Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

we-shall-overcome-cover-imageWe Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
published in 2013 by Disney, Jump at the Sun Books

Music is a mover and a shaker, a transformer, an uplifter.

The soul-stirring melodies and rich words of spirituals sung by enslaved African Americans certainly have that effect on us, even today, even in strikingly different circumstances.

This fascinating book traces the history and evolution of one of those spirituals as it became the anthem for millions of oppressed people the world over:

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day.
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.


Begin in the cotton fields, then follow along through factory workers’ protests, lunch counter sit-ins, the March on Washington, and on to South Africa under apartheid, to East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and to the election of Barack Obama, a day most African Americans could hardly believe they’d ever see.


Colorful, upbeat illustrations reflect the times and locations along the journey. Notable milestones are further annotated in some final pages. A wonderfully creative approach to history and song, for ages 6 and up.

preaching-to-the-chickens-cover-imagePreaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin  Books for Young Readers

Here’s a gorgeous biography of John Lewis, a man who has worked and suffered and kept on keeping on for his whole life in the struggle for civil rights.

Asim confines his narrative to Lewis’s childhood, allowing him the opportunity to amble along slowly, to soak in the details of those growing up years that were the foundation for all that followed.


That includes dusty days of following the plow-mule, growing collards and sweet potatoes in the garden patch, and dressing for Sunday services in starched white shirts. John regularly attended church where he loved gospel music and felt called to be a minister, to follow in the footsteps of the sermon-givers he heard each week.

So much so that as a little boy, Lewis would practice by preaching to the chickens! Settle down, Sister Big Belle. Get back on your feet, Li’l Pullet. This boy’s got some Good  News to share with you!


E.B. Lewis’s masterful, sun-dappled illustrations carry us straight into John’s world on a dusky farm in Alabama, shine a light on the earthy labors of his family and one earnest, tenderhearted fellow. It’s an intimate, warm, inspiring portrait of one of our American heroes. Ages 4 and up.

birmingham-1963-cover-imageBirmingham, 1963, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated with archival photographs
published in 2007 by Wordsong

In one horrific moment, on September 15, 1963, four young girls were killed as they attended Sunday School in Birmingham, Alabama.

Violent, white, racist, men bombed their church, unleashed their abhorrent hatred on an entire community. Why? because their skin was a different color.

Poet Carole Boston Weatherford captures the senselessness and abomination of this act, the shock and sorrow of the congregation, as she weaves a free verse story from the point of view of a fictional witness, a ten-year-old girl who attends the same Sunday School.


Weatherford’s peaceable depiction of this child, the unsuspecting eagerness she feels preparing for Youth Day at church, her steady, happy march towards the terror we know awaits her, is tremendously moving. Devastating. As it should be.

Dylan Roof’s trial, the recent uptick in racist vandalism, Black Lives Matter, are all vivid indicators that this story must still be told. Share this striking, brief book with children capable of managing the emotional jolt of this event. Perhaps ages 8 and up.

lillians-right-to-vote-cover-imageLillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Inspired by a woman named Lillian, granddaughter of a slave, who at age 100 in the year 2008 voted for the first African American president, this is the story of struggle and perseverance in the fight for civil rights and particularly voting rights.


Just as the elderly Lillian plods her way up a steep hill in order to get to her polling station and cast her vote, so an entire people strove in an uphill battle against slavery, oppression, indignities, discrimination, hatred, violence, untold weariness until that landmark day in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed.


That right, so dearly won, is one Lillian can’t take for granted. You won’t either, after this meaningful, passionate, succinct survey of those centuries of American history. Illustrated vibrantly with Shane Evans’ affecting, dignified human figures, with pages that pull us up, up, up, until at last we stand. Impressive. Ages 7 and up.

remember-cover-imageRemember: The Journey to School Integration, written by Toni Morrison, illustrated with archival photographs
published in 2004 by Houghton Mifflin

Author Toni Morrison’s powerful imagination is beautifully employed here as she gazes at poignant, sepia-toned photographs, then brings them to life with dialogue, scenarios, thoughts, emotions, ushering us into the tumult of school desegregation in the 1950s and 60s.

Hear from a precious kindergarten-age girl and some protesting remember-ruby-bridgesteen-age boys. From Ruby Bridges and a pair of women sitting at a lunch counter. Anonymous children and famous freedom-fighters. Apprehension. Determination. Innocence. Ugliness.

Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words and I’m so glad that these beauties remember-moms-in-protestare given plenty of room to speak to us. Morrison’s captions gracefully, mightily enhance the photos, but the modest volume of the text does not usurp their power.

A timeline, notes on the photos, and a lengthy foreword by Morrison are all tailored to slightly older students. The richness of the photos and ideas are suited to a wide age range, from 5 to adult.


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So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.


Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.

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So many misconceptions about the frailty of women’s judgement, stamina, intellect have been invalidated over the years. What fallacies do you still encounter? Here are five more biographies to help set the record straight:

elizabeth started all the trouble cover imageElizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her life-long fight for women’s rights. Organizing, writing, speaking, convening, she championed the cause, then passed the torch along to others, who inspired still others.

elizabeth started all the trouble interior rappaport and faulkner

One of the most scandalous, divisive, hard-earned rights Stanton and her colleagues campaigned for was the right for women to vote!  Ludicrous as it seems to us now, this was once an outrageous notion.

elizabeth started all the trouble illustration matt faulkner

Doreen Rappaport traces a lively narrative of suffragists and trailblazers in this fantastic new book. Matt Faulkner’s riveting compositions are packed with strong personalities. Highly recommended for ages 6 and up.

look up cover imageLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2013, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Henrietta Leavitt thirsted for understanding about the stars in an era when astronomy was a field reserved almost exclusively for men. Her opportunities for using the best equipment were limited by her gender. Instead, she was assigned tedious work as a virtual human computer.

look up illustration raul colon

But that did not stop her from painstakingly studying on her own, leading to a monumental discovery. Read the story of the woman who was said to have “the best mind at the Harvard Observatory.” Another beautiful collaboration by Burleigh and Colón. Ages 5 and up.

dolores huerta cover imageDolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla
published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Teacher, listener, friend. Organizer, defender, peacemaker. Dolores Huerta filled many roles in her work, campaigning on behalf of migrant workers in California.

dolores huerta illustration robert casilla

Raise your awareness of the unjust treatment of farm laborers and your gratitude for the calloused hands that put food on your table with this warm account of Huerta’s groundbreaking work. Ages 4 and up.

sacagawea cover imageSacagawea, by Liselotte Erdrich, artwork by Julie Buffalohead
published in 2003 by Carolrhoda Books

Kidnapped at age 12 and transported far from home. Adapting to a new language and culture. Married off, age 16, to a Frenchman. Volunteered by that husband for a strenuous, treacherous journey to be undertaken while she carried, birthed, and nursed her first-born.

sacagawea erdrich and buffalohead

Sacagawea is the subject of many biographies but I love this one for its humanizing rather than mythologizing of her and the handsome, dignified paintings by Ponca artist Julie Buffalohead. Ages 4 and up.

here come the girl scouts cover imageHere Come the Girl Scouts: The Amazing All-true Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure, by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2012 by Scholastic Press

Daisy was an adventurous soul from the time she was a small girl. As a young woman, she ditched dinner parties to go fishing and favored elephant riding to etiquette lessons.


At the age of 51, she launched the Girl Scout movement, championing a life of service, physical activity, conservation, respect, and full engagement in a juicy life for girls. Her story is fascinating, illustrated in a bold, jaunty style, peppered with Girl Scout maxims. A joyful treat for ages 5 and up.

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There’s been a storm of conversations recently in the children’s literature world over carefulness and truthfulness in our depictions of slavery. The good news in all of this is that we are having these conversations. This week, I’ve got seven strong choices for increasing our understanding of this painful piece of our history.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter cover imageWhen the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, by Sonia Rosa, illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, translated from the Portuguese by Jane Springer
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

I didn’t imagine I would find the story of an amazing, Afro-Brazilian slave woman when I went book-looking, but this moving and visually-sophisticated account fairly leapt off the shelf.

After reading this short text, I only wish I could meet this person. She was an intelligent, caring, remarkably hopeful woman whose deep sorrows and trials could not break her spirit.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior2 rosa and hees

Esperança Garcia lived in the Brazilian state of Piauí in the mid-1700s. For a time she was owned by Jesuit priests and worked on their cotton farm. While there, she was taught to read and write which was a rarity in Brazil just as it was in the Southern United States. When she was sold to a new, cruel master, Garcia’s situation vastly deteriorated. She found she could not be silent, and wrote an eloquent letter to the governor.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior rosa and hees

Read her story, written with intimacy and grace, accompanied by these extraordinary pictures. Each page is vigorous and arresting, surging with Brazilian heat and dominated by the indomitable figure of Esperança herself. Ages 5 and up.

frederick's journey cover imageFrederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by London Ladd
published in 2016 by Disney/Jump at the Sun

When you see Doreen Rappaport’s name on a book, you just settle in with confidence that a remarkable connection is about to occur between you and her subject. And that’s exactly what we get from this newest book on Frederick Douglass.

