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Children’s books in the Black History Month experience

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By Jerry Woods

Using children’s books can prove beneficial to involving students in the Black History Month experience and beyond. A wide array of topics are available ranging from biographies of famous African-Americans to folk tales from the oral tradition of storytelling. Erin Dower, editor of Family Education encourages “celebrate Black History with kids of all ages by reading stories of African-Americans overcoming adversity and making their multicultural mark on the world.”
As an educator, I have experienced firsthand the positive power of what a well read book coupled with involved children can render. Author, Daniel Jose’ Older writes concerning children’s involvement in literature, “Children are not just the passive recipients of what they read. They should be seen as active subjects, creating and recreating themselves in relation to the representations that surround them.”
As children are introduced to various books and especially when reading to them, I have found the following helpful in creating greater student enrichment, enjoyment, and involvement:
-Select a book that you are very interested in…your interest will be contagious.
-Select the book a few days before you plan to read to familiarize yourself with unknown words, dialect, etc., for a smooth reading experience.
-Use voice inflections, etc., to add interest to the book.
-Relax and enjoy the experience.
Finally, I would like to share a few of my favorite African-American children’s books with summaries from my personal collection.
Flossie and the Fox – by Patricia C. McKissack, Illustrated by Rachel Isadora, Dial Books for Young Readers, New York (1986). McKisskack tells the story of a sassy little girl named Flossie who outwits a sly fox. Told with folksy southern charm, the author allows Flossie to build an interesting and surprising ending to the sly fox as well as to the reader.
Lift Every Voice and Sing – by James Weldon Johnson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett, Walker and Company, NY, NY (1993). This book presents the lyrics of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” known as the Negro National anthem. The linocut illustrations add brilliance to the already powerful text.
Martin’s Big Words – The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – by Doreen Rappaport, Illustrated by Brian Collier, Hyperion Books for Children, NY (2001). This Caldecott Honor book for illustrations vividly presents the life and times of Dr. King, whose dream and work impacted the world. The publication also received other honors as well.
The Talking Eggs – by Robert San Souci, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Dial Books, NY, NY (1984). San Souci presents this southern folktale of two sisters. Rose was cross and mean, while Blanche was sweet and kind, both sisters encounter an old woman with magical talking eggs. The beautifully illustrated book has an enjoyable ending.
Willy’s Silly Grandma – by Cynthia DeFelice, Illustrated by Shelley Jackson, Orchard Books, NY (1997) This book tells of Willy who does not believe any of the tales and superstitions that his grandmother tells him. Later, while walking though the swamps, Willy has an experience that changes his mind. I feel that reading children’s books certainly compliment the celebration of Black History Month and beyond. Perhaps Emilie Poulsson says it best in the following familiar passage: “Books are keys to wisdom’s treasure;”
“Books are gates to lands of pleasure; Books are paths that upward lead.

Jerry Woods

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