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Notes on Black History Month 2017

At the 2016 Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, author Carole Boston Weatherford said, “Some people would like to close the book of our shared history around race because it is uncomfortable and seems ‘a long time ago.’ But we need to acknowledge realities of that history — from slavery to segregation to current police brutality — in order to move forward.” The following recent nonfiction books (plus one “documentary novel”) delve deeply into that history.

bryan_freedom-over-meA historical document reproduced in Ashley Bryan‘s Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life, dated July 5, 1828, lists the property to be sold from the Fairchilds’ estate. Hogs. Cattle. Men. Women. Children. While no information beyond the gender and name — and price — of each of the enslaved people is noted, Bryan lovingly restores their humanity and dignity. Each person is afforded two double-page spreads of poetry: the first spread serves as his or her introduction; the second is devoted to his or her dreams. The accompanying portraits are etched in a manner similar to wood carvings; the dream spreads are in gloriously brilliant colors. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 8–14 years)

weatherford_you can flyThe thirty-two poems written by Carole Boston Weatherford in You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen bring to life the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Pilots, bombardiers, instructors, maintenance workers, and navigators trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program to fly and maintain combat aircraft. This went against the prevailing racism at the time. The program succeeded, and the Tuskegee Airmen paved the way for the full integration of the military in 1948. Weatherford’s poems are informative and evocative — “The sky’s no limit if you’ve flown / on your own power in countless dreams” — accompanied by Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s dramatic black-and-white scratchboard illustrations. (Atheneum, 11–14 years)

rubin_brown-v-board-of-educationIn 1950, Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund sought to overturn the doctrine of “separate but equal,” which made segregation a way of life in the United States. In Brown v. Board of Education: A Fight for Simple Justice, Susan Goldman Rubin succeeds in presenting complicated legal history in an accessible manner for young readers. She skillfully builds on the inherent drama of the events, as Marshall and his fellow lawyers work tirelessly to present the best possible arguments for each case they represent, then wait on tenterhooks for the decision. Back matter includes a useful summary of the legal cases and the text of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Holiday, 11–14 years)

powell_loving vs virginiaOrganized chronologically, the alternating first-person narratives in Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, written in free verse by Patricia Hruby Powell, begin in 1952 as Mildred Jeter enters sixth grade at the “colored” school; six years her senior and a dropout from the white high school, Richard Loving works as a bricklayer. Their teenage romance grows into a marriage that violated Virginia’s interracial marriage ban. The Supreme Court took up the case in 1967, resulting in a unanimous decision: anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. Shadra Strickland’s energetic drawings capture many personal moments. Interviews Powell conducted with family and friends of the Lovings add an impressive level of detail. (Chronicle, 12 years and up)

From the February 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

To commemorate Black History Month, we are highlighting a series of articles, speeches, and reviews from The Horn Book archive that are by and/or about African American authors, illustrators, and luminaries in the field — one a day through the month of February, with a roundup on Fridays. Click the tag HBBlackHistoryMonth17 and look for #HBBlackHistoryMonth17 on Facebook.com/TheHornBook and @HornBook. You can find more resources about social justice and activism at our Talking About Race and Making a Difference resource pages.

The Horn Book celebrates Black History Month

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Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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  1. Everyone should be respectful towards Black History Month, as this is just a day to acknowledge their achievements.Show respect to everyone.

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