Category Archives: Diversity – African American

Books written by or about African Americans.

Grandma’s Tiny House












Grandma’s Tiny House, A Counting Story!
by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Charlesbridge, 2017

This counting story is perfect for large families, where everyone piles into Grandma’s house for the holidays.  Author JaNay Brown-Wood creatively crafted a story starting with one grandma, two turkeys and three neighbors and with scrumptious smells, slapping high-fives, and mini stampedes, she cleverly moves up through “Nine chatting aunties”, “thirteen thrilled nieces” and “fifteen hungry grandkids”.  But, “How will they all eat in this too-tiny place?”  One of the clever grandkids has just the answer!  A fun, family story kids will want to hear again and again, if only to find themselves in the pictures!

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions












Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
By Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
Charlesbridge, 2016

When a child is curious, they just have to explore, and that’s exactly what Lonnie Johnson did as a child.  Living in a small house with five brothers and sisters, he had challenges storing his rocket kits, bamboo shooters, rubber-band guns, erector set, go-kart engine, and all the other spare parts he used to make things.  He was an inventor.

From scratch he taught himself how to make a rocket and launched it for his classmates.  When an ‘exam’ told him he would not make a good engineer, he pushed through those claims because he knew he had Linux, a robot he had created from spare parts.  In 1968 he and Linux won a science fair at the University of Alabama, where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.  In time he invents the Super-Soaker and, with perseverance, his dreams come true.  An inspiring story with encouragement to push through setbacks.

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The Village that Vanished

The Village that Vanished

by Ann Grifalconi,
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002

This original story reads like an African folk tale and stirs the imagination of how it could be true.

During the time when slavers stole families from African villages, young Abikanile watched her mother pray for magic to protect their village. When they were warned that slavers were coming, Abikanile’s mother decides they must disappear and leave the village behind. In fear they discuss, burning the village, but Aabikanile’s mother says they must dismantle their straw hutches and scatter the materials in the woods. They do so, and disappear to hide in the forest.  Unable to find anyone, the slavers leave, sure someone had been there.  And that is how the village of Yao vanished and all survived.

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Mahalia Jackson, Walking with Kings and Queens












Mahalia Jackson, Walking with Kings and Queens

by Nina Nolan, illustrated by John Holyfield
Amistad, 2015

Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, except a voice that was bigger than she was.  When she sang, “she felt like a peacock with her feathers all spread out.” Her mama died and later she had to quit school to look after her cousins.  But she always sang.  When she was sixteen, an aunt took her in and she returned to school, until her aunt took sick.  She sang gospel whenever she could.  “Mahalia’s joyful voice lifted people with hope.  After she sang…, people lined up to join the congregation.”  She took a singing lesson as was told to “stop hollering.” She kept hollering.  She sang in Carnegie Hall and before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.   In back matter, readers learn that well after her death, a New Orleans theatre was named after her and a commemorative postage stamp issued. As her aunt Bell always said to her, “you’ll walk with kings and queens”—and Mahalia became the queen.

A moving story with rich illustrations makes it a joy to follow Mahalia’s dream to sing.  An inspiring story.

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Freedom Over Me, Eleven Slaves, their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life












Freedom Over Me, Eleven Slaves, their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

By Ashley Bryan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book & Newbery honor award

Freedom Over Me jumps into the lives of eleven slaves, their thoughts, feelings, dreams.  The eleven selected were from Mary Fairchild’s estate listing of her property, including their names, sex, and worth.

The story opens with Mary selling off her estate and returning home to England after her husband died.  Each slave is given a story, a voice to be heard.  While the stories are fiction, they are composites of true stories of real slaves.  Written in open verse, we learn of what they currently do, their past when they were ripped from their villages, their future, all with the same dream of freedom.  At this point in the story they wait, helplessly, knowing they will be sold, and likely separated.

Loose, color-filled illustrations bring life to the people, show the love they had and the pains they survived.  An insightful, heart-felt book that gives a deep look into the lives of those enslaved.

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I Just Want to Say Good Night














I Just Want to Say Good Night
by Rachel Isadora
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016

An innocent, loving African girl says good night to the fish, to the bird, to the goat.  She goes on in the African savannah to say good night to the monkey, the ants, and the rock.  She says good night to any and all things she can find to avoid going to bed.  When she gets into bed, she says good night to her book.  When she looks out her window at the full moon, she says, “Good night, moon!”, while holding her book, Good Night Moon.

