Tag Archives: African American history

Jazzy birthdays

100 years ago this month, two great jazz musicians were born: Thelonious Monk and  Dizzy Gillespie. Here are some children’s books and recordings that celebrate their music:

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Bird & Diz by Gary Goglio, illustrated by Ed Young
Presents a rhythmic tribute to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and their creation of bebop.

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Dizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls
After arriving in New York, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was soon playing with the famous Cab Calloway Band, but his clowning around got him fired. Dizzy kept trying out his new music which took over the world of jazz. He had invented “bebop!”

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Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
A poem from the author’s first collection of poetry pays tribute to the community of talented artists that frequented her childhood home.

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I See the Rhythm by Toyomi Igus, illustrated by Michele Wood
Chronicles and captures poetically the history, mood, and movement of African American music.

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo
When Esquire magazine planned an issue to salute the American jazz scene in 1958, graphic designer Art Kane pitched a crazy idea: how about gathering a group of beloved jazz musicians and photographing them? He didn’t own a good camera, didn’t know if any musicians would show up, and insisted on setting up the shoot in front of a Harlem brownstone. Could he pull it off? In a captivating collection of poems, Roxane Orgill steps into the frame of Harlem 1958, bringing to life the musicians’ mischief and quirks, their memorable style, and the vivacious atmosphere of a Harlem block full of kids on a hot summer’s day. Francis Vallejo’s vibrant, detailed, and wonderfully expressive paintings do loving justice to the larger-than-life quality of jazz musicians of the era. Includes bios of several of the fifty-seven musicians, an author’s note, sources, a bibliography, and a foldout of Art Kane’s famous photograph.

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Jazz for Kids: Everybody’s Boppin’ featuring various artists
This introduction to jazz includes music by greats like Dizzy Gillespie as well as original songs.

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Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo & Diane Dillon
If you have ever been lucky enough to hear great jazz, then you will understand the pure magic of this book. Leo and Diane Dillon use bright colors and musical patterns that make music skip off the page in this toe-tapping homage to many jazz greats. From Miles Davis and Charlie Parker to Ella Fitzgerald, here is a dream team sure to knock your socks off. Learn about this popular music form and read a biography of each player pictured-and then hear each instrument play on a specially produced CD. What’s the featured song? “Jazz on a Saturday Night,” written and recorded to accompany this book.

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Portraits of African-American Heroes by Tanya Bolden
A stunningly beautiful picture book profiles twenty outstanding African-Americans with a three-page biography and black-and-white portrait of each, ranging from historical to contemporary figures who made a difference in their field.

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision!

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The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko; illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.
The story of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Perry, who got married in Washington, D.C., and were arrested after they returned to Virginia, and took their legal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Remembering Patricia McKissack

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We recently lost a much-honored author, Patricia McKissack. She was particularly known for writing about African American history (often collaborating with her husband), but her talent was wide-ranging and she also wrote realistic fiction, science fiction, picture books, beginning readers, religious works (she was an editor at Concordia Publishing House) and collections of folktales and traditional rhymes. We would be happy to help you find her books in our collection or place a hold on titles available from other libraries.

African American History Biographies, part 2

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocked to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art work had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message and art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.
(If you’re not sure you know his work, that painting being hung at the end of the last episode of Luke Cage is a Basquiat.)
The stickers on the cover indicate that artist Javaka Steptoe (whose father has his own award named after him) won the Caldecott Medal and was the 2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Illustrator Winner.

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A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell; illustrated by Floyd Cooper
The true story of James Lafayette, a slave who spied for George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. But while America celebrated its newfound freedom, James returned to slavery. His service hadn’t qualified him for the release he’d been hoping for. For James the fight wasn’t over; he’d already helped his country gain its freedom, now it was time to win his own.

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Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman; illustrated by Daniel Minter
A picture book biography of Dr. William Key, a former slave and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read and write and who together with Jim became one of the most famous traveling performance acts around the turn of the twentieth century.

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Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line by Andrew Maraniss
Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament. The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

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Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks; illustrated by Colin Bootman
Biography of Vivien Thomas, an African-American surgical technician who pioneered the procedure used to treat babies with a heart defect known as ‘blue baby syndrome.’

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate
Chronicles the life and achievements of the NASA engineer and inventor, from his childhood to his accidental invention of the Super Soaker water gun.

African American History in Poetry

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Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
As slaves relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles slaves’ duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square.
This title received honors as a Caldecott Honor Book and a King Illustrator Honor Book this year.

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Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill; illustrated by Francis Vallejo
When Esquire magazine planned an issue to salute the American jazz scene in 1958, graphic designer Art Kane pitched a crazy idea: how about gathering a group of beloved jazz musicians and photographing them? He didn’t own a good camera, didn’t know if any musicians would show up, and insisted on setting up the shoot in front of a Harlem brownstone. Could he pull it off? In a captivating collection of poems, Roxane Orgill steps into the frame of Harlem 1958, bringing to life the musicians’ mischief and quirks, their memorable style, and the vivacious atmosphere of a Harlem block full of kids on a hot summer’s day. Francis Vallejo’s vibrant, detailed, and wonderfully expressive paintings do loving justice to the larger-than-life quality of jazz musicians of the era. Includes bios of several of the fifty-seven musicians, an author’s note, sources, a bibliography, and a foldout of Art Kane’s famous photograph.

