New titles celebrate Black History Month
The history of African-Americans can (and should) be celebrated any time. But the designation of February as Black History Month brings lots of new, enlightening and entertaining books to share with children.
If you're nimble of tongue, read "Squeak, Rumble, Whomp, Whomp, Whomp: A Sonic Adventure" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 3-7) out loud for a rollicking, frolicking intro to scat.
Wynton Marsalis packs this book with sprightly sounds. Illustrator Paul Rogers creates a winsome young listener who grooves to vehicles, instruments and other everyday noise-makers in cool orange, blue, gold and brown retro drawings.
Hearing this book may awaken a young listener to the sounds of letters or lead to digging jazz. Be sure to point out references to the author's beloved New Orleans.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is newly commemorated in a picture book of the same name (Schwartz & Wade Books, $18.99, ages 6 up). It's handsomely illustrated in oil by Kadir Nelson, winner of multiple Coretta Scott King Illustrator awards. "I Have a Dream" earned a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor this year.
Printed in full on the last two pages, the speech offers cautious and compassionate radicalism often forgotten or ignored during the hellish days following King's assassination.
Young children will be entranced by Mr. Nelson's evocative glowing paintings and challenged by King's vocabulary.
Encourage older children to consider the entire speech, with a grown-up who can explain its historic references and discuss the progress -- the too-slow progress -- we've made since the day it was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
"Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington" by Jabari Asim (Little Brown & Co., $16.99, ages 7-11) reveals the long road, metaphorically and literally, this sometimes controversial educator traveled as a teenager to secure education.
His mother started him reading with Noah Webster's speller (displayed on the book's end pages). He attended a neighborhood school in West Virginia, working all the while. When he learned of a school in Hampton, Va., he was determined to walk the 500 miles to get there.
Although neighbors funded his trip with nickels, dimes and great hope, he ran out of money 82 miles before his destination. He found work in a shipyard so he could continue on his way.
Bryan Collier's multidimensional watercolor collages and lettering are full of evocative detail, texture and shadowing. Bubbles of light symbolize Booker's dream. The print of his shirt shows a map of his travels.
Mr. Asim details Booker's progress in plain language, with deep feeling while also providing background information in an author's note. He describes the older Washington's often maligned disagreements with W.E.B. Du Bois about blacks' place in society.
But he also highlights Washington's dedication to and impact on education as the founder of Tuskegee University in Alabama, one of the foremost black universities in the country.
In contrast, Dave the Potter never gains his freedom from the family that owns him, the Landrums. "Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet" (Lee & Low, $17.95, ages 9-14) by Andrea Cheng explores his life through poetry, based on documented evidence and conjecture.
Because of his ability and the Landrums' unique glazes, Dave's jugs, jars and pots are much desired. But Ms. Cheng never idealizes his faults or the harsh conditions that surround him.
Two marriages end in heart-wrenching separations. Dave is well aware he could be sold away from his beloved art.
He risks loss of a hand or his life for his audacious grasp at identity. He marks his pots with poetry -- concise and clever -- reminiscent of Emily Dickinson's.
Ms. Cheng's decision to use poetry to tell Dave's story parallels the impact of his writing in raw, emotional language.
"Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America" (Disney Jump at the Sun Books, $19.99, ages 9-13) by the wife and husband team of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney is a treasure trove of information.
Ms. Pinkney received the 2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award for this book.
According to her preface, young black men are in need of inspiration in a world where prison, lack of meaningful employment or lives of quiet desperation await many.
Lively language makes it perfect for the classroom or a family read-aloud. But this otherwise low-key book would definitely benefit from a thoughtful introduction by adults.
Among the individuals included are:
Benjamin Banneker, who helped survey our capital in Washington, D.C., and devised Farmers' Almanacs for 1791 and 1792, proving a black astronomer is as capable as a white one.
Frederick Douglass, who defied a cruel "slave breaker" and escaped slavery wearing a borrowed seaman's uniform. He became a renowned orator, biographer and adviser to Abraham Lincoln.
Philip Randolph organized hotel workers and train porters. Thurgood Marshall oversaw the dismantling of school segregation and became the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Jackie Robinson integrated major league sports.
Harvard graduates begin and end the collection: W.E.B. Du Bois, the first black to receive a doctorate in 1896, and Barack Obama, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
President Obama's story is still unfolding. Like his predecessors, he is an inspiration to young black men. But if we wish to fully live out King's dream, his story -- as well as others described above -- needs to be shared with children.
Tina Zubak is a librarian in the children's section at Carnegie Library in Oakland.