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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Cissel

Books to Celebrate Black History Month

2020 brought the Black Lives Matter movement into the forefront of the public consciousness. This Black History Month, it’s critical to connect with students and talk with them about the importance of Black history and how past events have shaped our nation’s history, from before the Revolutionary War to present day. Check out these age appropriate titles to help your students start the conversation.

Lower School Titles:

  1. All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson With Senators recently pushing to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday, it’s more important than ever that students understand the meaning and significance of this day. With beautiful illustrations and prose, All Different Now is a joyous portrait of the dawn breaking on the darkest time in our nation’s history.

  2. Harlem Renaissance Party by Faith Ringgold This book tells the story of a boy and his uncle who travel to Harlem in the 1920s, meeting famous writers, musicians, artists, and athletes such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Josephine Baker and Zora Neale Hurston. Harlem Renaissance Party will help students outline how these influential people helped define the period of the Harlem Renaissance.

  3. Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford Another picture book, Freedom on the Menu tells the story of the nonviolent sit-in protests in Greensboro, North Carolina. This book is the perfect segue to discussing segregation and the protests of the Civil Rights era with your students.

  4. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling Based on the New York Timesbestselling book and the Academy Award–nominated movie, this book tells the story of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four Black women who helped NASA during America’s first journeys into space.

Middle School Titles:

  1. Black Pioneers of Science and Invention by Louis Harber This chapter book tells the stories of Benjamin Banneker, Granville T. Woods, George Washington Carver, and eleven other gifted Black innovators who have played important roles in scientific and industrial progress.

  2. The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson This trilogy tells the story of three young enslaved people living on the Eastern Seaboard in 1776. As war breaks out, these characters will help middle schoolers question what they would risk for freedom.

  3. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine The Lions of Little Rock tells the story of Marlee and Liz, two girls starting middle school in 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. But when Liz is caught passing for white, she and Marlee must take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

  4. Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood Augusta Scattergood’s debut novel, this novel tells the story of a Mississippi town in 1964 and the debate to keep the segregated public pool open.

Upper School Titles:

  1. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery This nonfiction memoir tells the story of Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest person to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on the Voting Rights March in 1965. Pair this lesson with a viewing of 2014’s Selma for an in-depth discussion on the Selma Voting Rights March.

  2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer Now a Netflix adaptation, this book tells the true story of fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba, who built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps and brought electricity to his Malawi village.

  3. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals Melba Pattillo Beals tells her account of becoming one of The Little Rock Nine, the first Black students to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in the wake of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education. This memoir will transport high schoolers to their own communities and raise discussions on racism, segregation, and the right to education.

  4. X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon Co-written by Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, X: A Novel uses historical fiction to tell the story of Malcolm X’s youth, from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty. This graphic novel is the perfect introduction to lessons on Malcolm X and the history of the Black Panther Party.

Black history is, of course, history and should be celebrated and recognized throughout the year as teachers move towards creating a more inclusive and diverse curriculum.  With these titles, educators and students will have fodder for lessons and discussions beyond just February.  And if you’re looking for a way to support Black businesses this month, check out Black-owned, independent bookstores like Mahogany Books, Uncle Bobbie’s, Semicolon Bookstore, Hakim’s Bookstore, and Sister’s Uptown to buy these titles and more.  A list of Black owned bookstores by state can be found here.

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