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Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin, and Turn It Out! Games, Songs, & Stories from an African American Childhood collected by Patricia C. McKissack; illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Parents and grandparents will delight in sharing this exuberant book with the children in their lives. Here is a songbook, a storybook, a poetry collection, and much more, all rolled into one. Find a partner for hand claps such as “Eenie, Meenie, Sassafreeny,” or form a circle for games like “Little Sally Walker.” Gather as a family to sing well-loved songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Oh, Freedom,” or to read aloud the poetry of such African American luminaries as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. And snuggle down to enjoy classic stories retold by the author, including Aesop’s fables and tales featuring Br’er Rabbit and Anansi the Spider.

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One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance — including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era — by combining their work with her own original poetry. Using “The Golden Shovel” poetic method, Grimes has written a collection of poetry that is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking. This special book also includes original artwork in full-color from some of today’s most exciting African American illustrators, who have created pieces of art based on Nikki’s original poems.
Nikki Grimes is the 2017 winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

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A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney
A celebration of the extraordinary life of Ezra Jack Keats, creator of The Snowy Day. The story of The Snowy Day begins more than one hundred years ago, when Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The family were struggling Polish immigrants, and … it was many years before Keats’s greatest dream was realized and he had the opportunity to write and illustrate his own book. For more than two decades, Ezra had kept pinned to his wall a series of photographs of an adorable African American child. In Keats’s hands, the boy morphed into Peter, a boy in a red snowsuit, out enjoying the pristine snow; the book became The Snowy Day, winner of the Caldecott Medal, the first mainstream book to feature an African American child. It was also the first of many books featuring Peter and the children of his — and Keats’s — neighborhood. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s lyrical narrative tells the inspiring story of a boy who pursued a dream, and who, in turn, inspired generations of other dreamers

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You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford; art by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
This history in verse celebrates the story of the Tuskegee Airmen: pioneering African-American pilots who triumphed in the skies and past the color barrier.

African American History Biographies

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Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumentahl; illustrated by Laura Freeman
A beautiful picture book about Ann Cole Lowe, a little-known African-American fashion designer who battled personal and social adversity in order to pursue her passion of making beautiful gowns and went on to become one of society’s top designers.  (That one to the right of her on the cover? Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress.)

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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers
Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

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The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Surveys the life of the actress and civil rights activist, describing her childhood, early years in vaudeville, and achievements as the first African American actress to be offered a studio contract.

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop, Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson; illustrated by Bryan Collier
The story of Stephen Bishop, a slave and early explorer and guide at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

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Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born by Gene Barretta; illustrated by Frank Morrison
Presents a biography of the legendary boxing champion that traces the childhood event that inspired his career and the achievements that became his enduring legacy.

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Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Critically acclaimed author Jabari Asim and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis give readers a fascinating glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story, featuring Jabari Asim’s stirring prose and E. B. Lewis’s stunning, light-filled impressionistic watercolor paintings, includes an author’s note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and is now a Georgia congressman.

New African American Historical Fiction

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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
From the author’s note: “…I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story.  Eleven slaves are listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of the slaves are noted (no age is indicated). I was inspired by this spare information to bring these slaves to life and have them tell their stories.”
The stickers on the cover indicate that it is a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, and a Newbery Honor book in the 2017 Youth Media Awards.

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The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship between a Boy and a Baseball Legend by Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s daughter)
Eight-year-old Steve Satlow is thrilled when Jackie Robinson moves into his Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1948, although many of his neighbors are not, and when Steve actually meets his hero he is even more excited–and worried that a misunderstanding over a Christmas tree could damage his new friendship.

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Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Alberti, illustrated by Tony Cliff
During the Civil War, African American Mary Bowser becomes a maid in the Richmond mansion of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis as part of a plan to pass along secrets to help the Union. Includes a replica of a Confederate decoder, plus other spycraft materials, in a sealed envelope to help the reader discover clues found in the text and illustrations.

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My Name is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Terry Widner
Here’s a powerful historical picture book about the child of founding father Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved Sally Hemings.
In an evocative first-person account accompanied by exquisite artwork, Winter and Widener tell the story of James Madison Hemings’s childhood at Monticello, and, in doing so, illuminate the many contradictions in Jefferson’s life and legacy. Though Jefferson lived in a mansion, Hemings and his siblings lived in a one-room shack. While Jefferson doted on his white grandchildren, he never showed affection to his enslaved children. Though he kept the Hemings boys from hard field labor—instead sending them to work in the carpentry shop—Jefferson nevertheless listed the children in his “Farm Book” along with the sheep, hogs, and other property. Here is a profound and moving account of one family’s history, which is also America’s history.
An author’s note includes more information about Hemings, Jefferson, and the author’s research.

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Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Rose Lee Carter, a thirteen-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955, but when Emmett Till is murdered and his killers are unjustly acquitted, Rose is torn between seeking her destiny outside of Mississippi or staying and being a part of an important movement.

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Steamboat School: Inspired by a True Story, St. Louis, Missouri, 1847 by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Ron Husband
In 1847 St. Louis, Missouri, when a new law against educating African Americans forces Reverend John to close his school, he finds an ingenious solution to the new state law by moving his school to a steamboat in the Mississippi River. Includes author’s note on Reverend John Berry Meachum, a minister, entrepreneur, and educator who fought tirelessly for the rights of African Americans.