Using a Literary Genre Studies Unit to Explore African American History and Culture

Posted by Cassidy Taylor on Jan 31, 2015 5:46:12 AM

Connecting various genres of literature to real life is a powerful way to introduce and discuss historical and current social events in the classroom. Narratives, biographies, stories, poetry and prose can all help students gain perspectives on the events, cultures and peoples that have shaped the past and continue to frame the discussions of tomorrow. Combining fiction and non-fiction texts in academic lessons gives educators a chance to teach about the purpose of and distinctions between information and fiction text - the differences and similarities. When teaching older students there is an opportunity to discuss how literature and information texts interact to form a more complete picture of a time and/or place.

February is Black History Month and Big Universe offers a variety of online texts to help students explore the rich history and culture of African Americans via a collection of stories about African Americans from three diverse literary genres!

Literature is a wonderful way to introduce and educate students about the history and contributions of African-Americans.


rosaparks by Tonya Leslie © 2008

ISBN: 9781600140884

Rosa Parks lived her life courageously. She refused to change bus seats because she was African-American. Children will discover the bravery of Rosa Parks during a time of racial segregation. Blastoff! Series

MLK by Tonya Leslie

ISBN: 9781600140907

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about a day when people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This book introduces young readers to a man who fully believed in fairness. Blastoff! Series


byAnne Broyles (author), Anna Alter (illustrator) (illustrator) © 2008

ISBN: 9781570916755

Priscilla is only four years old when her mother is sold to another master. All Priscilla has to remember her mother by are the hollyhocks she planted by the cow pond. At age ten, Priscilla is sold to a Cherokee famiily and continues her life as a slave. She keeps hope for a better life alive by planting hollyhocks whever she goes. At last, her forced march along the Trail of Tears brings a chance encounter that leads to her freedom.Includes an author’s note with more details about this fascinating true story as well as instructions for making hollyhock dolls.“Priscilla and the Hollyhocks tells a story too often ignored or overlooked ,Äî a story of how the west was not won but captured. Reading about Priscilla’s remarkable life makes all our hearts a bit warmer while filling our heads with a much-needed piece of American history.”, Nikki Giovanni, poet


highjohn by Steve Sanfield (author) © 1989

ISBN: 9780874837742

High John the Conqueror sometimes called simply High John or John was a slave trickster who always outwits Old Master. Much like Greek slave Aesop’s animal characters, High John was the subject of a series of subversive narratives, whose mission was to outsmart his oppressors. Tall tales of High John’s exploits flourished during slavery, but after emancipation they fell out of circulation and his antics were all but forgotten.

African-americanFolktales by Richard & Judy Dockrey Young (authors) © 1993

ISBN: 9780874833096

This collection of African-American folktales highlights the unbroken chain of a rich oral tradition. The stories share the richness and variety of a cultural heritage that has crossed the Atlantic, survived slavery, and triumphed over the ignorance of racism and bigotry

Contemporary Fiction

metalman by Aaron Reynolds (author), Paul Hoppe (illustrator) (illustrator) © 2008

ISBN: 9781580891516

Devon visits the Metal Man at his fiery workshop every day, despite the scorching heat of the city where he lives. At the Metal Man’s shop, sparks fly from his welding torch as he cuts and melts together old pieces of junk into works of art. Devon is fascinated by the Metal Man’s creations. Then one day, the Metal Man lets Devon put his own imagination to work.Aaron Reynolds’s urban voice and the gritty illustrations of Paul Hoppe bring an exciting beat and pulse to the story of a young boy discovering his own voice and vision in art with a kind mentor to lead the way.

hacker by Leslie Mc Gill (author) © 2014

ISBN: 9781612479583

Capital Central High School, or Cap Central as the students like to call it, is in the northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. Any urban school faces broad challenges, and Cap Central is no different. But some tight-knit juniors meet the difficulties head-on with courage, friendship, determination, and hard work. Keshawns life was about before and after. Before, Keshawn didnt have a computer. After, he helped his mom install software on their new computer. To monitor him. What a joke! It got him thinking. He could make money. So he offered his skills. Grades for cash. It was that simple. Only it wasnt. Then he realized Neecy was his way out. She needed good grades. But she wanted to earn them. Keshawn knew she would make it right. Fingers crossed. Reading Level: 3.5. Interest Level: Young Adult.

Highschoolhigh by Shannon Freeman (author) © 2013

ISBN: 9781612476803

Port City High is the big leagues to incoming freshmen Brandi, Marisa, and Shane. They are on a high school high and loving it. But high school closes as many doors as it opens. Will these besties stay tight or get swallowed up by Port City High?


Connecting To The Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards clearly outline what is expected of students at each grade level, for students in the United States. The Common Core State Standards can be found at

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.


Other Resources

African-American Children's Stories and Songs

Black History Month for Kids - University of Illinois Extension

Black History Month: Resources Aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CT)

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Personal Experiences, Common Core, Integration Ideas, Reading Lists, Literacy

Big Universe Free Reads