The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson

Cover image for The 1619 Project: Born on the Water.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (9780593307359)

This picture book forms a way for younger children to benefit from the information shared in The 1619 Project. In this story, a Black girl is given an assignment in class to trace her family history. She can only trace three generations back and tells her grandmother that she is ashamed. So her grandmother shares the history of her family before slavery when they lived in West Central Africa. Her family spoke Kimbundu and were good with their hands and used them for growing things, inventing, mixing herbs, building tools, and caring for babies. They danced to offer worship, to share joy, and to mourn. Then they were stolen, taken from their families and lands, stamped with new names. They fought back, some refused to eat and chose to die on the journey, others survived. They had to learn a new language, form a new people, and survive the brutality of slavery. From that history have come generations of Black Americans who have changed our nation for the better. There is nothing to be ashamed of, take pride in this history of resilience and hope.

The focus of this picture book is to share the history of Black Americans in this country, showing how a deep history in the cultures of Africa are their origins. The book doesn’t flinch from the darkness of the Middle Passage or the horrors of slavery. These are also sources of pride for children reading the book, who may have been made to feel ashamed of where they came from. Written with a poetic touch, the entire book is filled with hope even in its darkest points. Throughout there is a sense of resilience and power, a knowledge that ancestors survived.

The illustrations carry readers through history. They show the rich cultures in Africa and the beauty of what was lost. They show slavery but not without hope shining in the sky above. They share connections, new families forming, and children who are a promise for the future. They show resistance, an insistence on change, a focus on the future continuing to carry us forward.

Powerful and important, this book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

Your Legacy by Schele Williams

Cover image for Your Legacy.

Your Legacy: A Bold Reclamation of Our Enslaved History by Schele Williams, illustrated by Tonya Engel (9781419748752)

This picture book honors the history of African Americans in America. Looking at Africa first, as a place of pride, filled with a long history of heritage and kingdoms. When Africans were loaded onto ships and taken into slavery, they brought so many of the qualities that they had in Africa. Their freedom was taken into a brutal system, but their intelligence allowed them to bridge their different languages with music. They loved one another as family, secretly learned to read, and smuggled messages for one another. Some managed to escape with determination and bravery. Black Americans were inventors of engines, farm equipment, and furniture, though they rarely got credit for their ideas. They created jazz, ice cream, peanut butter, and the blood plasma bank. The book ties all of these qualities to modern figures who exemplify them, showing how the heritage carries through ancestors to today.

Filled with a sense of pride from the very first pages, this picture book offers a way to speak to children about slavery without creating shame. There is a strong sense of resilience throughout the book, of people who not only endured but survived and continued to invent and create. The book allows space for slavery as part of African American history, but frames it in terms of the qualities of character it took to survive. This is history that is not shared in schools that then turns to the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history.

Engel’s illustrations are full of connection and joy. She uses deep and bright colors, creating scenes where African Americans stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, work side by side, and sing together.

A necessary purchase for public and school libraries looking for a way to teach African American history in a better way. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi

Cover image for The People Remember.

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Loveis Wise (9780062915641)

This nonfiction picture book explores African American history by connecting it to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The book starts with Africa during a time of war when people disappeared or were sold. The history continues as they are taken into slavery, landing in places like South Carolina, Hispaniola and Brazil. Some escaped while those who could not escape found a common language and unity. People today remember the days of slavery, seeing that they have self-determination to change the nation. When slavery ended, the Great Migration came along with music on the streets and in churches, showing their collective work and responsibility. The history continues with examples of places that Black people created themselves and Black people who were successful, showing the principle of cooperative economics. Purpose came with voting rights, marches for civil rights, and the grief and hate of lynching. Creativity is shown again and again with music, dance, writing and more. The book ends with faith, a commitment not to forget and to carry forward with hope for change.

