The Other Side – Black History Month

The Other Side

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

E.B. Lewis, Illustrations, Fiction, 2001

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and Up

Themes:  Diversity, Friendship, Racial Equality, Segregation

Opening/Synopsis That summer the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.  We live in a yellow house on one side of it.  White people live on the other.  And Mama said, “Don’t climb over that fence when you play.”  She said it wasn’t safe.  Two girls, one white (Annie) and one black (Clover)  live in houses on the opposite sides of the fence.  Every morning, Annie climbs up on the fence and sits and watches Clover and her friends jumping rope.  They don’t invite Annie to play.  She sits on the fence every day rain or shine.  She dances in rain puddles by herself.  One day Clover goes over to the fence and climbs up to sit with Annie.   They become good friends and spend the entire summer sitting on the fence that the adults built to separate their two communities.

What I like about this book:  This is an excellent book to discuss the history of racism and diversity with children.  Clover narrates this realistic and lyrical book by Jacqueline Woodson.  E.B. Lewis’s beautiful water-color illustrations give the book a warm and friendly feeling.   This book clearly shows how children don’t see color.   They are puzzled by the fence between the black and white neighborhoods in their small town.  They don’t disobey the rules, but find a clever way around them by sitting together on top of the fence.  They aren’t going to let a fence get in the way of  their friendship.  Woodson does an outstanding job of showing that friendship can overcome any racial barrier.  This is the 11th anniversary of this classic book.  It continues to be a great book  for classroom discussions.

Activities:  There are two resource links for  The Other Side.  The second is an activity section that can be used with Woodson’s book.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom

The Escape of Oney Judge

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux, Historical Fiction, 2007

Suitable for: Ages 6 and Up

Themes/Topics:  Slavery, African-American, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis: “Oney!  Come here, child.”  It was Mrs. Washington!  Oney ran to her and curtsied, as the house slaves did.  Had the mistress caught her doing something wrong?  “Oney, I’ve had my eye on you,”  the great lady said.  I see a bright girl who can learn.  Tomorrow you will take up a needle and sew alongside your mother in the Mansion.”  “Oh, thank you, ma’am.” Oney cried.  “I’ll be glad to work with Mama!”  Oney knows why she was selected to work in the big house at Mt. Vernon.  It was because her father was white and she was light-skinned.   But, she’s also very bright and loved learning new things.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Oney was puzzled that liberty meant freedom for people, but not for slaves.  Mrs. Washington treated Oney like one of her own children, but she wouldn’t allow Oney to learn how to read or write.  Oney was especially close to the Washington’s daughter, Nelly.  After the general was elected president, Mrs. Washington chose Oney to be her personal maid at the first capital in New York City.  Oney studied ladies’ gowns to see how they were cut and sewn, and designed all of Mrs. Washington’s clothing and caps.  But, she never allowed Oney to earn money when she sewed for other women.

When the capital was moved to Philadelphia, Oney learned about slaves who were free.  Mrs. Washington told Oney one night that after she died, she would give Oney to her newly married granddaughter.  Oney knew the husband would sell her to  a stranger, so she began to plan her escape.  While  the Washington’s were preparing to return to Mount Vernon, Oney saw her opportunity to leave.  She ran to a white friend’s home where she hid until arrangements could be made for her escape.  She didn’t know where she would end up.  The Washington’s didn’t give up their search for Oney, even after she  married a free black slave and had a child.  They tracked Oney for years.  McCully shows how very determined this young woman was to be free.

Why I liked this book:  Little is written for children about the slaves of President George Washington and our Founding Fathers.  Emily McCully gives kids a realistic understanding of that period in our history.   She did an excellent job of researching Oney Judge Staines.  Her illustrations capture the mood of that revolutionary time.  George Washington was a good president, but he never took a public stand against slavery.  Washington hoped for its end, and he freed his own slaves upon his death.  Oney ended up in New Hampshire where she lived with her husband and three children.   I ran across a series of letters George Washington wrote trying to track Oney.  They are preserved in the Weeks Public Library and are very interesting.  She died in 1848, and her death certificate read “domestic servant.”  The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winner.   Activity:  Click on Oney Judge for classroom activities.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Freedom Song – Perfect Picture Book

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown

Sally M. Walker, Author

Sean Qualls, Illustrator

Harper, Jan. 3, 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, the Underground Railroad

Opening/Synopsis “When Henry Brown came into this world, his family sang.  Mama blew kisses on his soft, brown belly.  Papa named him Henry, held him high to the sky.  Sisters and brothers tickled his toes.  Mama’s cooking grew Henry tall.  Papa’s stories grew Henry smart.  The whole family’s love grew Henry strong.  Even though they were slaves on Master’s plantation. “  As Henry worked in the cotton fields and gardens, he made up workday songs.  At night, he knew about children who were sold.  So he sang a silent freedom song in his head, hoping that his family would stay together.  Henry grew up, and his master sent him to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.  He met a woman, Nancy, and fell in love.  They married and had four children.  Music and rhythm filled his head.  He sang his songs to his children, and to workers.  One day the master sold his wife and children.  Henry couldn’t save his family.  He felt powerless, and was filled with grief and despair.  He stopped singing.  Only one silent song remained in his heart, his freedom song and “its think, plan, take-yourself-to-freedom-land words were getting stronger every day.”   With the help of secret friends, Henry developed a most unusual plan to escape.

