Mar 1, 2019

Carter Reads the Newspaper: A March Black History Post

Peachtree, 2019
This post is intentionally released on March 1, and it's an important new picture book that suits any age. The tag line says it all, yet not nearly enough: "Carter G. Woodson didn't just study history. He changed it."
I've been grateful, as a citizen and as an educator, for Black History Month which "ended" yesterday. It's a resource and reminder of the countless contributions of Black men and women to advance ALL people. Even so, I have long been concerned that annual attention to one specific month meant that many resources, especially picture books, end up relegated to a cabinet or back shelf after the month ends. 
A new picture book has me shifting my perspective on this repeated rant (here). CARTER READS THE NEWSPAPER is written by outstanding nonfiction author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by the remarkable author and artist Don Tate.
This is a story of how Woodson (Carter) made it his life's work to develop literacy and, eventually, to turn Black history into an annual celebration. Inspired by his father's pursuit of knowledge, Carter's passion for history grew from a childhood in which the legacy of enslavement, including illiteracy, was evident among Carter's own family and friends. The hardships he suffered as a child are heartbreaking, including being injured in a mine accident. He pursued his own education at every opportunity, despite severe adversity. In 1926, as a history professor, he was able to establish a national Black History Week, the origins of our present monthlong designation.
This book is rich with images, names, dates, and taglines for both well-known and less famous Black innovators and leaders, as well as providing an author's note, bibliography, resources, and more. After reading this valuable biography of Woodson as a leader among his family and eventually for us all, I will temper my concerns about a designated "month" potentially limiting attention to neglected history-makers. Instead, I'll celebrate Woodson's leadership and encourage the reading and sharing of this book. Perhaps that alone will remind others to keep Black History books circulating all year long. 

Here are a few examples i've featured in the past that deserve attention all year long. Many more can be seen here, here, here, and here, among others: 
The recent Academy Award winning movie, THE GREEN BOOK, has been criticized for taking a white-savior approach. For a more authentic understanding of the need for and use of THE GREEN BOOK, read this historical fiction picture book.
RUTH AND THE GREEN BOOK, is written  by Calvin A. Ramsey and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. It provides the immediacy of individual lives and relatable illustrations that evoke personal and visceral responses from readers of any age. Back pages provide further insights and explorations from the authors and offer resources for further exploration and research on the topics and characters portrayed. Now, more than ever, providing young people with the facts of our own history and the ease with which individual liberties were distorted and restricted is essential. It's not a bad time for adults to review these stories and resources, any month of the year.

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 that this story depicts the early days of literacy development for Booker T. Washington.
I hope my intentional expansion of this black history post into March (Women's History Month) will serve as a reminder that history (and picture books) matter and we should feel an obligation to open the eyes and hearts of others to our shared heritage all year long.

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