Books for Black History Month

It was a library miracle! My usually restless fifth graders amazed me with their rapt attention as I read SIT-IN How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. This book written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney proved to be a catalyst for an excellent discussion on the Civil Rights Movement.

What I like about this book is that it’s told in a straightforward manner and speaks of the nonviolent approach four African American college students took in order to be served at a WHITE ONLY lunch counter in 1960. All they wanted was “a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side” – a phrase that is repeated throughout the book. Poignant quotes and life messages in large font and bold colors appear in the story. “We must… meet hate with love.” “Demonstrate calm dignity.” This book reveals how objectives can be achieved by quiet determination and nonviolence. In the back of the book, there is a Civil Rights Timeline and a note by the author which aids in class discussions.

Throughout the year I pull many different types of books to provide students with a variety of reading choices, but Black History Month offers the opportunity to concentrate on reintroducing names, faces, issues, ideas, and achievements of African Americans.

Below are several other books I like to use with different grade levels during this time.

Henry’s Freedom Boxa Caldecott Honor Book, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson is a true story about the Underground Railroad. Kadir Nelson’s fabulous illustrations reach out and pull you into Ellen Levine’s story about Henry “Box” Brown, a slave, who mails himself in a wooden box from Richmond, Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This book is a perfect segue into discussions about the Underground Railroad.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Newbery Honor Book, Show Way, highlights the generations of women in her family, spanning from slave times to the present time, and how the quilt-making tradition was passed down from generation to generation. Woodson’s poetic use of words tells the history of her family and the history of star, moon, and road patterns sewn into the quilts that contained secret codes, a show way, for those slaves escaping to freedom in the North. From the unique cut out design on the cover of the book to Hudson Talbott’s distinctive use of muslin and quilt patterns in his illustrations, Show Way is perfect for sharing during Black History Month.

Another book written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis is The Other Side. It’s about two girls – one black, one white – and a fence that separates the black side of town from the white side of town. It’s about those two girls who choose not to see their difference in color and become friends by sitting together on that fence. The story ends on a perfect note when one of the girls says, “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.”

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