Hello, friends! As most of you know, tomorrow begins Black History Month, a time to focus on the importance of black Americans to our history, culture and identity as a nation. We’ll be taking time all this month to read and review books that celebrate black history, important figures, and black culture, and we encourage you to do the same! There are some truly amazing books out there that explore these topics, and we wanted to use this month’s Top 5 list to take a look at a few titles that you may not know about, or that focus on moments in black history that often get overlooked.
So to celebrate the start of February, here’s a few of our favorite books for Black History Month:
1. A Splash Of Red: The Life And Art Of Horace Pippin (Jen Bryant, illus. Melissa Sweet)
Born with a passion and talent for art and a loving and supportive family, Horace Pippin overcomes poverty, war, and a debilitating injury to become a prolific and nationally recognized artist in his own time. This story of Pippin’s life explores his life, his inspiration, and his indomitable determination to create.
“Horace is a wonderful role model, and his story is told beautifully here. Especially lovely are the illustrations, which capture life, mood, and character gorgeously in a style that emulates Pippin’s paintings. […] A fantastic biography of a true artist […]”
2. I, Too, Am America (Langston Hughes, illus. Bryan Collier)
Using the text of the titular poem by Langston Hughes, Collier’s art tells the story of a Pullman railway porter, one of the first American jobs to offer black men decent pay and comparatively dignified work. Following the porter as he uses his position to help other African Americans improve their stations as well, we are then transported to the present, where a young black boy on a subway train peers into what comes next: the future.
“This was a superb book, featuring layers of meaning and interpretation through both Hughes’s words and Collier’s art. Visual and textual metaphors blend together perfectly, creating a story that both examines a very specific part of African-American history with the grand scope of growing up as a black person in America, and the indefatigable spirit doing so requires.”
3. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. R. Gregory Christie)
Told through the eyes of the son of founder Lewis Michaux, Sr., The Book Itch tells the story of the National Memorial African Bookstore, a hub of knowledge, culture, and civil rights activism from 1932 to 1974. Fighting racism and police harassment from his days peddling books from a cart, Lewis Sr. refuses to give up on his “book itch,” and his dream of sharing his passion for books, as well as the impact they can make on the world, with his community.
“[…T]his book is an absolute must-read. It focuses on civil rights, not only historically but as a basic human entitlement, the powers of literature, education, free thought, access to information, and the importance of community, all while telling the story of a remarkable man who believed that knowledge was the right and obligation of every man, woman and child, regardless of color, creed, or status.”
4. Harlem (Walter Dean Myers, illus. Christopher Myers)
Told in free verse, the evocative words of Myers’s poem tells the story of Harlem, the home of a great history and greater hope, celebrating the neighborhood’s one-of-a-kind history of jazz, literature, activism and culture, and writing a love letter to a community built out of a desire for freedom; freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and the freedom to achieve.
“[…T]he gorgeous mixed-media art, which captures as much an emotion as a people and place, is colorful and exciting enough for any little one. Then, once the reader is familiar with the words and rhythm of the text, there is a passion and life to the poem that is impossible to deny, and becomes more affecting with each repeat reading. This is a book that captures the soul of a vibrant, and vital, place in American history, and it’s simply wonderful.”
5. When The Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc And The Creation Of Hip Hop (Laban Carrick Hill, illus. Theodore Taylor III)
An awesome tale of a revolutionary musical innovator and his contribution to the birth of hip hop, When The Beat Was Born tells the story of DJ Kool Herc (born Clive Campbell), a young Jamaican immigrant who brought together his love of the dancehall DJs of his youth with his unique style of mixing and rapping to help create a brand new genre of American music.
“Music history fans will love how the story of this seminal era of musical experimentation is told. For those unfamiliar with the origins of hip hop, this is an awesome primer for all ages that introduces the figures, styles and theory that brought hip hop to be. […] This is a great one, especially for young DJs and MCs looking to learn more about the roots of hip hop and the people who brought it to life.”
That’s our list! And there are many, MANY more stories of African American history and important figures out there – we encourage you to take this month to explore them! Did we miss any of your favorites? Do you have a book you would like to recommend to us? Let us know in the comments, or message us from our Contact page. Thanks so much!