Beyond Jackie Robinson: Recommendations for Black History Month

February is Black History Month.  This month individuals such as Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  are remembered for their contributions to our society; for breaking down barriers and moving our country forward.  A quick search of a library or bookstore will find picture books about these individuals prominently displayed.

So I’m not going to talk about these folks.  If you want to find book recommendations for these historical figures, a quick Google search is all you need.

In the interest of being a little different, I’m want to introduce you to some new folks.  The following titles are stories of famous African-Americans who, like Robinson, Parks, and King, broke barriers and made major contributions to our society.  But these stories are ones you and your children may not know.  Which is why I want to give them a moment in the spotlight.

Meet Ron:

Ron's Big Mission by Corinne Naden: Book CoverRon’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, illustrated by Don Tate (Dutton, 2009)

It’s 1959 and 9-year-old Ron McNair has a dream-a dream of flying a plane.  But before that dream comes true, Ron has another goal.  What Ron does on this summer day takes more courage than most 9-year-olds possess, but becomes the first step along a path that ultimately takes him beyond his wildest imaginings.  Ages 4-8.

Meet Marcenia:

Catching the Moon by Crystal Hubbard: Book CoverCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Lee & Low, 2005)

Marcenia Lyle lives for baseball.  But in the 1930s, African-American girls grow up to be teachers, or nurses, or maids-not baseball players.  When Marcenia hears of the opportunity to attend a baseball camp, she knows this is her big chance.  Not one to let obstacles stand in her way, Marcenia sets out to prove that this girl can be anything she wants to be.  Ages 4-8.

Meet James and Thomas:

The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner: Book CoverThe Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Holyfield (G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2010)

In 1932, James Banning and Thomas Allen, “the Flying Hoboes” fix up a crumbling plane and leave Los Angeles for New York.  From Texas, to Oklahoma, to Indiana, to Pennsylvania, these two determined pilots give new meaning to “on a wing and a prayer.”  While they are ultimately successful in reaching their final destination, the true story lies in the journey itself.  Ages 4-8.

Meet Henry:

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine: Book CoverHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Scholastic Press, 2007)

Henry Brown believes that he will someday be free.  While he waits for that day, he obeys his master, follows the rules, and works long hours twisting tobacco.  But when his wife and children are sold and sent away, Henry decides he cannot wait any longer.  If freedom will not come to Henry, then Henry will come to freedom–and in a way most children would never imagine.  Ages 4-8.

Meet Little Henry Bell:

Up the Learning Tree by Marcia Vaughan: Book CoverUp The Learning Tree by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Derek Blanks (Lee & Low, 2003)

Like most slaves, young Henry Bell is forbidden from learning to read and write.  Yet Henry suspects that books hold something powerful, and so he finds a way to attend school secretly.  While not technically a true story like the ones mentioned above, as a (former) classroom teacher I could not leave this one out.  Teachers, this one reminds us of why we chose our field.  Ages 4-8.

What about you?  Do you have any titles to add to the list?  I’m always on the look-out for something new!

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