Black History Month
Published on Saturday, February 1, 2014 - 9:28am
February is Black History Month, but that doesn't mean we only need to celebrate nonfiction! Fiction can be a great mechanism to examine history and the legacy of the past, and that makes February a great time to read fiction with African and African-American protagonists. Here are some suggested children's books to read this February!
There are lots of great fiction picture books featuring African and African-American settings and characters. I particularly enjoy Rachel Isadora's picture books, especially her versions of fairy tales like The Princess and the Pea and Rapunzel. The vibrant illustrations are beautiful! If you're interested in reading more historically-oriented picture books, Angela Johnson's A Sweet Smell of Roses and Shane Evans' We March are both great books, and great places to start discussions about the Civil Rights Era. Similarly, Jeannette Winters' Follow the Drinking Gourd can serve as a good entry to discussions about slavery and the Civil War (and we have a Reading Rainbow episode about it, too!.
Older children have their choices of historical fiction with African-American protagonists as well. Like many of my generation, I had a huge obsession with the American Girl books in my childhood, and Addy was one of my favorites. In Meet Addy, we're introduced to this young girl as she tries to escape slavery. Meet Cecile details a very different - and oft-ignored - part of American history, with its story of a free resident of New Orleans in the 1850s. Christopher Paul Curtis has written a ton of great historical fiction with African-American protagonists, like The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 and Elijah of Buxton. Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer was a big hit when it came out in 2010, and its recent sequel P.S. Be Eleven is a great addition.
For more information about high quality children's books about Africa, I highly recommend Africa Access Review, which annually awards books for young children and older readers and also provides extensive reviews of books published in the US with an African setting. And of course, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is currently under construction right here in DC, but you can visit their gallery at the National Museum of American History on the second floor.