By Kaitlyn Roman
Kaitlyn Roman is a 2012-2013 corps member serving at the Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester.
While reflecting on my primary education, I struggle to remember a lesson on any African American activists other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a champion of the Civil Rights Movement and advocate of peace, he certainly deserves the attention of our students and the extensive curriculum that surrounds his name. However, Dr. King was not the only influential black historical figure that should be celebrated in February—a month dedicated to celebrating our nation’s black history and leaders. There are a growing number of phenomenal biographical children’s books that are hitting the shelves just waiting for eager students, teachers and corps members to pick them up. If you’re looking for some additional books to accompany your favorite one on Dr. King, check out these highly recommended options.
When Marion Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
This simple and brilliantly illustrated book tells the story of Marian Anderson, an African-American singer whose voice was as strong as her personhood. This picture book gives readers insight into the obstacles a black woman faced during the pre-Civil Rights America. Ryan highlights Anderson’s career by recounting the concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where 75,000 people of all races witnessed the power of her song.
Barack by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by A.G. Ford
The students at my school cannot get enough of President Obama. Although there are quite a few biographical picture books to choose from, Jonah Winter’s Barack is my favorite. He addresses ethnic identity from the start, asking readers, “Barack’s mother was Caucasian. His father was African. So what does that make Barack?” Readers are captivated by interactive text and visually stunning artwork of our 44th President in this must-read story.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
This story gives students an amazing perspective of Rosa Parks’ inner monologue, adding a new dimension to one of the most monumental catalysts of the Civil Rights. Poet Nikki Giovanni creates an amazing portrait of Rosa as a woman who, on that famous day was not just physically tired, but tired of the oppression she faced every day.
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Based on a true story, Levine tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown who escaped slavery in Virginia by mailing himself to abolitionists in Philadelphia. While Brown’s methods were unconventional, this account shows students just how far slaves were willing to go for their freedom.
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne F. Rockwell
Illustrated by Christie, R. Gregory
Rockwell’s inspirational picture book biography of Sojourner Truth shows students how powerful words can be. Truth traveled the country speaking out against slavery and the morality of the life she formerly knew. She teaches us that if you are fortunate enough to overcome your own hardship, you have a responsibility to others to help them do the same.