Posted on February 11, 2010 by Suzan Woodard in Uncategorized.
Stunted though it may be, February is an overachiever. Its 28 days are jam-packed with holidays, birthdays and observances – surely enough fodder to fill those bulletin boards with meaningful material all month long.
While Groundhog’s Day may be a bit frivolous and Valentine’s Day a tad frilly, the Black History Month observance is fertile ground for broadening our children’s understanding of American history. It moves beyond waddling rodents and rotund cherubs with a fondness for archery. Rather, it provides the framework to introduce heroes, men and women with athletic, artistic and academic gifts and a vision for a better tomorrow.
“In the centuries since African Americans first arrived on our shores, they have known the bitterness of slavery and oppression, the hope of progress, and the triumph of the American Dream. African American history is an essential thread of the American narrative that traces our nation’s enduring struggle to perfect itself. Each February, we recognize African American History Month as a moment to reflect upon how far we have come as a nation, and what challenges remain.” – President Barack Obama
What better tool to introduce this facet of American history than books? Who better to introduce the books than acclaimed poet and autobiographer Maya Angelou, who understands their power so well?
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading – to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs – is good for him.” – Maya Angelou, African American poet
A Starter List of Biographies for Kids
– “A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman,” by David A. Adler and Samuel Byrd, traces the life of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery to become a conductor in the Underground Railroad. Grade 4. (Scholastic)
– “Jackie Robinson Graphic Biography” details the life of the first African-American Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. Grades 4-6. (Saddleback Educational Publishing)
– “George Washington Carver,” by Eva Moore and Alexander Anderson, tells the story of a man who overcame tough beginnings to become an accomplished botanist. Grades 3-5 (Scholastic)
– “Rap a Tap Tap,” by Leo and Diane Dillon, is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a popular tap dancer from the 1920s-30s, who “talked with his feet.” (Blue Sky Press)
– “Martin Luther King Jr. Graphic Biography” is a biography about an influential man who fought against prejudice and injustice. Grades 4-6. (Saddleback)
– A Picture Book of Sojourner Truth,” by David A. Adler and Gershom Griffith, traces the life of a well-known abolitionist and crusader for the rights of African Americans in the United States. (Grade 4) (Scholastic)
– “A Picture Book of Jesse Owens,” by David A. Adler and Robert Casilla, is a simple biography about track star Jesse Owens, who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Grade 5) (Scholastic)
– “I Am Rosa Parks,” by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, tells the story of a brave woman who acted upon her convictions. Grades 1-3. (Puffin)
– “A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass,” by David A. Adler and Samuel Byrd, explains the role of this escaped slave, who went on to become a writer, speaker and leader of the abolitionist movement. Grade 5. (Scholastic)
– “A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall,” by David A. Adler and Robert Casilla, lets children learn more about the life of the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Grade 5. (Scholastic)
– Reading Rockets offers its own list of Black History Month reads. Check them out.
Other African Americans making significant contributions to our society include neurosurgeon Ben Carson, sports legend Bill Russell, Pulitzer Prize poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Tuskegee Institute director Booker T. Washington, Medal of Honor soldier Vernon Baker, baseball legend Buck O’Neil, surgical technique pioneer Vivien Thomas, track great Wilma Rudolph, Oscar-winning actress Hattie McDaniel, choreographer Alvin Ailey, and too many others to count.
Big Universe, an online children’s picture books website, has lots to offer to supplement Black History Month discussions. Let your students explore the Bill of Rights by reading “What Are Citizens’ Basic Rights?” Grades 4-6 (Weekly Reader), or read “Civil Rights: An Acrostic Poem” by Big Universe member BlockB. “Slavery in America” and ”Reconstruction” are other options for older students.