Why I like this story:  This is a remarkable story about one man’s courage and determination to be free.   It is based on the true story of Henry Brown, who was born in 1815, near Richmond, Virginia.  Sally Walker did a lot of research as she wrote Henry’s story.  Her text is captivating and lyrical.  Sean Qualls’ beautiful illustrations capture the mood of Henry’s  journey through laughter, despair and strength.   There is an excellent Author’s Note and a letter to the Anti-Slavery Office in 1849, documenting his extraordinary escape.  The letter is from the Collection of The New York Historical Society.  Activity:  This is an excellent book to discuss during Black History Month.  Here are some helpful activity resources to use in the classroom:  The Freedom Center,  samples of freedom songs that were sung as signal songs by the slaves, and the Underground Railroad.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

One Million Men and Me

One Million Men and Me 

Kelly Starling Lyons, Author

Peter Ambush, Illustrator

Just Us Books, Inc., 2007, Historical fiction

Suitable for:  Kindergarten and up  (Ages 5 nd up)

OpeningMy cousin, Omari, said no girls were allowed.  But Daddy took me.  Our bus rumbled through ebony night.  My head snuggled into Daddy’s warm chest until pink rose around us and the driver called, “Washington, D.C.”   A father takes his daughter, Nia, on a long bus trip to take part in a march with one million men.  They walked peacefully, sang songs and “stood tall and proud as mighty oaks, the men, Daddy and me.”  They listened to speakers like Maya Angelou, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan.  Everyone held hands in unity.  Nia notices that their faces were filled with pride and their hearts filled with hope.  Everyone seemed to know everyone as they all nodded, smiled and hugged each other.  At the reflecting pool Nia makes a wish.  She will never forget the day her daddy took her on a journey where she made history with one million men.

Why I like this story:  This story is about one special day, Oct. 16, 1995, when a generation of one million African-American men made history.  A generation of proud men committed to make changes for themselves and their communities.  They peacefully gathered at the Lincoln Memorial garnering the attention of the media worldwide.  Among them was the author, who covered the story as a journalist.  In the sea of men, Kelly spotted a father gripping his daughter’s hand near the Reflecting Pool.  “She walked like a little princess among kings,” said Kelly.  This one little girl inspired Kelly to tell  this momentous occasion through Nia’s eyes.  The story is poetic and heartwarming, the illustrations are bold and beautiful, befitting of the occasion.  The children who will read this book today, weren’t even born.  One Million Men and Me is an excellent classroom book.

Activity:  You can learn more about the history of the  Million Men March in the back story at the end of the book, and by visiting Kelly Starling Lyons website.  The author also has a classroom guide with discussion questions and activities and printable coloring pages and other materials.  On Martin Luther King Day participate in a  walk or activity in your community.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend – Perfect Picture Book

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend

Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, Authors

John Holyfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, September 2011,  Historical Fiction

Suitable for: Children 5-8 years

Themes:  Animals in history, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Opening/Synopsis: Alex sat on bench outside the store.  He wanted to go and play, but his mother had told him to wait for her.  There was nothing to do on the porch but watch an old mule eating in the garden across the street.  There was no breeze.  It was so still that Alex could hear the mule munching on a row of bright collard greens.  An old woman, Miz Pettaway, sat down on the bench next to Alex and chuckled, “Ol’ Belle?  She can have all the collards she wants.  She’s earned it.”  Alex learns from Miz Pettaway that Belle has played a very important role in the history of the civil rights movement.

This is a true story about an amazing mule, from a poor community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.  Few could afford a car, so the community of farmers depended on the mules to help them work the land.  In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Gee’s Bend and inspired the African-American community to register to vote.   Miz Pettaway, said “they felt strong after Dr. King spoke.”  So many of the local “Benders” traveled to Camden to vote that the sheriff shut down the ferry.  But, stubborn and determined,  the Benders  boarded wagons pulled by mules and defied the local authorities.   When Dr. King died, Gee’s Bend received a call asking if their mules would pull Dr. King’s coffin through the streets of Atlanta during the funeral.  Belle and another mule Ada, did the honors that day.  Alex sees the mule through new eyes — a hero.

Why I liked this Book:  I applaud the authors, Ramsey and Stroud, for their very fresh approach to telling the story of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.  Holyfield’s bold and colorful acrylic illustrations evoke the determination and the drama of that time in history.  The book is an intergenerational book and should be in every classroom for this year’s Martin Luther King celebrations.  It won a Parent’s Choice Award in 2011.  There is an author’s note at the end of the book about this true story of the mules who pulled the funeral wagon from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College in 1968.  Belle and Ada were an important part of history.  And Miz Pettaway did exist, a I found an interview with her.  She was among the famous Gee’s Bend quilters.  Links to resourcesEducation World and Teacher Vision.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Perfect Picture Book – Chocolate Me!

Chocolate Me!

Taye Diggs, author and Shane W. Evans, illustrator

Feiwel and Friends, September 2011. Fiction

Suitable for: Preschool and Up

Themes:  Racial,  Diversity,  Self-esteem, Self-respect

Synopsis: “Sitting on my stoop when I was five not like Timmy or Johnny, or even Mark.  Though I wanted a name like theirs.  Chocolate me.  When we’d play, they’d say, ‘Look where your skin begins!  It’s brown like dirt.  Does it hurt to wash off?  Chocolate me.”   A boy recognizes that he’s different when his friends ask him why his skin is so dirty, his hair so poofy, his teeth so white, his nose so big and wide.  His feelings are hurt until he discovers he’s perfect in every way.

Why I Like this book:  Chocolate Me! is a touching story for children of color who sometimes feel different and left out.   It has a very simple message, love who  you are even if you look different from your friends.   The book is also for families who want to start teaching their children about diversity at an early age.  Activity:  This is a beautiful book for classroom discussions about diversity — how we may look different and how we are alike.  For classroom activities and resources visit Precious Children: Activities that Promote Racial and Cultural Awareness.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved