This blog always has lots of suggestions for kid and grown-up books related to black history (see the sidebar at right, for example) so for this list I'm going to try to focus on stuff I haven't mentioned before. I've also tried to include a number of books for reluctant readers.
100 Best African-American Poems
edited by Nikki Giovanni
This is a great starting point for a kid or grown-up to explore the poetry of black Americans. As always, Ms. Giovanni's commentary is funny, biting, and hits painfully close to home.
Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Hughes is one of my favorite poets of all time and the "Poetry for Young People" series has selected a nice cross section of his work here.
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop
by Christopher Raschka
Just fun. I read this book to kids all the time.
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald
by Roxane Orgill
A nice kid biography of the jazz legend.
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Pinkney
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
I used to teach 10th grade English at a public school in Brooklyn. This was one of the few books nearly every kid was desperate to read. The first time I read it I found it a bit preachy but my opinion changed after discussing it with lots of kids, many of whom saw themselves in the book's protagonist. Mr. Thomas died this past year -- it's a good time to read -- or teach -- his book if you never have.
Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph
Jamal was my thesis advisor in film school. He was a Black Panther and spent a long time in prison in connection with his political activities. I used to spend a lot of time with Jamal and he always had an endless supply of stories -- I'm so excited some of his most thrilling and important tales are in print so more people can experience them.
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley
A slave, Ms. Wheatley was taught to read by her owners and became one of the first known black poets in colonial America.
The Coldest Winter Ever - Sister Souljah
This book is awesome, actually. I decided to read it because my high school students were constantly asking for it (I used my teacher money to buy copies that the students would check out and never return) but then found myself unable to stop reading it even though, at the time, I was in Mexico City on vacation with a long list of murals and museums I wanted to visit. I still managed to see lots of art but I also spent hours and hours in a bar / cafe finishing this very well-plotted book. I read it soon after The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and found many thematic elements in common between the two books.
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler
Yeah, man, sci fi. I'm not that into it but a lot of kids (and adults) are. I used to give her books to kids -- and ex-cons in my GED classes -- who were only interested in alien and horror movies and most of them would get hooked fast.
Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall
From the streets to the offices of the Washington Post... an inspiring book for kids thinking about a career in journalism. I read it while taking journalism classes at Florida A&M University (Go Rattlers!)
by Chris Albertson
Bessie Smith bio. All you need to know.
Push by Sapphire
Yes, they based the movie Precious on this. Another book I read because students I was working with were really into it. Initially I found it sensational and it kind of creeped me out (you know the plot, right? it's rough stuff). But, like a couple of other books on this list, my opinion changed after discussing with kids who found the story very powerful and used it as a way to begin a lot of heavy classroom discussions. It's short, give it a try.
Rosa Parks: Not Giving In (The Time Traveler’s Adventure) by James Collins
Unique picture book take on the familiar story featuring some time-traveling kids.
Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady by David Bergen Brophy
If you look this book up and see the cover (a glossy photograph of Ms. O) you might be like "This is one of those cheesy grocery store books!" Yeah, it sort of is. Actually this one is a little better than your average newsstand bio but it's still in that basic genre. Still, I've met many kids who love these things and that some kids who wouldn't read anything else were willing to read them.
Got your own suggestions? Please send...
thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com