Friday, February 21, 2014

The Three Best Children's Books for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and while I'm not sure if I completely agree with the direction this month of recognition is taking at my kids' school (more on that later), I do think it's a great opportunity to share with kids some of the many books that focus on the contributions of people of color throughout history. Here are my picks for the three best children's books for Black History Month:

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.
I loved the 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 also an inspiration for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his contemporary, although they never met. Recommended for ages 5-9, though with a somewhat complicated storyline, it's best for kids on the older end of the age range.

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 observation, uttered by my 7-year-old daughter, "uh, there's only one woman in this whole book." I see a clear opportunity for a follow-up book, this one focusing on the contributions from African American women.

I received review copies of these books. My opinions were not influenced, nor were my kids who don't really even know the difference between a regular, a review and a library copy.

This post is a re-publish from last year.

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