For Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of both recommended nonfiction books about important people and events and engaging fiction titles starring African American protagonists. Here’s a sampling of those new books to enjoy and share.
In his autobiographical graphic novel March: Book One (cowritten by Andrew Aydin), Congressman John Lewis — the last surviving member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders — recounts his formative years. The book opens on “Bloody Sunday” then fast-forwards to Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, where Lewis shares his memories with young visitors to his congressional office. There’s something extraordinary about reading a firsthand account of a seminal moment in history from one who not only lived through it but also led it, which is what makes this book so essential. Illustrator Nate Powell’s nuanced visual storytelling complements Lewis’s account beautifully. (Top Shelf, 11–15 years)
In The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, author Steve Sheinkin follows navy recruits at Port Chicago in California doing one of the few service jobs available to black sailors at the beginning of World War II: loading bombs and ammunition onto battleships. When an explosion left more than three hundred dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. Sheinkin focuses the events through the experience of Joe Small, who led the protest against the dangerous and unequal working conditions. This is an unusual and thought-provoking entry point for study of World War II and the nascent civil rights movement. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)
Fans of Shelia P. Moses’s Buddy Bush novels (The Legend of Buddy Bush, The Return of Buddy Bush; both McElderry, 10–13 years) will be happy to find The Sittin’ Up set in 1940 in the same part of the country (rural North Carolina). At the start of the book, one-hundred-year-old former slave Mr. Bro. Wiley, a beloved member of the community of Low Meadows, has just died. Twelve-year-old narrator Bean Jones is eager to experience an important rite of passage on his way to becoming a man: he is taking part in the funeral and “sittin’ up.” Bean’s narration is lively and appealing in this rich tapestry of story. (Putnam, 10–13 years)
In contemporary New York, Ali’s thing is boxing; his best friend Noodles’s is comic books; Noodles’s brother Needles’s is…knitting. The three teens, stars of When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, live in Brooklyn’s tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and their pastimes are as much survival strategies as they are personality quirks. Narrator Ali is a good kid, but Noodles is angry about something; Needles knits, at the suggestion of Ali’s mother, as a way to keep his Tourette syndrome under control. In his Horn Book Magazine article “What Makes a Good YA Urban Novel?“, teacher Randy Ribay asks for books that show that “people are people above and beyond their zip codes.” Here’s one. (Atheneum, 11–15 years)
From the February 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.