Civil Rights Reads for Black History Month
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Over 45 years after MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” personal stories of the Civil Rights Movement are still coming to light—and so many great, relatively recent books give voice to those who experienced the indignities of segregation and the victories of the Civil Rights Movement as children. These six books offer unique and captivating perspectives into the turbulence of 1950s and 1960s Black America.
Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Candlewick, 2008) Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round completes Rappaport’s black history trilogy (other titles include No More! and Free at Last). The history lesson this book offers is certainly wide-ranging—Rappaport includes a Civil Rights timeline in the appendix—but never dry. Drawn heavily from primary sources, her chronology of one of America’s most turbulent periods tells the whole story by examining both the tragedies, like the murder of Emmitt Till, and the triumphs, like the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill, without sentimentalizing either. For grades 4-7.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Paula Young Shelton and illustrated by Raul Colón (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009) Shelton’s father, Andrew Young, was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement, and it is her memories of her childhood that color Child of the Civil Rights Movement. Though Shelton doesn’t shy away from relating personal humiliation, like being refused service at a restaurant, the book is never pessimistic. The author’s many years in early childhood education mean she understands kids—and the poignancy of seeing the struggle for equality through her own young eyes makes this a moving read. For grades 1-4.
Grandmama’s Pride, written by Becky Birtha and illustrated by Colin Bootman (Albert Whitman & Company, 2005) Birtha’s book was a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 2005 Golden Kite Honor Book. Grandmama’s Pride is all the more affecting for the quiet nobility with which it portrays the adults in six-year-old Sarah Marie’s world: “The three of them sit in the back of the bus, because, as Mama says, it is the best seat.” Bootman’s rich illustrations put a real face on the long fight for civil rights. For grades 2-4.
The School is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Curtis James (Hyperion, 2005) Years after 1954’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, schools in Mississippi were still segregated. So it wasn’t until 1965 that the children of Matthew and Mae Bertha Carter, Mississippi sharecroppers, integrated their school in Drew, Mississippi. It is this true story that Rappaport recounts in The School is Not White! The Carter children face myriad setbacks in their education, but, as their spirited mother reminds them, “the school is not white.” For grades 2-5.