Illustrated in clear, bright oils with black ink, the artist/author captures perfectly the innocence of a young girl who goes through her good-night ritual to make her good day even better. The brilliant, moving illustrations are startling, warm and comforting all at once and invite the reader to “just look at the pictures.”  A very nurturing bedtime story.

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A Poem for Peter, the Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day












A Poem for Peter, The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day

by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
Viking, 2016

Written in poems, readers learn how Ezra Jack Keats bravely pioneered books in 1962 about African-American kids’ experience in the city.  Born of poor Jewish immigrant parents, Ezra faced prejudice early.  Drawn to be an artist, his father supported Ezra’s interests as much as he could with leftover paints.  Just when Ezra managed to get a scholarship for college, his dad died, and he had to earn a living to support his family. Enlisting in the Air Force for World War II, he made posters, booklets, charts, maps and art.  After the war, he returned to the same prejudices and decided to rearrange his name.  After he successfully illustrated a couple children’s books, the editors invited him to write and illustrate his own story. He created a story of Peter, a ‘brown-sugar boy’. In 1962, his book, The Snowy Day, led to six others.

The book takes you down a delightful lane sharing how Ezra came to do his books and how much kids enjoyed them.  Illustrations used are similar to Ezra Jack Keats style.  A great reminiscent look down memory lane for parents, a great introduction to a writer/artist for children.

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The Storyteller













The Storyteller

by Evan Turk
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Ancient storytellers draw in readers one scene, one suspense at a time; so enthralled are the listeners, that they barely notice they are under the storyteller’s spell.

The Storyteller does what a good storyteller does, wraps one story inside another, inside another and always leaves you wanting for more—the true magic of a storyteller.

This story is about a boy who lives in the Moroccan deserts and finds himself on the doorway of death, when he meets an ancient, long forgotten storyteller.  The storyteller charms the boy with stories of a glorious blue bird and rich, blue miraculous yarns.  That night the sandstorm announces he will return at sundown take over the kingdom.  Inspired, the boy offers to tell him a story, and he repeats the storyteller’s story, stretching the story out two nights.  In that time, the boy gathers water sellers and through his own ingenuity, finds a way to save the city.

In an oversized format dressed in Moroccan colors and arts, readers will eagerly be swept off to another land in the magic of the storyteller.

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She Stood for Freedom, The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero. Joan Trumpauer Mulholland













She Stood for Freedom, The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero.  Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell, illustrated by Charlotta Janssen
Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2016

In 1952, when Joan, a white girl, saw the dilapidated one-room school for blacks, when her school was a brand-new brick one, she decided, “…she was going to do something about it when she had the chance.”  Joan participated in the civil rights movement, including the Freedom Rides, where she was arrested and sent to prison.  She went to Tougaloo College, a back school, and the state of Mississippi tried to close it down because of Joan.  She met Martin Luther King, participated in Woolworth Sit-Ins and the 1964 March on Washington.  In her life she had been shot at, chased after, and targeted by white people to be killed.  She calls herself an ordinary person.  She encouraged people, “Find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it.  …you don’t have to change the world… just change your world.”  This inspiring story of a young woman who put herself in danger stood up for civil rights.  It’s a refreshing story of one of the many white people who fought for civil rights in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

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Steamboat School













Steamboat School
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
Disney Hyperion, 2016

From the opening lines, the readers are invited into a story of depth.

“I always thought being brave
was for grown-up heroes doing big, daring deeds.
But Mama says that sometimes courage
is just an ordinary boy like me
doing a small thing, as small as picking up a pencil.”

Said by James, a young African American boy, about to go to school in 1847, the lines set a tone for the story.  Schooled by Reverend John, a former slave, in the church basement, the children heard stories of slaves and how they turned themselves around when they were freed.  But the white people did not like black people being educated and in 1847 passed a new Missouri law banning black people from reading and writing.  But Reverend John declared he’d find a way to teach the children.  Once day Reverend John invited the children on a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River, and so Freedom School was taught not in the State of Missouri, but on the Mississippi River, that belonged to the whole country.

The story is inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum, 1789-1854, who had bought his own freedom by working in saltpeter mines.

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