Feb 5, 2012

What's so special about February?

Groundhogs, Valentine's, even presidents- I'm on board with their time in the spotlight every February.  
In fact, I get really excited when that attention spills over to a few extra days of eager reading. 
A quick search on Amazon for "Valentine-children" lists 513 paperbacks, 180 hardcovers, and 24 Kindle titles on the topic. A check for "Groundhog-children" lists 31 paperbacks, 21 hardcover, and 1 Kindle title. Most of these are picture books, and most will be circulated and read only during this month.  
When it comes to "presidents-children" the listings explode to 1341 paperbacks, 851 hardcovers, and 38 Kindle titles. These are predominantly picture books, but include a range of biography and non-fiction titles in other formats. These are more likely to be found by readers throughout the year, although often in relation to various assigned studies rather than random personal selection. 
So, devoting an entire month to focus attention on African American history sounds like a great idea. An Amazon search on the topic "black history-children" produces lists of 804 paperbacks, 627 hardcovers, and 25 Kindle titles. More than enough material to choose from for 28 days, even 29 days every leap year, right? 
Maybe, but let's review the math.  
Groundhog > one day > one European tradition >50+ titles.
Valentine's Day > one day >one saint &/or tradition > 700+ titles
Presidents' Day > one day > 44 presidents > 225 years of history > 1450+ titles
African American history > 28 (29) days > 450+ years of history > 1450+ titles
Something about this just doesn't add up, in my opinion.  

Most of the titles on topics related to African American history and heritage are higher quality literature than typical holiday titles, many are even award-winning. Yet they are just as likely to be relegated to this brief time in the spotlight. In too many cases these titles are boxed or shelved and "pulled out" during February as if they are groundhog or Valentine titles, to be plopped back into the "February" storage space when the month is over. 

Even when the quality is superior, many of the titles featuring African Americans are variations on the most familiar tales and heroes. If you read my previous post, you know I'm all for sharing the story of  Martin Luther King, Jr. But let's be sure that other names and stories are shared throughout the year. As Kadir Nelson's award-winning Heart and Soul: The Story of African Americans makes clear, those names are legion and their stories deserve attention all year long. 

Here are just a few examples, with summaries via Indiebound.org:
 Freedom School, Yes. by Amy Littlesugar, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 2001.
When their house is attacked because her mother volunteered to take in the young white woman who has come to teach black children at the Freedom School, Jolie is afraid, but she overcomes her fear after learning the value of education. Full-color illustrations.

More than Anything Else. by Marie Bradby, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1995
After slavery ended a family struggles to survive, with father and sons shoveling salt from dawn to dark. The younger boy's compelling thirst is for the power of letters, of reading.  Only indirectly on the last page do we see this story depicts the early days of literacy development for Booker T. Washington.

Richard Wright and the Library Card. by William Miller, illustrated by Gregory Christie. 1997.


As young man in the segregated South, young Richard Wright--now a noted American author--was determined to borrow books from the public library. Named a "Smithsonian" magazine Notable Book for Children. Color illustrations throughout.

Ron's Big Mission. by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden. Illustrated by Don Tate. 2009.
Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Public Library to look through all the books on airplanes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by himself. But in the segregated world of South Carolina in the 1950s, Ron's obtaining his own library card is not just a small rite of passage - it is a young man's first courageous mission. Here is an inspiring story, based on Ron McNair's life, of how a little boy, future scientist, andChallenger astronaut desegregated his library through peaceful resistance.

Consider sharing other recommended titles in the comments, and let's make sure that history, everyone's history,  is woven into our lives all year long.



  1. Replies
    1. I'm happy to hear this struck a chord with you. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. This is such an important topic to highlight. Thank you. I highly recommend "ellington was not a street" by Ntozake Shange with illustrations by Kadir Nelson. I featured it in a Perfect Picture Book Friday post in January: http://www.bethstilborn.com/ellington-was-not-a-street-perfect-picture-book-friday/

    1. Thanks for the comment and links, Beth. Your Ellington mention reminded me of DUKE ELLINGTON: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, by Andrea Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. http://bit.ly/1tRT36 So many powerful stories to tell, and picture books do that SOOO very well.


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