His life’s journey is traced from the time he was a tiny babe-in-arms, wrenched from his mother as she stretches a helpless arm towards him with a brokenhearted wail, to his persevering accomplishment of helping obtain the vote for black men.

frederick's journey interior rappaport and ladd

Written in lyrical free verse, and interspersed with quotes from Douglass, it’s an eloquent biography. London Ladd’s powerful paintings pour strength, dignity, and determination across every page. Included are Author and Illustrator Notes on the making of the book, a timeline, and resources for further learning. An exceptional piece, highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

two friends cover imageTwo Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
published in 2016 by Orchard Books

Frederick Douglas, amidst his great struggle for African American rights, and Susan B. Anthony, in her epic struggle for women’s rights, met for tea one evening in Susan’s parlor, in Rochester, New York.

What a meeting! What a pair of battle-weary friends. Wouldn’t you love to have been there?!

two friends interior robbins, qualls, and alko

Beautifully written in a perceptive, parallel structure, with Qualls’ and Alko’s  vibrant illustrations incorporating text and image — this book offers a unique perspective on these individuals and their friendship. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

freedom in congo square cover imageFreedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2016 by Little Bee Books

Congo Square, in New Orleans, was a small patch of earth known around the world because of what took place there on Sunday afternoons during the days of slavery.

Not auctions. Not whippings. Not labors of any kind. But dancing.

freedom in congo square interior weatherford and christie

Anticipate that one day of freedom, celebration, community, and the music of home, in this jubilant story. Strikingly illustrated by Christie in gorgeous, graceful, leaping line and pulsating color.

An Author’s Note tells more about this uncommon piece of American history. Ages 3 and up.

henry's freedom box cover imageHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2007 by Scholastic Press

Henry “Box” Brown was enslaved in Virginia. As a young boy he was sold away from his beloved family, and as a young married man with three dear-as-life-itself children, he was again left bereft, his wife and children ripped away from him in one searingly-painful blink of an eye. All. Gone.

henry's freedom box illustration kadir nelson

So, when an idea came to Henry of a way to escape to the north, to freedom from the unspeakable griefs of slavery, what did he really have to lose? 

henry's freedom box illustration2 kadir nelson

His method: shipping himself in a wooden crate 350 miles to Philadelphia. Henry’s story is at once heartbreaking and triumphant. The magnificent illustrations of Kadir Nelson very deservedly won him a Caldecott Honor. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 or 5 and up. A short Author’s Note adds a few more details to Henry’s story.

freedom river cover imageFreedom River, by Doreen Rappaport, pictures by Bryan Collier
published in 2000 by Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children

In this riveting story, you’ll meet an almost unbelievably brave named John Parker. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to forget him.

He lived in Ripley, Ohio, just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky. John had been born a slave, earned enough money to buy his freedom, and become a successful businessman. That’s the short version, skipping over a whale of a lot of misery, clamor, and initiative which you can learn in the book’s Historical Note.

freedom river illustration bryan collier

But John wasn’t content with only freedom and comfort for himself. Instead he became one of the most active, bold conductors on the Underground Railroad. This book tells of his relentless pursuit of one young family and how he risked his life again and again to usher them to freedom. Incredible. 

One of the things I love about Bryan Collier is that in his Illustrator Notes he shares rich insights about how and why he pieces together the elements of his commanding, award-winning collages. Don’t miss reading these Notes! You and your kids will learn a lot about the subject, and become more art-literate at the same time. Ages 4 and up.

night boat to freedom cover imageNight Boat to Freedom, by Margot Theis Raven, pictures by E.B. Lewis
published in 2006 by Melanie Kroupa Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux

Here’s another story of a young man risking all to bring slaves across the river from Kentucky to Ohio. It is inspired by accounts taken down by WPA writers who compiled slave narratives during the 30s.

night boat to freedom illustration e.b. lewis

This young man, Christmas John, is far younger than John Parker, though. Just 12 years old when he ferries his first passenger across in the dead of night, quieting the oars, straining to see the light of the stationmaster who waits on the far shore. After that first success, John keeps up his rescue work for years, until it’s finally too dangerous for him and dear Granny Judith to stay a moment longer.

night boat to freedom illustration2 e.b. lewis

Margot Raven has constructed some beautiful, winning characters here after immersing herself in hundreds and hundreds of fascinating interviews of ex-slaves. E.B. Lewis is one of my favorite illustrators, and here again his masterful watercolor work brings these people and scenery and emotions to life with strength and beauty. Ages 5 and up.

