As publishers do an increasingly better job of producing more books with diverse characters, I am delighted to see more children’s books celebrating a wider variety of people and events, and also more books telling the stories of everyday families. Black History Month gives us the opportunity to celebrate black history and culture with some of these recently released books.
“Black is a Rainbow Color” by Angela Joy. A little girl creating a drawing of a rainbow is sad that her color, black, is not in the rainbow. She starts thinking about all the wonderful places where black is: feathers, her friend’s braids, bicycle tires, spit-shined shoes, the ink that makes words on the page. She also thinks about how “Black is a culture.” It is history, family, memory, community. When she looks at her box of crayons, she realizes that one of the crayons is black, and in there, “Black is a rainbow, too.”
“Going Down Home with Daddy” by Kelly Starling Lyons. A family packs up the car to head south for a family reunion. Lil Alan and his sister look forward to this every year—seeing their Granny, cousins, and aunts and uncles. The kids play around the farm and talk about what they will each contribute to the celebration. One cousin plans to sing a song, another will read a poem. Lil Alan is anxious, because he hasn’t yet planned what he will do. On a hay ride around the farm, Lil Alan’s dad tells them how important the land is, how slaves dreamed of freedom on the land, how their family fought Jim Crow laws on the land, and how his grandfather and grandmother bought the land. Lil Alan finally thinks of what he can do as his tribute. He honors the land by acknowledging the cotton that makes the quilts that keep them warm, the pecan trees the kids love to climb, and the dirt that creates the family’s farm that brings them together each year and reminds all of them of their bonds to each other.
“Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry. Zuri’s hair lets her be whoever she wants to be. Braids make her feel like a princess; puffs make her feel like a superhero. On this special day, Zuri needs a perfect hairstyle. Her dad tries out several styles, but none of them is right. Finally, Zuri has an idea. Together, they watch a video for the perfect hairstyle. Her dad combs, oils, twists, and gets it right! Zuri is all smiles as her mom comes through the door to her welcome home party. “Hair Love” has received some well-deserved attention lately, as author Cherry wrote and directed the Oscar-winning animated short film that brings this book to life.
“The Old Truck” by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey. A cheerful red pickup helps a young couple and their little girl do the work on their family farm, carrying baskets of vegetables and bringing the family where they need to go. But after working so hard, the truck grows old and can’t work any more. The little girl dreams of what the truck might do when it is resting, that it might become a boat or a plane and explore the world. As the truck grows older, so does the little girl, until she is an adult running the farm. One day, she pulls the old truck out of the weeds that have grown up around it to start fixing it up and getting it running. In the end, the old truck looks good as new, once again carrying baskets of vegetables in its bed.
“Overground Railroad” by Lesa Cline–Ransome. “Overground Railroad” tells the story of an African American family in the mid-1900s, moving north to escape the economic and social oppression of the south.
Leaving in the middle of the night, Ruth Ellen and her parents board a train bound for New York. The journey emphasizes the change they are making: initially forced to sit in the “colored car,” as the train moves north, the “whites only” signs are removed and Ruth Ellen and her parents can move to a less crowded car. Along the ride, Ruth Ellen thinks about those who were enslaved, escaping slavery by following the Underground Railroad and how, like them, her family is “running from and running to at the same time.” It is hard to take a complicated event like the Great Migration and present it in a way that is both understandable and engaging for children, and “Overground Railroad” does it.