Black History Month is the perfect time to introduce your children to stories that celebrate the heritage and history of African Americans. Here are seven books that reflect characteristics you’ll want to foster in your children. — Thanks to Nicole Yasinsky, the children’s manager with The Booksellers at Laurelwood, for her insights and contribution.
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz. If you have a child who needs a dose of encouragement, read the inspirational tale of Olympic gold-medalist Wilma Rudolph. A Tennessee native who grew up in a family of 21, Wilma was stricken with polio as a child. Despite the clumsy braces she had to wear to walk, the young girl never gave up on her dream of being strong and playing sports. With dogged determination and grit, she gradually overcame her handicap, and went on to become a world-class athlete. Rudolph’s perseverance is a lesson for all ages. — JS
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree Mitchell, illustrations by James Ransome. What does it mean to be part of a family? Is it about selflessness, kindness, sharing? Rich, joyful illustrations help tell this story, which is set in the South (Mitchell comes from Holly Springs) as Uncle Jed works hard to save his money in hopes of one day opening his own barbershop. But each time he’s ready, an emergency arises and instead, he gives his savings to help family members. Despite a lifetime of setbacks, this resilient man never gives up on himself or his dreams. — JS
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrations by James Ransome. Slavery was oppressive, but the African-American spirit proved resilient, and slaves found many resourceful ways to survive and occasionally escape. Such is the tale of Clara, a clever slave girl who works as a seamstress on a plantation and creates a quilt, rich in secret images, that doubles as a map to freedom. — JS
I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley Young Keyana struggles through the often painful nighttime ritual of having her hair combed. Just as the author’s mother did when she was a child, Keyana’s mother begins to show her how lucky she is to have amazing hair. She “plants” rows of brands along her scalp, adds colorful beads to the ends — and Keyana rejoices in the “Tap! Tap! Clicky-Clacky” music they make as she dances down the street. This sweet book helps kids embrace those things that make them uniquely wonderful. Be sure to also check out the story of Keyana’s brother, Miles, and his first haircut in Bippity Bop Barbershop! — NY
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney Through breathtaking watercolors and words artfully chosen, this book celebrates two brilliant voices of the Civil Rights movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson, beginning with each being “born with the gift of gospel.” The book’s moving finale shows the two joining forces to uplift and inspire all who attended and tuned in to the March on Washington in 1963. Pair this with an afternoon of listening to the original recordings from that day. Remind your kids how powerful their own voices are — Martin and Mahlia moved a nation with theirs. — NY
Honey Baby Sugar Child by Alice Faye Duncan In a world full of books like Love You Forever, and Guess How Much I Love You, there’s still plenty of room for another fun book celebrating the special bond between a mother and her child. In Honey Baby Sugar Child, you’ll find illustrations that exude warmth and joy, and a text that mirrors the over-the-top enthusiasm and fullness of heart mothers feel for their little ones. “I wanna squeeze ya, kiss ya, till the sugar’s gone. Child, I wanna eat you up.” Duncan, a native Memphian, has created text that is colloquial and lyrical, and pairs perfectly with the brightness of the artwork in the book. — NY
Teammates by Peter Golenbock, illustrated by Paul Bacon.
It’s not easy to stand up for what you believe in. When Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodger baseball team to become the first African American major league player in 1947, his teammates and others were angered. Their prejudice mirrored that of many Americans. But to African Americans, Robinson was a hero and his belief in himself gave Robinson the confidence to endure many slights. One teammate, PeeWee Reese, recognized the importance of supporting Robinson and stood by him, thus planting the seeds of acceptance. — JS
Jane Schneider and Nicole Yasinsky