To kick off Black History Month, Google chose Harriet Tubman for its daily Google logo on February 1, 2014. It is so cool on so many levels. It also ties nicely with our theme for Black History Month this year: Strong Women for Strong Girls.
When I read Patricia Hruby Powell’s new book Josephine, the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, I couldn’t wait to share it with my daughter. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story … and one that I did not know.
That was when I decided to share some of our favorite books about incredibly influential women of color – trail blazers, independent thinkers, confident women. Women whose stories are not talked about as often as other more well-known symbols of influence.
Black History Month: A Collection of Biographies
Music called to Josephine Baker, and when it did, she had to dance. When she heard that there was an all-black show on Broadway, she left her husband and went to New York. New York in the 1920s was segregated. When she went to Paris, she discovered Parisians thought “black is beautiful.” There, she became the star she had dreamed of being as a girl. This is an illustrated biography of Josephine Baker told in verse.
Reader thoughts: I have read this book three times already. By telling Josephine’s story in verse, reader is drawn into a rhythm befitting of the music of her era (1920s, 1930s). The author does a wonderful job weaving in the social and cultural contexts of the time. There are nuggets that most of us didn’t know or wouldn’t have considered (international adoption in the 1930s!), and they create openings for interesting conversation.
Betty Winston Baye is a journalist for The Courier Journalin Louisville, Kentucky. This strong, sensitive, experienced, competent, and well-educated black woman shares her thoughts and feelings about the influence that family, religion, role models, mentors, and friends have had on her life. This is an autobiographical selection of some of Ms. Winston Baye’s articles and editorials.
Reader thoughts: The articles in this collection educate, encourage, support, and praise those trying to take control of their lives and families. Though the material has universal appeal, the author strongly focuses on the challenges that face women, in general, and women of color, in particular. This book can be a valuable resource for parents, teachers, and counselors of teenagers as conversation starters on self-esteem, responsibility, and racism, to name a few.
Phillis Wheatley is a young African girl brought to America during the mid-1700s. She is placed with a family that nurtures her natural abilities. Treated with kindness and taught to read and write, Phillis begins to write poetry about her life and times during the Revolutionary War and the people that affected her life. Phillis Wheatley is the first African American and the first slave to publish a book. This is a biographical history for middle readers.
Reader thoughts: This is an interesting, strong biography for middle-grade readers. The text flowed well and the narrative was engaging. Phillis Wheatley is not someone whom you hear of frequently and yet she would be a great role model for children. I really learned a great deal about her and her tremendous contribution to the new America.
Meet the black men and women who played important roles in our history. From colonial times, through the American Revolution ,and in the years that followed. They individuals came from all walks of life and lived throughout the young nation. This is a nonfiction picture book that introduces preteens to historic figures they’ve not heard about.
Reader thoughts: This book offers a wonderful way of not just showing, but engaging kids in understanding the role black men and women played in the early years of the country. These are primarily individuals who have been largely ignored by other history books. The hands-on activities are an added bonus.