We celebrate all ethnicities every day. However, this is a great month to help kids and adults alike appreciate the many contributions of African Americans throughout our history. The following books are good for all ages unless otherwise indicated.
King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin, by Stephen Costanza, flows with a rhythm like the great piano player himself! This picture book is rich in color and design completely filling the open page by using gouache, wax pastel, and collage. The simple story weaves Joplin’s life growing up with a sliver of historic of life in the Jim Crow era with his father working as a slave. The story takes on a life of its own with the discovery of Joplin’s unique talent to make ragtime come alive on the piano. Between the lively illustrations and the buoyant text and onomatopoeias, this book is sure to elicit a toe tap! Be sure to check out a lengthy biography of Joplin’s life found at the back.
Bold Words From Black Women: Inspiration and Truths From 50 Extraordinary Leaders Who Helped Shape Our World, by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli and gorgeous digital full page portraits of each subject by Monica Ahanonu, is a large oversized simple book that showcases each of these fifty women including a short quote. The book also explains the context of the featured quote. Each outstanding woman is colorfully displayed with their portrait on one side of the open page along with the quote on the opposite page. Some of these women include mathematician Katherine Johnson, tennis legend Serena Williams and artist Diana Ross. (Simon)
Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy, by Misty Copeland and gorgeously illustrated by Selena Barnes, encapsulates 27 magnificent dancers of color. Each open page features the dancer with a full portrait pose painted on one side with a full-page biography of how each overcame great difficult obstacles on the other side. There is also an encouraging quote next to each dancer befitting her motivating ambiance. A quote from Michaela DePrince: Turn your past, your scars, into your strengths. That’s what I always try to do. There is a forward by the author summarizing how she became the first African American premier ballet dancer in a dominant white ballerina world. The entire book is aesthetic visually as well as in words and inspirational from beginning to end. This book is best suited for ages ten through adult.
Brown Sugar Babe, by Charlotte Watson Sherman and stunningly painted by Akem, is a picture book rich in tone and rhyme. The words and illustrations wrap around each other like a blanket and warm your heart! All of the elements of cozy, sugar-coated brown are on display. When a youngster insists she’s pink, her mother responds that she had all of the wondrous colors of brown: a sand dollar glinting on the beach in winter clay turning to mud after a cloudburst of rain splinters. The backdrop is drenched in shades of glittering brown filling every page with bronze beauty. Be sure to check out the end pages setting the scene of brown celebration. The author’s note found at the back explains her motivation for writing this story.
We Shall Overcome, by Bryan Collier, is based on a well-known gospel hymn popularized as African Americans marched for equality. Collier reimagined this by filling the mostly open-page illustrations with brilliant color by using collage and watercolor. There is much history displayed with black and white next to the layered colored pictures. Those vibrant colors reflect a young girl as she goes to school and through her day. The portrayal is uplifting, educational, and encouraging.
Keep Your Head Up, by Aliya King Neil and painted lavishly with acrylic by Charles Palmer, is a remarkable picture book that deals with having a bad day. Everyone has a bad day! The story focuses on a young boy who wakes up late and that is the beginning of many things that go wrong. But the essence of the story is: don’t beat yourself up. You’ll get through the day and tomorrow begins anew. The book features a young African American boy and his struggles and ultimately his triumph. The book is best for ages three through eight.
Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance that Crossed Color Lines, by Dean Robbin and perfectly illustrated using oil paint by Eric Velasquez, demonstrates how music reaches all people, no matter where they are from or what they look like. Back in the 1940’s, a band called Machito and His Afro-Cubans began playing Latin jazz with a syncopated rhythm and beat. This type of music hit a dance nerve making everyone in New York City desiring to come and dance in the huge ball room. Prior to this, each ethnicity kept to themselves. The text brings about a feel of the rhythm, but it’s the illustrations that bring about the fiery ferocity of fun in this dance! Be sure to check out the author’s note giving more background and context to the story. This book is best suited for ages eight through adult.