This Zoboi’s picture book debut. Her writing is exceptional, an ode to African Americans and their collective impact on the world. Using the Kwanzaa principles to guide the structure of the book works well, as the book naturally forms into seven sections. Zoboi uses a repeating structure of the various African tribes who were taken to America as slaves. In these sections and throughout, there is a call to Black pride, to seeing oneself as survivors and removing any shame from the narrative. Zoboi works to clearly draw the connection between history and today, showing the continuum that reaches backward and forward.

Wise’s illustrations are filled with lush colors, depicting connections between modern times and history. Their art is flat and graphic, almost poster like in its powerful simplicity. Each one could be framed and used to call out a movement or moment in history.

Powerful, unflinching and important. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon

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The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Laura Freeman (9780062912510)

This picture book biography tells the life story of the first Black justice on the Supreme Court. It begins with Marshall changing his first name in second grade from Thoroughgood. From a child, Marshall knew that there were things that needed to change in the world around him, including segregation. Marshall discovered a love of the law and of debate in school, before heading to Lincoln University for college. He wanted to attend law school at the University of Maryland, but they did not admit Black students, so he attended Howard University, another Black college. As a young lawyer, Marshall won a case to allow a Black student to attend the University of Maryland. He worked on all sorts of civil rights cases with his most famous being arguing before the Supreme Court against school segregation and winning. He argued seven cases before the Supreme Court in his career, winning new rights for Black people along the way. Marshall was asked by JFK to become a judge and was himself sworn in as a member of the Supreme Court in 1967.

Magoon has created a focused and interesting biography for young readers in this nonfiction picture book. She takes a man of many accomplishments and highlights those of the most importance. By starting in his early years, she shows how a passion at a young age can become a career and a way to make a difference in our world. Her writing is insightful and fast moving, taking us through his career and personal life without her pace dragging at all.

Freeman’s illustrations focus on Marshall and the people around him. Even on the pages focused on his education, Marshall stays right in the center of the images rather than the university buildings. This focus on Marshall as a person centers the book visually, matching the text. The captures famous faces beyond Marshall’s in a recognizable yet simple way.

A resounding success of a biography. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams

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Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (9781534419131)

As a little girl growing up in Eatonville, Zora loved to listen to stories. She listened to stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox at the general store. Zora told her own stories too, to anyone who would listen. But her father didn’t approve of her storytelling, since he considered it telling lies. Her mother though, didn’t want her children growing up to till the land, so she encourage Zora to “jump at de sun.” When Zora’s mother died, she was sent to the Florida Baptist Academy boarding school. Zora loved the books there, but soon her school fees were not paid and she had to leave. She didn’t stay long with her family, quickly moving out and finding work though she kept getting fired or quitting. She only loved the times when she could spin stories. Zora decided to return to high school and graduate, so she lied about her age of 26, claiming she was 16. After graduating, she headed to Howard University and decided to become an author, writing her stories of Eatonville. So she moved to New York and eventually sent out some of her stories to a magazine contest. Zora made another leap after she got attention from winning the contest and got a scholarship to another college where she was assigned to collect Negro folklore, something she had been doing since she was a child!

Williams writes Hurston’s biography with such energy and appreciation. She takes the statement Hurston’s mother made and turns it not only into the title of the book but also into a sentiment woven throughout the entire story, showing the connection between Hurston’s success, her talent and her willingness to make leaps of faith to new opportunities. There is bravery and resilience on these pages, shining in the sunlight as Hurston takes risks in the most inspiring ways.

The illustrations are marvelously colorful, filling the pages with Eatonville, various colleges and the dynamic feel of New York City. All of the pages are full-page art, taking the color right to the edge of the page, glowing with streaming sunlight, peach, green, blue and reds.

A shining leap of a picture book biography that suits its subject perfectly. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King, illustrated by Bobby C. Martin, Jr. (9780884488897)

King explains fiercely and openly that Black lives matter, and that they always have mattered. He pulls examples from history, filling the pages with lists of names and accomplishments. There are political figures, artists, musicians, athletes and many more. He reminds readers that Black lives died for our country’s independence. He shares quotes from great Black minds, like Malcolm X, W. E. B. Dubois, and James Baldwin. He uses the refrain of “Have I ever told you…” to open another list of names, share another chapter of history, and demonstrate again and again and again that Black lives are valuable, they matter, and they matter to us all.

