Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three Great Kids Books for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and I read some great children's books with my kids that focus on the contributions of black Americans. Here are three top picks:

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (Random House, 2011).  This book, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome, tells the amazing story of Joseph Boulogne, who was born in the early 1700s the son of a white plantation owner and a black salve. Joseph Boulogne traveled from his home in the West Indies to France when he was nine, eventually becoming one of the finest musicians in Europe.

Personally, I loved this story - which was completely new to me, and had a lot of surprising twists and turns as it traces Joesph's life from birth to world-famous violinist. I thought it was beautifully told, and that it explained the prejudice Joseph experienced in a real but not overwhelming way that kids could understand. Joseph was even an inspiration for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his contemporary, although they never met.

But my kids? Not so interested. Their loss. I'm not sure if they represent a universal kid-reaction, but there you have it. Recommended for ages 5-9, though older might be better suited to the somewhat complicated storyline.

I Have A Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Random House, 2012) This over-sized picture book also comes with a CD recording of King's historic speech. The book itself is the speech printed against the backdrop of illustrations by Kadir Nelson, a two-time Caldecott Honor winner. This book is recommended for all ages, and my three kids all enjoyed (ages 3-9) as did I - that speech gets me every time.

What Color is Your World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors (Candlewick Press, 2012 This book cleverly intertwines the story of a brother and sister learning about famous African American inventors while having a discussion with a well-read/historian handyman with mini bios of inventors and scientists. Inventors covered include the men behind the potato chip and the ice cream scoop, as well as the more modern innovation of the Super Soaker. One criticism, uttered by my 7-year-old daughter, "uh, there's only one woman in this whole book." Maybe an opportunity for a follow-up book focusing on the contributions from African American women?

I received review copies of these books. My opinions were not changed, and I'm pretty sure my kids don't really even know the difference between a regular, a review and a library copy.

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