It’s Black History Month, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time going through my bookshelf, pulling out some of my favorite books that celebrate Blackness in all it’s forms. I think it is critical that children of color see themselves in books, but not just in terms of fighting for equality. This month let’s look at three books that you can add to your bookshelf and that just may have a magical impact on you and your writing.
“The King of Kindergarten”, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, is the story of young Black boy who is starting kindergarten. On his first day, his mother tells him that he will be the king of kindergarten. We follow him through his first day as he dresses for school, meets his teacher and classmates, learns about recess and naptime, and, finally, as he heads home, eager to return the next day.
One of the things I enjoy about this book is the wordplay used to keep the “King” theme going. For example, our kindergartner brushes his “Royal Chiclets”. He dresses in garments from the “far-off villages of Osh and Kosh”. He even rides to school in a “big yellow carriage”. This wordplay keeps the story light and, for kids enjoying this book as they prepare to enter school, creates an air of excitement and adventure around this important milestone. Whether you’re looking for a story to help a child transition into a new adventure, or you’re writing one and looking for some inspiration, this book belongs on your bookshelf.
If you’re looking for a inspirational tale that shows it’s never too late to start something new, look no further than “It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw”. Written by Don Tate and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, this book tell the story of one of the most important American folk artists of the 20th century. Born into slavery in Alabama, Bill lived a difficult life. By the time he was in his 80s, he found himself in Montgomery, Alabama, alone and homeless. That was when he began to draw.
Pulling from a lifetime of memories, Bill’s drawings captured his own personal history while paralleling the experience of millions of others. Considered an outsider artist, he began to get widespread recognition when his art was included in a show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1982. Though he died in 1949, Bill Traylor’s story reminds us that we all have something to share with the world, deep within us. We just have to let it out.
Our last book this month is a beautiful story based on the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Tim Ladwig, “The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights” tells the story of the African American fight for freedom and civil rights in the United States. This extraordinary free-verse poem begins in the hold of slave ship, works its way through slavery and the civil war, and marches through the civil rights movement.
All along the way, we are shown how God was with those struggling to be free: as the star guiding Harriet Tubman and those on the underground railroad, the shoes of those who walked rather then ride during the bus boycott, and even as the bible on which Barrack Obama placed his hand to take the oath as the 44th President of the United States of America. An ode to those who fought to get us where we are, this book also serves as an inspiration to anyone struggling through anything. We are never alone. This is one of my favorite picture books.
Well, that’s all for this month. Happy writing and have a magical month!