Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Favorite Picture Books by Black Authors

YA books are my sweet spot, but I also wanted to highlight some picture books by Black authors as well.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

I thought I was obsessed with Vashti Harrison's artwork in Little Leaders, but then I went to her IG page and WOW. This is an amazing book to read to kids to get them interested in Black history and a great jumping off point for further research. If you don’t have a kid to read it to, you should still check it out for the gorgeous artwork.

“Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders book first started off during a social media challenge to create art throughout Black History Month. Eventually, these drawings became the beginning of Harrison’s first bestselling book. Harrison created images of black girls dressing up as different female role models from history and turned them into a book in which she tells these women’s stories. She says she wrote these books with her younger self in mind, imagining the types of people she would have wanted to read about, the people who would inspire her to keep dreaming.”

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

My son and I loved Crown and the King of Kindergarten, and hearing Derrick Barnes speak was especially inspiring. I was really looking forward to I Am Every Good Thing, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. I watched footage of local protests on the news, and my son wanted to go "walk with everyone." It only seemed natural that the conversations that inspired would also have a powerful book to really hit the point home.

The Black boy that tells this story is showing us every unique thing that makes him who he is - something that is often overlooked when it comes to news stories and biases. The book is dedicated to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, EJ Bradford, Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Julian Mallory, all Black boys who were senselessly killed, often by police officers.

Kirkus called this book “a much-needed book for Black children when society demonstrates otherwise,” and I agree, while also finding it important for white children (AND adults) to read so they can develop empathy and understand that Black children are just as important as they are, especially with the current racial climate and ignorance some people have about basic human rights.

The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Ethel L. Payne was born in 1911. She went to school with white people, even though she was harassed and beaten for it. The school paper wouldn’t let her work for them because she was black, but they published her first story. Payne went to college and studied writing. She went to Japan and wrote about how Black American soldiers were treated.

When she returned to the United States, Payne worked for the Chicago Defender, one of two Black daily newspapers at the time. After 3 years of covering politics, Payne became one of three Black journalists to be given a White House press pass. She was outspoken and became known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Payne died in 1991 and has since been honored on a US stamp - one of only four female journalists to be featured.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

I can’t believe I didn’t know about Mary Walker, but I’m glad I learned about her in this book. She was born into slavery in 1848. After being freed at 15, someone gave her a Bible. She wanted to read it, but had never learned. She couldn’t write, so she just made marks in the front to note her sons’ birth dates. She outlived her entire family and finally decided to learn to read. She was scared she was too old to learn, but she worked hard and never gave up. At 116, she could read! She lived to be 121.

Mora’s illustrations are amazing, showing the reader the way Walker sees scribbles all around her, then words after she learns to read. The endpapers include real photos of Mary Walker.

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