african american childrens books

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Children’s book portrays Washington’s slaves as happy 

Former journalist Ramin Ganeshram’s children’s book A Birthday Cake for George Washington is stirring a batter of controversy online. Critics have slammed Ganeshram for writing an unsettling and sanitized version of slavery, for children. Rather than accept the criticism, Ganeshram is pushing back and defending her work.

Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Kyra E. Hicks

Martha Ann is twelve years old when Papa finally saves enough money to purchase her freedom from slavery. In 1830, the family leaves east Tennessee to begin a new life in Liberia. On market days, Martha Ann watches the British navy patrolling the Liberian coast to stop slave catchers from kidnapping her family and friends and forcing them back into slavery. Martha Ann decides to thank Queen Victoria in person for sending the navy. But first, she must determine how to make the 3,500-mile voyage to England, find a suitable gift for the Queen, and withstand the ridicule of family and friends who learn of her impossible dream. Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria is the true story of Martha Ann Ricks, an ex-slave who spent fifty years saving spare coins to fulfill her dream of meeting the Queen of England.

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The call to witness takes many shapes.  For the youngest participant in the 1965 Selma march, this now includes a powerful new book for young readers.  Turning 15 On the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, from Dial Books is already winning prizes. The book tells a familiar story from a unique and necessary perspective.  So glad to have this book.

The Black Book

Middleton A. Harris (Editor), Toni Morrison (Foreword by),

Bill Cosby (Introduction)

Ernest Smith (Editor), Morris Levitt (Editor)

Seventeenth-century sketches of Africa as it appeared to marauding European traders. Nineteenth-century slave auction notices. Twentieth-century sheet music for work songs and freedom chants. Photographs of war heroes, regal in uniform. Antebellum reward posters for capturing runaway slaves. An 1856 article titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child.”

In 1974, Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison led a team of gifted, passionate collectors in compiling these images and nearly 500 others into one sensational narrative of the black experience in America: The Black Book.

The Black Book remains a breathtaking testament to the legendary wisdom, strength, and perseverance of black men and women intent on freedom. Prominent collectors spent months studying, laughing at, and crying over these materials–from transcripts of fugitive slaves’ trials and proclamations by Frederick Douglass and other celebrated abolitionists to chilling images of cross burnings and lynchings, patents registered by black inventors throughout the early twentieth century to vibrant posters from “Black Hollywood” films from the 1930s and 1940s.

A labor of love and a vital link to the richness and diversity of African American history and culture, The Black Book honors the past, reminding us where our nation has been, and gives flight to our hopes for what is yet to come. Beautifully and faithfully presented, and featuring a new Foreword and original poem by Toni Morrison, The Black Book remains a timeless landmark work.

One More Valley, One More Hill: The Story of Aunt Clara Brown

Linda Lowery

Author Linda Lowery chronicles the extraordinary—but little-known—life of black pioneer Aunt Clara Brown. Aunt Clara bought herself out of slavery, crossed the country on foot to reach the frontier, became a wealthy entrepreneur, aided other freed slaves, and eventually tracked down her lost daughter, sold away from Clara 47 years before. An inspiring piece of history that all Americans should know!
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Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Dianne Ochiltree

This legendary tale introduces young readers to Molly Williams, an African American cook for New York City’s Fire Company 11, who is considered to be the first known female firefighter in U.S. history. One winter day in 1818, when many of the firefighting volunteers are sick with influenza and a small wooden house is ablaze, Molly jumps into action and helps stop the blaze, proudly earning the nickname Volunteer Number 11. Relying on historic records and pictures and working closely with firefighting experts, Dianne Ochiltree and artist Kathleen Kemly not only bring this spunky and little-known heroine to life but also show how fires were fought in early America.

The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown

Tim Hashaw

The voyage that shaped early America was neither that of the Susan Constant in 1607 nor the Mayflower in 1620. Absolutely vital to the formation of English-speaking America was the voyage made by some sixty Africans stolen from a Spanish slave ship and brought to the young struggling colony of Jamestown in 1619. It was an act of colonial piracy that angered King James I of England, causing him to carve up the Virginia Company’s monopoly for virtually all of North America. It was an infusion of brave and competent souls who were essential to Jamestown’s survival and success. And it was the arrival of pioneers who would fire the first salvos in the centuries-long African-American battle for liberation. Until now, it has been buried by historians. Four hundred years after the birth of English-speaking America, as a nation turns its attention to its ancestry, The Birth of Black America reconstructs the true origins of the United States and of the African-American experience.

White Socks Only

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 by Evelyn Coleman and illustrated by Tyrone Geter

Subtle and stirring, this tale-within-a-tale begins with an affectionate exchange between an African American girl and her grandmother, then telescopes to encompass an electrifying moment fraught with personal and political significance. Grandma tells of sneaking off to town one sizzling summer day when she was a child, “planning on doing no good.” Approaching a water fountain, the thirsty girl mistakes its “Whites Only” sign to mean that she should take off her shoes so that only her white socks will touch the step stool. A “big white man” grabs her and removes his belt to whip her-prompting African American bystanders to remove their shoes, too, and defiantly drink from the fountain. At home, the narrator’s mother proclaims she can now go to town by herself, “ ‘cause you’re old enough to do some good”; in town, “the 'Whites Only’ sign was gone from that water fountain forever.” Though Coleman (The Footwarmer and the Black Crow) complicates the story with some unnecessary subplots, the impact is strong. Geter’s (Dawn and the Round-to-it) full- and double-page paintings can be hazy, but they conduct the story’s considerable emotional charge. Ages 5-9. 

How much do the children in your life know about African American history?

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Jane Addams Honor Book (Awards))

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 by Kadir Nelson

The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. But it is also the story of injustice; of a country divided by law, education, and wealth; of a people whose struggles and achievements helped define their country. This is the story of the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination and triumphs.

Kadir Nelson, one of this generation’s most accomplished, award-winning artists, has created an epic yet intimate introduction to the history of America and African Americans, from colonial days through the civil rights movement. Written in the voice of an “Everywoman,” an unnamed narrator whose forebears came to this country on slave ships and who lived to cast her vote for the first African American president, heart and soul touches on some of the great transformative events and small victories of that history. This inspiring book demonstrates that in gaining their freedom and equal rights, African Americans helped our country achieve its promise of liberty and justice—the true heart and soul of our nation.

Only 93 of 3,200 kids’ books published last year were about black characters

Books are printed on white pages, and a new survey shows that their contents are similarly blanched. Last year, 3,200 children’s books were published — and only 93 were about black characters.

And it’s not a one-off problem. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been collecting data on children’s books written about people of color since 1994 — in the last 20 years, the ratio hasn’t improved at all.

This infographic, by independent publisher Lee & Low Books, shows that the percentage of children’s books by, and or about kids of color has hovered around the 10% mark consistently since the early ‘90s, despite that people of color comprise 37% of the U.S. population. 

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