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I’ve met a bunch of awesome kids recently in the three novels highlighted today, all of whom I’d love to introduce to you.

They’re coming from widely different locations — a farm in the American South, an island off the coast of India, a ranch in Oregon. Each of them encounters substantial adversity and meets it with an authentic mixture of courage, reluctance, fear, and deep questions about life. All great choices for middle-grade readers and book clubs.

ruby lee and me cover imageRuby Lee & Me, by Shannon Hitchcock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Sarah Willis has her life turned upside down in one split second when her younger sister, Robin, is critically injured on Sarah’s watch.

Over the next months, Sarah is engulfed in guilt and terrified about her sister’s injuries. She longs to experience peace and forgiveness, but isn’t convinced it’s possible for her, not while Robin still lies in a hospital bed. 

Sarah moves to her grandparents’ farm during this crisis, into their warm, accepting embrace, and just down the road from her best friend, an African American girl named Ruby Lee.


As Sarah and Ruby start school, more difficulties await them. School integration has come to Shady Creek, and along with it the area’s first African American teacher for the predominantly white students.

Sarah navigates all this with some huge missteps, then has to find her way back with the help of her teacher, her faith, and her solid heart. Beautifully written characters interact with honesty in this great read for ages 9 and up.

tiger boy cover imageTiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Neel lives on an island of the Sunderbans, a tropical home of salty creeks, flowering jasmine, and wild guavas off the coast of India. It’s a home Neel loves to the core of his being, but it’s a tough place to make a living.

That’s why when the corrupt businessman, Gupta, pays men to harvest rare sundari trees or bully widows for rent payments, even good men like Neel’s father turn their backs on long-held values to earn his rupees.


Now, a tiger cub, normally protected in a reserve, has gone missing and Gupta is offering a huge reward for it. Neel and his sister know Gupta means to sell the skin and body parts on the black market if anyone captures it for him. Despite the immense dangers, they’re determined to find it first and return it to safety.

Meanwhile, another treasure is at stake: Neel’s future. He’s a bright student, who could bring honor and success to his family if he’d agree to move far from home for a good education. But the loss of his home-life is not something Neel is willing to accept. 

Mitali Perkins weaves Neel’s inner turmoil and outward adventure together brilliantly in a marvelously diverse setting. Excellent, fast read (132 pages) with an environmental message and resources to learn more about efforts to save Bengal Tigers and bring about holistic development to the Sunderbans region. Ages 9 and up.

heart of a shepherd cover imageHeart of a Shepherd, by Roseanne Parry
published in 2009; a Yearling Book from Random House

Brother is 11 years old,  the youngest of five boys living with his dad and grandparents on their ranch in Eastern Oregon. As his story opens, his father has just received orders to head with his Army Reserve unit to Iraq for 14 months. That seems like an eternity to Brother.

With his older brothers off at their own military assignments and schools, Brother finds himself the only one left to help his grandparents keep the ranch going. Those tasks are brutally hard, and Brother has never been so sure that he’s cut out for either ranching or the military anyway, as generations of Aldermans before him seem to have been.


So there’s a raft of anxieties snarling in Brother’s heart and mind — about his dad’s safety, his grandparents’ health, the bum lambs he’s tending, the promise he made to his dad to keep the ranch in good shape, and his own misgivings about who he is meant to be. Brother doggedly moves forward with the wise help of his extraordinary grandparents — his Catholic grandmother and Quaker, pacifist grandfather — and the new priest in town, Father Ziegler.

This story is unusually deep, honest, and tender, probing issues of faith, calling, and identity in children. Deep chords of grief run through the story, yet the strength of these characters support us all the way through. Ages 10 and up.

P.S. Can I just say that I really dislike the cover of this book? I don’t like to make negative comments here, but if you look at the cover and say, “Hmmm…not for me,” I just want to recommend that you ignore it and give the story a chance.

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February is long gone, but does this mean we don’t read black history titles? No, it does not.

March is Women’s History Month. And what do you know — there’s a sweet overlapping of these emphases…

… in these three exceptional new books you won’t want to miss.

my name is truth cover imageMy Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth, by Ann Warren Turner, illustrated by James Ransome
published in 2015 by Harper ~ Harper Collins Publishers

Sojourner Truth was a large, imposing figure with “a heart of gold and a tongue of flame.” This new biography beautifully captures in word and image her suffering, determination, warmth, and strength.

She began life as Isabella, one member of a large enslaved family in New York State, witness to her parents’ heartbreak as their many children were sold off “like horses.”

Isabella herself was also sold from one master to another, loaded down like an ox and viciously beaten, until one day she ran for freedom. Her new life was that of a preacher, and to mark that newness, she took a new name: “Sojourner because I travel far and long” and Truth because of her work proclaiming God’s truth wherever she went. 

my name is truth illustration james ransome

The lyrical narrative of this account radiates vigor and dignity, while James Ransome’s handsome watercolors portray a sturdy, resolute, warm cast of characters.  A lengthy Author’s Note provides quite a bit more information. Beautiful pairing of text and artwork for ages 4 or 5 and up.

chasing freedom cover imageChasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts, by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michele Wood
published in 2015 by Orchard Books ~ Scholastic

Nikki Grimes often gives us poetry, but here she uses her vivid imagination and power with words to create a conversation between two women who were contemporaries and who did indeed meet up at various times — Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony.

It’s a fascinating piece of historical fiction, set in 1904 at a convention for women’s suffrage in Rochester, New York. Sipping on tea in Susan’s parlor, these two phenomenal persons talk chasing freedom illustration michele woodtogether about their callings, rigorous efforts, hardships, sorrows, and dreams. 

Accompanying their narratives are stately paintings in acrylics and oils. Careworn, somber faces dominate these pages, as well as motifs from American patchwork quilts.

Mini-biographies of fellow activists of the era, and additional notes giving historical background to many elements mentioned by the women, are included, as well as an Author’s Note describing how Grimes composed this material.

This work has a serious tone, and is of great value for anyone ages 6 to adult. It is a longish text which would need to be read in episodes to those at the younger end of the spectrum.

28 days cover image28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World, by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2015 by Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book)

Geared for the 28 days of February’s annual Black History Month celebrations, this is a phenomenally artistic, compelling, and energetic collection.

Each bold entry features one important figure or moment from black history. The book is organized in chronological order. First up is Crispus Attucks who was killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, and last is Barack Obama. One extra leap-year day is dedicated to you, the reader. Here are men and women, athletes, politicians, soldiers, an astronaut, pilot, explorer, doctor, singer, and some schoolchildren. 

The entries feature brief summary captions, many forms of poetry, excerpts from historic documents, acrostics, eulogies, and brief biographical sketches. It’s a joyous, creative variety that makes the pages sparkle.

28 days moments in black history smith and evans interior image

Shane Evans’ brilliant collage work booms with glorious strength, dramatic color, and surging energy. Stunning work. They could create posters out of every one of these pages. 

Super resource to dip into again and again, for ages 5 to adult.

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my country tis of thee cover imageMy Country ‘Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, by Claire Rudolf Murphy, illustrated by Bryan Collier
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Okay, you musicians and history buffs. What do…

George Whitefield


American Revolutionary War soliders



my country tis of thee illustration3 bryan collier

Women’s Suffragists


A Sioux writer named Zitkala-Sa

my country tis of thee illustration2 bryan collier

and Aretha Franklin

my country tis of thee illustration bryan collier

have in common?

Answer: They’re all part of a surprising stream of people connected to the song My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

This song is a bit like a musical chameleon, I’ve learned, courtesy of this fascinating book by Claire Rudolf Murphy.

Many verses have been written over the centuries to suit a smorgasbord of civil rights causes.

First introduced in England, 1740, as God Save the King, its tune has untitled inspired colonists, patriots, fugitive slaves, schoolchildren, and civil rights activists. As you walk through the pages in this book, you’ll journey through time to meet these folks and read the verses they penned and sang.

Bryan Collier’s dynamic collage work and watercolors bring grit, diversity, history, and determination to vigorous life. 

Source notes on each episode contain added information and there are terrific recommendations for further reading and listening as well. Music is included on the end pages.

Great read for ages 6 or 7 and up. Well-suited for pairing with a huge swath of American history.



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