Sunday, February 28, 2016

Black History Month: More Favorite Picture Books: Nonfiction

My niece was visiting me for a while this month and before she left to go home, we sat down and went through some nonfiction picture books with which to end Black History Month.  My collaborator is 11 years old and an avid reader, and even though she doesn't read many picture books anymore, we spent a few very nice afternoons choosing our favorite picture books for this post and our earlier post. We also chose a few middle grade books, but February ended before we got to them, so you will be hearing about them throughout the year.   

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial
by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Bloomsbury, 2016, 40 pages (Age 6+)

In 1847, Sarah Roberts, 4, was attending the school closest to her home when she was suddenly pulled out and told she could no longer attend the Otis School, one of Boston, MA's best.  The reason: Sarah was African American and the Otis was for white kids only.  Knowing how far Sarah would have to walk and how ill-equipped the nearest Black school was, her parents filed a lawsuit hoping the change things.  Although they lost, Sarah's story is well worth reading.  In 1855, Boston integrated the schools there, as did some other states, it wasn't until 1954 that desegregated schools became the law of the entire country,  This picture book for older readers included a Timeline, a What Happened to Our Heroes section, some Sources and Resources and an Author's Note.

George Washington Carver by Kitson Jazynka
National Geographic Children's Books, 2016, 32 pages (Age 5+)

In this Level 1 National Geographic book, beginning readers are introduced to the life of George Washington Carver.  Born into slavery around 1864.  After his mother was kidnapped, George was raised by his owner's, Moses and Susan Carver.  He was taught to read there, but wasn't to learn more and at 13, ran away to attend a school for black children.  Interested in agriculture and farming, George made it through college and began to teach farmers how to grow sustainable crops.  George also found hundreds of uses for peanuts through his work and research.  I included George in this roundup because I realized when I picked up this book, that I haven't heard the name George Washington Carver since elementary school.  And yet, he is such an important part of African American history.   

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement 
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick, 2015, 56 pages (Age 9+)

Told in beautifully written first-person free-verse poetry, and accompanied by equally stunning collage illustrations, the life of Fannie Lou Hamer unfolds page by page.  Born in Sunflower County, Mississippi in 1917, grew up in the Delta witnessing her parents hardships, mistreatment and poverty as sharecroppers.  Fannie was subjected to indignities and humiliations herself, living under the yoke of Jim Crows laws, failing an unfair literacy test when she tried to register to vote, threatened for encouraging other blacks to vote, and beaten almost to death after sitting at a whites-only lunch counter.  But Fannie's persistence led her into the Civil Rights Movement, where she was a force to be reckoned with at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.  As soon as you open this incredible book, you will understand why it received so many awards this year.  Don't overlook the Author's Note, the Timeline, Sources and Select Bibliography.  

Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntoozake Shange, 
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Simon & Schuster, 2004, 40 pages (Age 5+)

Playwright/poet Ntozake Shange takes the reader inside her childhood home where her parents welcomed some giants in the world of African American arts and politics.  Set among the lines from her poem about those days, "Mood Indigo" are some who may be very familiar to readers: musicians Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie,  NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois, Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson, and others who may not be so easily recognized: jazz musician Ray Barretto, singer Sonny Til, Welterweight Champion (1958) Virgil Atkins.  Shange's poem is a tribute to and celebration of all the men and the influence they had on her life and on the lives of all African Americans.  Kadir Nelson's beautiful realistic paintings highlight and commemorate their visits to Shange's home on each page.  Shange's poem "Mood Indigo" is recounted on the last page.

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle's Journey to Alvin Ailey
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Paula Wiseman Books, 2015, 48 pages (Age 5+)

Robert Battle may not be a familiar name to many young readers, but he is the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.  But dancing wasn't always a dream for Robert, who wore braces on his legs as a child to straighten his bowlegs.  Growing up in Liberty City, FL, Robert began studying martial arts at age 12, to provide him with some defense on the streets, where he was often picked on and called names.  Dancing didn't come into his life until age 13 and he was a natural, eventually attending  Julliard School on a full scholarship.  Battle's life is such a wonderful example of how one kid followed his dream despite obstacles.  James Ransome's pastel illustrations capture the movement of the dance so beautifully, as well as the important moments in Battle's life.   

Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson,
illustrated by AG Ford
Katherine Tegen Books, 2009, 32 pages (Age 5+)

Michelle Robinson Obama is our country's first African American first lady and who has shown herself one of the most more active and accessible first ladies to date.  Michelle grew up on the South Side of Chicago with her parents and brother.  Education was important in her home, so Michelle was allowed only one hour of TV a day (her favorite show: The Brady Bunch).  After attending Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she returned to work as a lawyer in Chicago.  One day, her firm asked to advise another Harvard law student -  Barack Obama.  This is a nice, straightforward biography of Michelle Obama, who is indeed an wonderful inspirational figure for young girls.  AG Ford's expressive, realistic illustrations compliment the text, adding insight to Michelle Obama's life. I think the quote from Michelle Obama and used on the back cover sums up her life philosophy perfectly and seems to be the perfect way to bring Black History month to a close this year:

"Don't let anybody set the limits of your dreams."


Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is a weekly celebration of 
nonfiction books hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. I love reading picture book biographies with middle schoolers. I think they're the ideal audience, emerging as they are into the wider world.

  2. I like that Michelle Obama is being recognized as more than just the wife of a powerful man - she's a hard-working and highly-educated professional in her own right, and definitely a woman for young girls to admire!


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