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.

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.

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clark

Cover image for When We Say Black Lives Matter.

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clark (9781536222388)

This picture book looks at the Black Lives Matter movement and explains it to young children in a way they can understand. Using rhythm, repetition and rhyme, the picture book is engaging while explaining larger societal issues. The book focuses on concepts that include respect, fear, remembrance, freedom and being enough. The book directly speaks to the Black child, explaining the vitality and importance of the protests and incorporating the protests into a message of self-worth, joy and music.

Clark’s writing is masterful. She uses rhythm and rhyme so successfully here, moving the words like jazz music or the tempo of drums. She uses rhythm to have her words become protest chants and then transforming anger into sorrow, remembrance and tears into power. She shows how all of the emotions, negative and positive, can be used as a demand for change.

The illustrations are large, colorful and bold. They move from a family with a new baby and the warm reds and yellows of their home to starry nights of protest done in deep blues to the poison green of the trouble that comes. She incorporates stained-glass windows into several of the images, showing the timelessness and importance of the demand for racial justice.

An importance picture book for public library collections. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza

Cover for King of Ragtime.

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza (9781534410367)

Released September 14, 2021.

Scott Joplin was a child who loved to listen to the sounds around him rather than using his own voice. He was the son of a man who was once enslaved. Their home was full of music with his father fiddling, his mother playing banjo and singing, and his siblings playing instruments too. Scott played the cornet. To find work, the family moved north to Texarkana where Giles found work laying tracks for the railway. Scott’s mother found work as a housemaid for a wealthy white family who happened to have a piano. When Scott came along to help, he saw the piano and started to play when he had time. Eventually, the Joplin family was able to purchase a piano for Scott and traded housework for lessons. Scott loved learning about the piano and music, but most of all he loved composing his own songs. He played all over town, and eventually made his way north to play in saloons and eventually in Chicago where he heard ragtime for the first time. Scott went to Sedalia, Missouri where he went to college and composed music. He tried to get his songs published and finally found a man willing to take a chance on a Black unknown composer. That’s how “Maple Leaf Rag” became a national sensation.

Constanza’s writing is full of rhythm and talks about music throughout. From his mother singing hymns to his family playing together to learning piano to getting work playing and composing, the entire book dances along to the importance of music in Joplin’s life. The writing also incorporates lots of sounds like the chirping of cicadas, the swish of brooms, the plink of the piano, and the OOM-pah! The writing is full of energy and tells the story of Joplin’s life with style.

The illustrations are bright and full of color and light. They have elements of quilts that fill the ground with patterns. The skies are blue with swirling clouds that dance in the sky. The towns are full of colorful buildings. Everything is inspiration for Joplin’s music, from the trains to the chickens to the flowers to the towns. It all comes together into one warm and bright world.

A jaunty and rhythmic biography of a musical legend. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

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

Black Lives Matter Books for Kids and Teens

Here are some great books that speak to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, the righteous anger we are seeing on the streets, America’s long history of racism, and voices that have always been worth investing in and listening to:

PICTURE BOOKS

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Box Henry Brown Makes Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Exquisite The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

I Remember Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

i too am america

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Lillians Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

seeds of freedom

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

we march

We March by Shane W. Evans

MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS

brown girl dreaming

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

lions of little rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

TEEN BOOKS

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

march

March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (and the entire trilogy)

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris

x

X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon