Knowing our past helps us strengthen our roots and chart our future. For Black History Month, EBYR is proud to highlight books that bring to life the past — with its trials and triumphs — through African-American voices and characters.
Read on to discover Eleven Great Books for Black History Month
As Nelson Mandela lived and worked under the unjust system of apartheid, his desire for freedom grew. South Africa separated people by races, oppressing the country’s non-white citizens with abusive laws and cruel restrictions. Every day filled Mandela with grief and anger. But he also had hope—hope for a nation that belonged to everyone who lived in it.
From his work with the African National Congress, to his imprisonment on Robben Island, to his extraordinary rise to the presidency, Nelson Mandela was a rallying force against injustice. This stirring biography explores Mandela’s long fight for equality and the courage that propelled him through decades of struggle. Illustrated in the bold, bright colors of South Africa, A Plan for the People captures the spirit of a leader beloved around the world.
by Chris Barton and Don Tate
A unique biography of a remarkable Reconstruction figure
John Roy Lynch spent most of his childhood as a slave in Mississippi, but all of that changed with the Emancipation Proclamation. Suddenly people like John Roy could have paying jobs and attend school. While many people in the South were unhappy with the social change, John Roy thrived in the new era. He was appointed to serve as justice of the peace and was eventually elected to the United States Congress.
This biography, with its informative backmatter and splendid illustrations, gives readers an in-depth look at the Reconstruction period through the life of one of the first African-American congressmen.
by Pat Sherman and Floyd Cooper
A powerful testimony to the power of the written word to bring hope in desperate circumstances
Ben, a young slave, uses every chance he gets to teach himself to read, practicing with the words he sees on street signs and in shop windows and even in cast-off newspapers he finds in the gutter.
But after the Civil War breaks out, his master leaves town and Ben finds himself in a slave prison. One night, the prisoners bribe a guard to get their hands on a newspaper, and to the applause of his fellow slaves, Ben reads aloud the momentous news of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — surely one of the most remarkable readings of that document ever.
Based on the true story of Benjamin Holmes, Pat Sherman’s stirring text and the memorable illustrations of Coretta Scott King medalist Floyd Cooper pay tribute to the power of freedom — and to the power of the written word.
“The story and its telling are inspirational, and Cooper’s signature oil paintings featuring muted shades of brown are, as usual, lovely . . . a solid Black History choice for younger students.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Sherman’s fictionalized telling is stirring, especially when Holmes revels in the discovery of new words; readers are moved to cheer on his clandestine efforts to learn . . . This is a powerful tale of a bright ray of light in a very dark period in America.” —School Library Journal
by Carole Boston Weatherford and Tim Ladwig
Since the earliest days of slavery, African Americans have called on their religious faith in the struggle against oppression.
A story of the African-American journey from slavery to civil rights
In this book the Beatitudes—from Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount—form the backdrop for Carole Boston Weatherford’s powerful free-verse poem that traces the African American journey from slavery to civil rights.
Tim Ladwig’s stirring illustrations showcase a panorama of heroes in this struggle, from the slaves shackled in the hold of a ship to the first African American president taking his oath of office on the steps of the United States Capitol.
Readers of all ages will find this a book to return to again and again for encouragement and inspiration.
“A stirring tribute to African-American history and to the important role religious faith has played in it over the centuries, The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights by Carole Boston Weatherford takes readers on a lyrical journey through the past.” —BookPage.com
“Weatherford’s text illustrates the spiritual presence in the lives of those making a difference. Whether ‘ringing the church bells’ or ‘beating the drum for freedom,’ the Lord was with them.” —Booklist
by Nikki Grimes and Michael Bryant
The elegant tapestry of worship through a young girl’s eyes
Come Sunday, Mommy wakes me up with whispers.
LaTasha, honey, she says to me,
Time to shed dawn’s cozy quilt.
Come on, Sweet Pea. Open up those eyes . . .
Softly, quietly begins the day of the week that, for LaTasha, is always full of glorious sounds: the pipe organ, tambourine, and drum; the footfalls of ushers marching down the aisle of the sanctuary; the sweet harmonies of the choir; and the rich vibrato of the preacher’s voice. LaTasha sings along with the congregation, confident that Heaven hears each joyful note.
Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, Nikki Grimes’s poems and the lush tapestry of colors in Michael Bryant’s illustrations celebrate a day of worship viewed through the eyes of an exuberant little girl.
“Grimes and Bryant combine their talents in a book that’s bursting with joy.” —Booklist (starred review)
“In lively and delicious poetry, accompanied by evocative, full-color illustrations, Nikki Grimes recounts LaTasha’s Sunday adventures in Paradise—Paradise Baptist Church, that is. . . . Reverent, funny, and wildly energetic all at the same time, this is a wonderful book for introducing children to church life.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
by Cynthia Grady and Michele Wood
Embrace the dream of diversity
This rich and intricate collection of poems chronicles the various experiences of American slaves. Drawn together through imagery drawn from quilting and fiber arts, each poem is spoken from a different perspective: a house slave, a mother losing her daughter to the auction block, a blacksmith, a slave fleeing on the Underground Railroad.
