African American

Staff Picks: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? by Chris Barton

Reviewed by Alejandria G. 

It’s impossible not to feel inspired while reading this gorgeous, well-written nonfiction picture book about the life of Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

From a young age, Barbara Jordan had a remarkable voice. Her voice demanded attention and projected confidence beyond her years. As the author ponders, “What do you do with a voice like that?”. And so began the journey of Barbara Jordan from child to college student. From lawyer to Congresswoman. Jordan spent her career speaking up for those who had less power and protected the rights of those who were discriminated against. Chris Barton’s wonderful words remind us to honor Jordan’s legacy by making our own voices heard.

Ekua Holmes honors Barbara’s life with gorgeous mixed media illustrations. Bold colors and patterns fill the pages and add dimension to the story.

Staff Picks: Step Right Up by Donna Janell Bowman

Reviewed by Christina J. 

You have to read it to believe it. Then you have to see the photos in the historical note at the back of the book to really believe the incredible story of William ‘Doc’ Key and his intelligent horse Beautiful Jim Key. Even people who witnessed it firsthand, including scholars from Harvard University, couldn’t understand how Doc Key managed to teach his horse how to read, spell, cipher, and more on command. This is a stunning and inspiring story of how kindness and love has the potential to unleash the intelligence and capacity in animals, during a time when most people believed animals had no feelings.

Reading with Patrick

Everyone has heard about the talented, super-smart teachers who work for the Teach for America program. But why do many of these new teachers only stay for a year or two and then move on?

In Reading with Patrick, compelling and emotionally resonant memoir, Michelle Kuo, a Harvard-educated Asian American, relates her two years teaching in poverty-torn Helena, Arkansas, a delta town close to the Mississippi state line that has lost nearly all of its industry. Kuo also describes her parents’ great expectations for her career, and their deep disappointment when she takes a low-paying position in education.

Unpublished

Homegoing

A Ghana proverb says, “By going and coming, a bird weaves its nest.” The title of this novel tells the story of many people from Ghana who were forcibly removed from their African home, yet centuries later, two descendants return to find their family.

If you liked Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Yaa Gyasi’s novel will make the perfect follow-up.  Hard to believe that she started writing this in her early twenties and finished it by age twenty-six. It covers much more ground than Whitehead’s historical novel: Africa and the U.S., and much more time, from the mid-seventeen hundreds to now.  

At one point in the novel, a black history teacher describes history as storytelling. Gyasi presents many eloquent and heart-rending stories here. What ties them together is that all the characters belong to one extended family, who were once royalty in Ghana. They became both slave-sellers and slaves. Many came to America.

Gyasi follows two tracks of this family: one remained in Ghana, the other was forced into slavery in the U.S.  It follows their descendants after the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the great migration north.

Gyasi visited Africa as a student to do research on a book about mothers and daughters. But when she toured Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, something in the rooms, the cellar where slaves were chained and abused in dungeons called out to her. She immediately decided to focus on the African slave trade and its diaspora later in the U.S.

Who Run the World? Girls: Picture Book Biographies on Noteworthy Women

March: Book 3 by John Lewis

Winner of the 2017 Michael L. Printz Award, the 2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award, the 2017 Sibert Medal, and several other awards, March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell is a monumental feat of storytelling that is a must-read. March: Book 3 is the final installment in a graphic novel trilogy that chronicles the Civil Rights Movement in the American South from the perspective of John Lewis. This book follows the Civil Rights Movement from the Selma to Montgomery march to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, chronicling the trials and tribulations the protestors faced during this time. Chock full of text, explanations, and history, March: Book 3 illustrates the human need for freedom and equality. At once deeply personal, as we see much from Lewis’s perspective, and highly detached as the broader frictions in the movement are revealed and the enormous struggle the movement overcame are presented.

Another Brooklyn

The helplessness and friendships of childhood are topics that many writers have tackled. Fewer have written about African-American girlhood, as Woodson does here. The book centers on August, the intelligent young girl who leaves the lush south for the vibrant and dangerous streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

“For a long time my mother wasn’t dead yet.” This sentence opens the novel, which doesn’t proceed chronologically, but follows an inner lyric pulse. Throughout, the whereabouts of August’s missing mother haunt the story.

August’s family lived in Tennessee on a farm called SweetGrove land.  It was inherited from her grandparents. After their uncle, Clyde, a Vietnam soldier dies, her mother begins to unravel. Soon, her father rushes north with August and her little brother to Brooklyn, his home town.

It’s summer--so for safety, August’s father locks her and her little brother, who is only five, inside their third-story apartment. They spend long summer days watching children play on the street: double-Dutch, stick ball games and splashing under open fire hydrants.  A colorful parade of adults wearing dashikis and other colorful outfits weave past.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

For a powerful and poetic glimpse into the life of a real-life American civil rights hero, look no further than Voice of Freedom, a 2016 Caldecott Honor book written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated in beautiful collages by Ekua Holmes. Each haunting poem includes Fannie Lou Hamer's own words, and each tells of a formative experience in her eventful life. She was at the forefront of many important events in civil rights history, and sadly, like many black citizens of the U.S. both past and present, experienced brutality at the hands of cruel white people so severe that she was left with permanent injuries. Her ability to rise above incredible injustices and to be a leader for her people was second to none. Highly recommended for grades 4 and up.

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