What a difference a book can make in a child's life. Capturing a time capsule of ideas and imagery can move mountains within the mindset and cause a new world to open up. We will provide a curated list of books you can use to introduce Black History to children ages 3 -12. The age range is wide because parents can adapt the wording as needed to fit the age or use the content to address tough subjects.
15 Black History Books for kids in 2021
In a December 2020 article by the NY Times called, "Just How White is the Book Industry" by Jean So and Wezerek, it was hard to get beyond one statistic that loomed large. They stated that of all the books that have been published between 1950-1918, (of widely read books held in 10 libraries with digital media options), 95% were written by white people. Yes, you read that right, 95% of that specific widely circulated collection that most people see in the US are written solely by white people, period. If you were wondering where some of the one-sided/racist views might be coming from, this is a prime suspect. In other words, there is effectively a closed door policy for people of color among written ideas in America and the publishing industry acts as its manufacturer.
This backdrop sets the stage for building a valid case for the need for new voices to enter the industry for the general public, and, for our children in particular. After the most recent world events over the summer of 2020 which included the recorded live-streamed execution of George Floyd by police officers, many turned to Black books to feed the desire to change America's racist theme song playing on repeat through the annals of time. This shift in reading focus was reported in the article referenced above and in a post written by the author of this post called, "Books on How to Be an Ally."
There's much work to be done, and we're here for it. We have selected a great list of titles that cover a wide variety of areas to encourage children to aspire to. It is time-out for relegating Black children to basketball or entertainment. This has been the typical overcrowded narrow focus of the industry if Black people are mentioned at all. Our ancestors, under un-seemingly insurmountable odds, forged ahead to become pioneers in architecture, writing, tennis, and astrophysics to name a few. The list provided provided adds a splash of publishing color to the cloudy day doldrums of the outdated "See Spot Run" ilk so that cultural relevance will increase the chances that children will become interested in reading.
Believe it or not, I'm a bookseller who used to hate reading. I think it gives me an edge in understanding WHY some children express this sentiment. The magical key that unlocked the door to my interest was selecting books with content that was culturally relevant and contained our contributions to the world stage. Prior to my transformation, I saw reading as a chore only to be engaged in by assignment. It was not done for entertainment, pastime nor independent research as I use it now. O, how I agonized over it to the point that I chose my major in school as a completely foreign topic of Electrical Engineering to "avoid reading." I told my school advisor to suggest majors with the requirement that I wouldn't have to just plain read for reading's sake. And all this drama because I hadn't been introduced to the cultural storehouse of ideas that would've captured my imagination. As a student put it to me at a book fair Afriware Books, Co participated in (of which I am owner), "these books are different. If we had these books in school, I'd love to read." And then she sat at our booth transfixed in a chapter book that had pictures that looked like her, and words that she could relate to.
When I'm able to connect another person to the cultural legacy of greatness that is documented in books, it electrifies my soul. I guess for some people it's getting a drink at a bar, and for me, it's sharing just the right book for someone who may say, "I'm just not into books."
Sigh... "there's a book for everybody, but every book is not for everybody," I often repeat. I'd read many books over time and some did not resonate with me, while others absolutely stirred my core. What is key is to understand that cultural content matters and that's what may be the source of the angst against reading/books.
What will be interesting about Black History Month during this COVID19 pandemic will be to see how many different ways parents celebrate the month within the confines of their own home and jurisdiction. Parents who homeschool are already used to the flexibility therein, but this will be very different for others. It is my hope that the bar will be raised on the quality of content covered during the month so that it will include some of the titles that I'm sharing with you here.
For example, in "The ABC's of Black History," the images alone will even captivate and pull in the onlooker of the slightest curiosity. It is hard to count all the reasons I love this book. Visually stunning is reason number one, but from the ground-spine up it is also redefining and re-orienting children to a different frame of reference. Have you ever noticed it when we spell out our names? Each letter has a matching word called a spelling alphabet like 'D' as in Dog, 'P' as for Paul, 'M' as in Mary, for example. In "The ABC's of Black History," 'D','P', and 'M' becomes 'D' as in Diaspora, 'P' is for "Power" and 'M' is for "March"...
'M' is for March...
'P' is for "Power"
Black History Month in the classroom
I was encouraged after viewing a recent press conference on, "Education and Workforce Development" held by Senator Kimberly Lightford uploaded to Youtube on Sept. 20, 2020. Lightford introduced the conference saying, "My colleagues and I will be exploring our state's education system through the lens of systemic racism to identify the best ways to bring an end to curriculums and practices that often do more to cause racial division than support the needs of our most vulnerable children and youth and young adults." They examined disparities in education from early education to ready-for-workforce. I do hope that as they are making adjustments they consider content in addition to mechanics needed to increase a child's success in the school system.
I've written about some curriculum shifts observed at the high school level in another post called, "Black YA Fiction Books to Close out 2020." In addition to the ideas of combining Movies with Book discussions, elementary school children can be reached in other culturally relevant ways. The "Common Core" may need to add "Culture" to its offering for immediate and comprehensive coverage.
When I taught an Introductory level Required Math Class at DePaul University for ten years, one of the challenges I had in that environment was in updating the curriculum to reach the students. Although the students were mostly non-Black, the subject area in its present outdated state was not understood by that population. While I understand there is a fundamental difference between Math curricula and Reading curricula, as juxtaposed here however, they have one very important thing in common; confusion, disinterest, or poor performance by the students in the subject area. To make it most plain, there is common disconnection in some Black children when it comes to reading, and some White children when it comes to Math Therefore, when the outcome is confusion, curricula is a primary candidate for change, and that's what I did every way I could. Surely teacher style and performance can always be improved, but when the general consensus on day 1 is anxiety and even hate for a subject, there are fundamental issues in content and approach that must be addressed. While I will share some of the updates I made in a future post, here, suffice it to say that reviews from students improved when I ventured outside the margins and infused current events into the curricula. Relevance matters in general, and cultural relevance specifically for Black children.
As always, I do hope you will consider these titles as you update your Black History Month reading activities, and (shameless plug) consider ordering from my bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. When you click each of the titles above, you'll be transferred to the offering on the website. Thank you for reading this entire post.
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