This moving and eloquent set of poems, brought to life by vivid and colorful artwork from Michele Wood, offers a timeless witness to the hardship endured by America’s slaves. Each poem is supplemented by a historical note.
“A powerful grouping of thought-provoking poems and brilliantly designed paintings.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“This ambitious work offers a bit of poetry, history, folk art, quilting, religion and more. It will definitely fill a niche in libraries.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
by Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier
A poetic story inspired by Psalm 121
Jordan lives in fear of Tanya, the class bully. But Tanya has worries of her own, no matter how much she tries to ignore them. It seems impossible that Jordan and Tanya could be anything other than enemies, but the Lord is watching over them, guiding each of them along a path that might just help them to understand one another.
Nikki Grimes takes the words of a Psalm 121 and masterfully transforms them into a golden shovel poem of compassion, friendship, and faith. Coupled with powerful artwork from Bryan Collier, this heartfelt story is one that readers will treasure.
“Wilder Award-winning author Grimes delivers a compact yet powerful message of hope and encouragement based on Psalm 121. . . . A sumptuous work filled with a deliciously wrapped center—perfect for classrooms, school, public, or church libraries, or home: wherever hearts go for mending.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Drawing on Psalm 121 and a poetic technique called the Golden Shovel, Grimes creates a cycle of poems about two children, Jordan and Tanya, who become friends through their intense faith and the arrival of a new classmate. . . . The language, by turns soaring and searing, requires close attention, but its beauty is brought to earth in the best way by Collier’s resonant photo-collages.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
by Tim Ladwig
An ancient psalm brings comfort in the modern world
Through poignant, heart-warming images of an urban African-American family, children experience the comfort and encouragement this favorite psalm still offers—the powerful message that they can rely on the Lord as they thread their way through the risk-filled maze of daily life in the city.
“Notable for Ladwig’s glowing, realistic paintings of two African American children who are part of a warm, extended family in a bleak, urban neighborhood. . . . The pictures express the fears of everyday life and the love and faith of one of the most beautiful psalms.” —Booklist
“Tim Ladwig’s colorful, thought-provoking illustrations evoke new contemporary images and show Psalm 23 as fresh and relevant in today’s world. This book brings a powerful message of hope, faith, and comfort into a new setting.” —Christian Library Journal
In this collection of poems by Nikki Grimes, a child learns about prayer from his father, whose prayers carry the family through each day—no matter what the circumstances.
Nikki Grimes believes that spirituality and prayer are signs of true strength and power. When Daddy Prays celebrates fathers who help their children see this. Grimes writes, “In my view there is no more powerful image than that of a strong man bowing before God.”
Illustrator Tim Ladwig has created remarkable images, rich with tenderness and touches of affectionate humor, to enhance and complete this exceptional book.
“With today’s seemingly never-ending news coverage of families breaking up and the important role that fathers play in the procedure, this book offers a ray of sunshine for these fathers and their sons.” —Catholic Observer
“Fourteen graceful poems portray a small boy’s relationship with his prayerful father. . . Bold, strong pictures match the poetry and anchor the writing in an everyday world. . . A unique offering for a family read-aloud.” —Kirkus Reviews
The beloved words of The Lord’s Prayer serve as the text for this remarkable book, in which Tim Ladwig illustrates how the words of this ancient prayer can have real meaning in our lives today.
In Tim’s paintings, a young girl and her father spend a day together helping an elderly neighbor. The love and guidance the child experiences in her relationship with her dad reflect the heart and will of our Heavenly Father in concrete ways children of all ages will understand.
“Ladwig proves that a deftly executed illustration drives a point home as effectively as words—even when the words are as eloquent as those in the Lord’s Prayer.” —Washington Post Book World
“With no exposition or dialogue Tim Ladwig weaves ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ into a touching story about a young girl and her father spending the day together. They help an elderly woman repair her home and together find the true meaning of giving and love. The most amazing thing about The Lord’s Prayer is that the story is told through illustrations alone. And these are some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen. This book is an excellent addition to any child’s bookshelf.” —The Bloomsbury Review
by Ruth Vander Zee and Floyd Cooper
A thought-provoking story of one boy’s loss of naiveté and encounter with harsh reality
It’s the middle of the Great Depression, but James William still enjoys his life in rural Mississippi. But his happiness starts to unravel when he discovers the fire that burned down the local preacher’s house wasn’t an accident, but a hate crime. When his friend LeRoy tells him about the Klan and their hanging tree, James William has a hard time grasping this harsh reality, until an unexpected encounter brings the issue close to home.
A thought-provoking story of one boy’s loss of naiveté, Mississippi Morning will challenge young readers to question their own assumptions and confront personal decisions.
“Cooper is at his best with action, emotion, and perspective; design lets the art fill the book with color and life; and Vander Zee’s dialogue crackles with import. Readers end with sympathetic feelings for James William—not only for the shaking of his social foundations, but the trauma of his father’s lies.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Mississippi Morning’s twisting plot is compelling and hard-hitting on racial oppression. The striking illustrations capture the mood and emotion beautifully, which pairs well with some of the more intense moments in the story.” —Social Justice Books
Article cover credits
A Plan for the People
Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation
Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Charly Palmer