February is a special time for celebrating seminal figures and events from African-American history. Six new books pay tribute to the black pioneers of the past—trailblazers who made progress on the road to equality.
FINDING THE RIGHT PATH
Sandra Neil Wallace’s engaging biography Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery (ages 4 to 8) is a powerful story about the importance of dreams. Young Ernest loves to draw. When it rains, he scribbles figures in the mud with a stick. In his sketchbooks, he captures scenes from his Durham, North Carolina, neighborhood. He wants nothing more than to become an artist, but in the 1940s South, his chances are slim. When a coach recruits him for the high school football team, Ernest begins a successful career in sports. He’s offered 26 scholarships and plays with the pros. But through it all, he holds onto his desire to express himself—and in the end his dreams pay off. The story of his transition from athlete to artist is brought to vivid life through Bryan Collier’s rich illustrations. Featuring breathtaking examples of Barnes’ work, this is a top-notch introduction to an important artist.
CELEBRATING FEARLESS WOMEN
Vashti Harrison’s mini-encyclopedia of African-American heroines, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (ages 8 to 12), is accessible, informative and appealing. Featuring 40 brave and brilliant women who made significant contributions in the areas of politics, art, sports, education and entertainment, the book includes capsule biographies and magical portraits that capture each woman’s unique vocation. Readers will find a wide range of notables in this delightful anthology. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ella Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston and Raven Wilkinson are among those who receive tribute. Harrison also spotlights contemporary figures such as Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and Julie Dash, and she provides a thoughtful reading list and information on additional resources. Her inviting illustrations—certain to capture the imaginations of little readers—make the book extra special. This outstanding volume is a great way to connect kids with role models and a title that’s sure to spark further study.
BEFORE HE PLAYED BALL
In The United States v. Jackie Robinson (ages 4 to 8), Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen delivers a fascinating chronicle of the early life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Young Jack grows up under segregation in Pasadena, California. His family is shunned by the neighbors, but Jack’s mother encourages her children to believe in themselves. A star athlete in college, Jack enlists in the army after Pearl Harbor is attacked, and there he continues to experience discrimination. One day, he sits down in the middle of the army bus, and the driver orders him to move to the back. When Jack refuses, he’s court-martialed and finds himself facing the threat of jail time. During the agonizing trial that follows, he holds tight to his beliefs—and comes out on top. R. Gregory Christie’s textured, impressionistic illustrations add a wonderful sense of history to the story. Youngsters will find a hero in this compelling tale.
MAKING HER OWN KIND OF MUSIC
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten (ages 5 to 8) by Laura Veirs is a spirited homage to a folk icon. Libba finds music in everything, from the sound of the river to the movement of the train. She tries out her brother’s guitar, but because he’s right-handed, Libba—a leftie—has to flip the instrument over and play it backwards: “Nobody else played that way, but it was the way that felt right to Libba.” Libba practices and writes her own tunes, but as the years go by, her music falls by the wayside. When she goes to work for composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, Libba finds the inspiration to play again. With the Seegers’ help, she launches a successful musical career with engagements around the world. In her delicate, expressive illustrations, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh does a masterful job of tracing the arc of Libba’s life from eager girl to dignified grande dame. Readers will love learning about this innovative performer.
POEMS OF PRIDE
Sharing history through verse, Andrea Davis Pinkney tells the story of the final days of Martin Luther King Jr. in Martin Rising: Requiem for a King (ages 9 to 12). Featuring lyrical, impressionistic pieces as well as more concrete compositions, the book looks at the key events of 1968 via a diverse group of 39 poems. “Roar” chronicles a march in Memphis by striking sanitation workers, whose cause precipitates Martin’s fateful April visit: “They cling / to the peace-dream / of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The bold, exclamatory “Shattered” captures the spirit of the March 28 protest Martin leads in Memphis: “Four words / shout simple affirmations / of their humanity: I AM A MAN.” From the sense of portentousness that grows on April 3 to the dramatic events of the following day, Pinkney portrays the passing of a remarkable man, using language in innovative ways. Brian Pinkney’s swirling, cascading, colorful illustrations provide an exhilarating backdrop for an outstanding collection of poems that’s destined to become a classic.
YOUNG LEADERS UNITE
Monica Clark-Robinson’s Let the Children March (ages 6 to 9) is a stirring account of the 1963 rally in Birmingham, Alabama, known as the Children’s Crusade. Clark-Robinson presents the story from the perspective of an African-American girl who goes to church with her family to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. When she learns that her mother and father will lose their jobs if they take part in the upcoming demonstration, the girl joins other young people who protest on behalf of their parents: “Hand in hand we marched—so frightened, yet certain of what was right for our freedom.” Beautifully realistic illustrations by Frank Morrison communicate the upheaval of the day—the girl is arrested with other youngsters—but there’s also a sense of hope in the story’s final scene of a desegregated playground filled with children. This is an impressive tribute to a group of courageous leaders.