5 Amazing Heroes You Need To Know For Black History Month
And an update on winter survival
My town has replaced the Christmas decorations in our town circle with sparkling pink and purple hearts and that is always the signal I need that who-oa we’re halfway there, who-oa livin’ on a prayer. I don’t particularly care for Valentine’s Day but it is the much-needed cue that I just need to survive winter a little while longer.
In my winter post in December (chockfull of cozy winter children’s books), I shared my game plan on how I was going to ✨thrive✨ this winter and I thought I would share how that’s going:
Going outside has been successful and preserved my mental health. Even during the arctic blast, getting some grey Vitamin D was non-negotiable
Hygge-ifying my home has been mission-critical. Candle-lighting (and snuffing, my kid would want me to add) has been a delight. Sipping cups of coffee with a sweet treat in the afternoons has been soul-replenishing. Fresh flowers have been the perfect reminder that spring is not too far away
Baking and eating cake on the regular. Coming out of the holidays when indulgence is usually off the charts, I’ve always leaned into January as restoring equilibrium. But I’ve made an exception for weekly baking. Every Sunday I bake a small cake, nothing fancy, to tide me over for the week. It looks drab but tastes delicious
Watching All Creatures Great and Small on PBS has been cathartic. I’ve realized that all I need to lift my mood is a cozy community in the lush Dales countryside with a (literal) soothing, healing spirit. I did finish Season 4 of Miss Scarlet and the Duke and it was, unfortunately, spectacularly disappointing
Lazy parenting has been a big fat fail. Maybe I work on this one for the rest of the year and nail it come next winter 😏
Last year, I wrote about some of my favorite children’s books written or illustrated by Black authors and artists. This year, I decided to focus on Black heroes who have had a critical impact on history and, in some cases, are not well-known. Spanning different arenas, every one of these people is incredible in their own right and their stories need to be heard.
Baby Ballers: Venus and Serena Williams
Written by Bernadette Baillie and Illustrated by Marta Garatea
Recommended Ages: 0-3 years old
If you’re a Millenial or older, you’re familiar with how the Williams sisters have transformed the game of tennis. When they first came on the scene, the sport was dominated by white players. Today, when you think of American tennis players (across men and women), the Williams sisters are the first to come to mind. Told through rhyme, kids will enjoy the delightfully bright cartoon illustrations that share their journey to become some of the best tennis players in the world.
Saving The Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal
Written by Karyn Parsons and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years old
We’re used to hearing the phrase: “You can be anything you want to be.” At a time when it was near impossible to live with dignity and safety as a Black person let alone have the luxury of dreaming about how you wanted to change the world, Garrett Morgan overcame the odds and became a prolific inventor. Despite being virtually unknown, his contributions have been critical to modern society. The joyous rhyme weaves the reader into Morgan’s life story and we see how a boy from a large family grew to invent the traffic signal (amongst many other significant ones). Christie’s acrylic gouache illustrations saturate the page with rich hues that have you moving through the story with exhilaration as Morgan inches toward his extraordinary invention. This book will resonate with kids learning or fascinated by traffic signals and the symbolism of the red-yellow-green lights that silently command the roads.
"All are given a gift. Something you cannot learn. It's what you do with that gift, That's your gift in return."
Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker
Written by Patricia Hruby Powell and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Recommended Ages: 7-10 years old
Ella Baker is a testament to all women everywhere who have quietly led resistance and revolution in the shadows of men. This stunning picture book brings forth, through verse, all that Ella Baker led and achieved during the Civil Rights movement in the US. Holding on to a core belief, “lift as you climb,” Baker focused on the poorer masses rather than the Black elites her male counterparts were preoccupied with. Her involvement led to a true grassroots movement that united the interests of Black people across the spectrum of income and education. This refrain echoes throughout the pages: “What do you hope to accomplish?” It’s what Baker asks of herself, people in the Black communities she organizes, and, ultimately, the reader. She squarely reminds us that we are capable of making change. Christie knocks it out of the park with hand-painted artwork depicting scenes throughout Baker’s life.
I do want to raise to your attention that the book frequently uses the word “Negro.” It is never used pejoratively and is more reflective of the language then. This may be a good opportunity to discuss this word and its historical and present-day context.
“She was always the poised lady, always Miss Baker posing the question, 'WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?’”
Written by Jonah Winter and Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Recommended Ages: 8-10 years old
Although Thurgood Marshall is well known, I would argue (pun intended) that we don’t know enough about how he became the legend he is. This enjoyable book is written in an interesting way: it presents hard facts and then weaves in narrative to flesh out Marshall’s life. The story is gripping with engaging language and portrays the reality of what the world was like for Black Americans—the same reality Marshall was determined to change. This book sent chills down my spine with how well it balanced the magnitude of all that Thurgood Marshall accomplished with the force of his personality and conviction. The watercolor and collage bring Marshall to life; you can feel the injustices and the ferocity of his desire for change sizzling off the page. This is a must-read.
“Was he angry? After a lifetime of being treated like a second-class citizen because of the color of his skin? After enduring all that hatred, all those hurtful laws intended to keep black people powerless? DARN RIGHT HE WAS ANGRY.”
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Recommended Ages: 9-12 years old
Many of the unsung heroes in history are those who faithfully seek out and preserve historical records. Arturo Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican, was one such man. From an early age, he knew the importance of knowing one’s heritage. He was determined to find out as much as he could about the history and contributions of people with African origins to uplift Black people everywhere. Weatherford’s gorgeous narrative verse has us, as readers, along for the ride as we make historical discoveries alongside Schomburg. Aside from the stunning oil and watercolor artwork, what I loved most was just how much we learned from this book. Not only do we learn about African American history but we explore the struggle of people with African origins in other parts of the world too (e.g. Haiti) and how the historical record has erased the brilliance of Black people. It’s a moving read and one where you walk away wondering: Why haven’t we heard of Schomburg and all that he discovered about Black history?
"Through the pages of history, Arturo toured the diaspora. His sense of Africana transcended national boundaries. Heritage for him was braided from many threads."
If you’re looking for grown-up reads celebrating Black writers, you need to look no further than The Cookout (hosted byof the exquisite Raising Myles newsletter)
I’ve been wondering…
How are you faring this winter? What’s kept you going?
What are some things you do to recognize Black History Month?
In case you missed it…
Want me to cover a topic I haven’t covered yet? Let me know here.
Last week I spoke about why diversity is so critical in children’s books and asked if you’re willing to share YOUR experience with feeling underrepresented in children’s books.
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