilly Ann that night and in the aftermath of the Civil War. An afterword traces her legacy through the generations who came after her as well. Ages 6 and up.

all different now cover image

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, written by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

An extraordinary moment in time, the moment these slaves in Galveston, Texas, heard they were free at last and forever, is captured in this eloquent, atmospheric, deeply-moving story.

all different now interior by johnson and lewis

An ordinary morning. The usual backbreaking work in the relentless Texas sun. And then — the whisper of a rumor. A word so joyous, tears are the only apt response. Experience this event with one community of slaves-set-free, then learn why that didn’t take place until months after the Civil War was over, on June 19th, 1865, the origins of current Juneteenth celebrations. It’s a gorgeous book, highly recommended for ages 5 through adult.

dream big dreams cover image

Dream Big  Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Presidency, written and photographed by Pete Souza
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Clearly the Obama presidency was one of the high points of black history in America, perhaps something James Lafayette, Lilly Ann Granderson, William Lewis, and the collection of freed slaves in Texas never even dreamed could happen.

dream big dreams photo by pete souza

This collection of mostly unposed photos snapped by Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza throughout the Obama years offers a truly delightful inside look at family moments, silly moments, tender moments, with just a bit of context in the captions. It’s a great opportunity to recognize that black history is still being made every day. Ages 8 and up.