Children's Books for Parents and Teachers - book reviews and suggestions for parents and teachers.
African Americans

For centuries, Africans brought to America as slaves and their descendents who were born into slavery were forced to keep their stories alive by telling them aloud. If slaves were caught writing–or teaching others–they were punished by law. Going to school was illegal. This Black History Month (February), in honor of African American storytellers of the past, celebrate today’s black authors whose words create powerful and beautiful literature. At the same time, be sure to take a closer look at the work of black illustrators whose art enhances the printed page. In this column, you’ll find a selection of newly published books and old favorites, written and/or illustrated by black authors and artists. These are only a sampling of titles to share with students. Look in your library for scores of others.

The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit

The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit

By: Julius Lester
Publisher: Puffin (1999)
Level: 10-11

Here are more trickster tales. Uncle Remus narrates these entertaining stories about a wily rabbit, who tries to outsmart every big and little critter around. Lester adds just enough dialect to keep in touch with the spirit of these adventures which feature Brer Rabbit, his friends–and enemies.

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A Ring of Tricksters: Animal Tales From America, the West Indies, and Africa

A Ring of Tricksters: Animal Tales From America, the West Indies, and Africa

By: Virginia Hamilton
Publisher: Scholastic, 1997
Level: 10-11

Many tales handed down from one generation to the next are about “tricksters,” characters who get into trouble and rely on their wits to save themselves. This collection features some of the most popular trickster stories.

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Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

By: John Steptoe
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1987
Level: 8-9

In this fairy tale, the king is searching for a worthy and beautiful wife. Mufaro has two daughters. Nyasha is beautiful and kind. Manyara, while physically attractive, is mean-spirited. Steptoe’s paintings are so light and rich in texture that this picture book should be read aloud to small groups so that each child can clearly see the art.

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The Talking Eggs

The Talking Eggs

By: Robert D. San Souci
Publisher: Dial, 1989
Level: 8-9

Another fairy tale to share is this story of kind, gentle Blanche. She must do all the work for her bossy mother and sister, until one day an old woman comes along and changes everything. Pinkney’s stunning watercolors add a touch of magic to this Creole version of Cinderella.

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Leola and the Honeybears

Leola and the Honeybears

By: Melodye Benson Rosales
Publisher: Scholastic, 1999
Level: 6-7

In this African American version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the main character, Leola, has a mind of her own. Even though her grandmother asks her not to stray from home, she decides, “I’m going to do what I want to.” So Leola wanders off to encounter a frightening Mr. Weasel and the gentle Honeybear family. Rosales’s vivid oil paintings make this oversized picture book a perfect read-aloud.

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In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Their Fathers

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Their Fathers

By: various authors
Publisher: Lee & Low, 1997
Level: 12-13

While I Have a Dream features many artists illustrating one person’s words, this book celebrates the poetry of several black authors accompanied by the extraordinary illustrations of one talented artist, Javako Steptoe.

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Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly

By: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2000
Level: 14+

Another important black leader who struggled for civil rights is Malcolm X. Historic quotes, rich prose, and striking paintings make this picture biography a gem–and one that underscores the possibility of overcoming bad times.

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Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature

Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature

By: Barbara K. Curry & James Michael Brodie
Publisher: Zino Press, 1996
Level: 12-13

This is a compelling chronicle about black American writers. It’s told by a man to his granddaughter after she says, “Please tell me a story. Write it down so I can put it in my pocket and carry it around. Tell me about the people from Africa who came before me.” Bold oil paintings and inspiring quotes tell the history of African American storytellers, writers, and orators beginning with slaves. Featured authors range from Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet, to Toni Morrison, the first African American to …

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Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals

Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals

By: Ashley Bryan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Level: 6-7

With a kaleidoscope of color and cut paper, Hans Christian Anderson Award nominee and two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Ashley Bryan celebrates three favorite spirituals: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The power of these beloved songs simply emanates through his joyous interpretations. Come, sing, and celebrate!

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Henry’s Freedom Box

Henry’s Freedom Box

By: Ellen Levine
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Level: 6-7

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. When Henry grows up and marries, he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous …

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