The design of this book is almost in two separate pieces. The first part matches the cover art, using gorgeous bold text design to share the words of empowerment that fill the book, that share examples of Black figures, their words and their impact on the world. The book also has silhouettes of some of the people, shadowed in vibrant color. Then the book turns to facts about each of the Black people who are mentioned in the first part of the book. These pages turn a cool blue, sharing details of their lives, quotes from each of them, and offering a glimpse into their greatness.

A dynamic and insistent book that affirms just how much Black lives matter. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Tilbury House Publishers.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781541581203)

This nonfiction picture book offers a gripping look at one of the worst racial violence incidents in American history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a community called Greenwood was formed by Black people descended from Black Indians, former slaves, and those fleeing the racism of the segregated South. Along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue, over 200 Black business started, becoming known as Black Wall Street. But there were people in Tulsa who were not alright with the growth of Black wealth. In 1921, those tensions turned into action when a white teen accused a Black young man of assault. A standoff at the jail resulted in the deaths of two Black men and ten white men. The white mob stormed Greenwood, burning it to the ground. 300 Black people were killed, hundreds more injured and more than 8,000 were left homeless. The survivors were moved into camps and eventually rebuilt, but never spoke of the massacre. Today, the truth is being spoken of and addressed through reconciliation efforts.

Weatherford does an incredible job telling this terrible truth, showing the beauty and potential of the Black community in Tulsa and then sharing its eventual destruction at the hands of a mob. Weatherford has family ties to other race massacres in the United States, which led to her this, the worst incident. Her author’s note shares some photographs and more of the history. Weatherford’s initial focus on the community built in Tulsa, makes the the burning of the area all the more impactful for the reader. The tragedy’s magnitude is carefully shown in numbers and continued impact.

Cooper’s illustrations are incredible. Cooper’s grandfather grew up in Greenwood, a history that he rarely spoke about. Cooper captures the promise of Greenwood with its libraries, churches, doctor’s offices and more. He shows the hotel, the bustling streets, the children playing safely in the neighborhood. He gives history faces that look right at the reader, demanding that they see what happened.

Tragic, powerful and insistent that change happen. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett (9780374307042)

Ona Judge was a slave in the household of George and Martha Washington. While Washington worked to free the fledgling union from the British, he depending upon slaves in his household. Ona began working in slavery for Martha Washington at age 10, often playing with their grandchildren and sometimes being mistaken for one of them. The book explores the posh lifestyle that Ona lived amongst and yet was not truly part of. She was treated well, but still enslaved. When she was given to one of the granddaughters, Ona decided to escape. She chose the difficult life of a fugitive slave over than of the slavery.

Shepard uses a particularly successful structure in this picture book. He frames Ona’s story by asking repeatedly why she ran? He points out the opulence she lived in and the remarkable moments in history she saw. Shepard thoroughly explains exactly why Ona escaped, showing her being taken from her mother at a young age, being treated as more of a pet than a person, and being given to the haughty granddaughter. The structure leads to the clear answers of why she needed to escape.

Mallett’s illustrations beautifully evoke the historical period. They are filled with carriages, women’s clothing, fire places and some images of famous historical figures. It is Ona though who glows on the page, her face always lit from within and filled with the potential of freedom.

A picture book that brings the shamefulness of slavery forward, showing that everyone needs to be free. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

21 New and Upcoming #OwnVoices Books to Celebrate Black History and Black Lives

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Laura Freeman

J. D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Like Home by Louisa Onome

Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson

One of the Good Ones by Martiza Moulite

Root Magic by Eden Royce

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Separate No More: Brown v. Board of Education and the Fight for Equality in School by Lawrence Goldstone

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe

When You Look Like Us by Pamela Harris