Book Corner: Celebrating Black History With Picture Books

This month, Central Rappahannock Regional Library celebrates African American History with online programs and booklists of titles for all ages. The books below are selections from one of those lists, Our Stories: The African American Experience for Children, which includes titles for readers up through grade 6.

Before the Ever After, opens a new window by Jacqueline Woodson
ZJ’s father is a professional football player and a hero to many, not just because of his athletic ability, but also because of his reputation as a loving husband and father. For ZJ, his father has always lived up to this reputation: he is loving, fun, talented, and supportive. But after years of taking crushing hits on the field, ZJ begins to notice his father’s personality changing. He becomes forgetful and quick to anger. Before the Ever After is set in the 1990s and early 2000s, before much was known about the effects of repeated concussions, making ZJ’s story even more heart-wrenching as he struggles to understand what is happening to his beloved father. 

A Computer Called Katherine, opens a new window by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
Katherine always loved numbers and excelled in school, especially in math. When Katherine finished eighth grade at age 10, her segregated town didn’t have a high school for Black students, so her family moved to a town that did. Katherine graduated from college at age eighteen and became a teacher, one of the few professions open to women. But Katherine knew she could do more with her math skills and found a job at an aeronautical research center that was hiring women to do the mathematical calculations needed to design planes and flight paths. Here, Katherine became a “human computer” and went on to calculate the flight path of America’s first spaceflight, America’s first manned spaceflight to orbit the Earth, and the first spacecraft to land on the moon. A Computer Called Katherine presents the life and accomplishments of Katherine Johnson in an inspiring picture book for children.

Class Act, opens a new window by Jerry Craft
After one year at Riverdale Academy Day School, Drew feels a little more comfortable with his upper-class, mostly white classmates, but still feels like he can’t really be himself. It also becomes more and more clear to him that no matter how hard he works, he will never have the same opportunities as his wealthy classmates. Typical middle school struggles combined with the stress of socioeconomic tensions and racial microaggressions threaten to break up Drew and his group of friends, unless they can figure out how to give each other the support they need. This sequel to Newbery-winner New Kid is poignant, realistic, and funny.

The Teachers March!, opens a new window by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer
Fighting for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, teacher and pastor F.D. Reese struggled to find a way to make people take notice of the unjust laws that prevented Black people from voting. When he looked at his fellow teachers, he realized that if these leaders of the community marched, people would pay attention. But when a judge declared that marching and even talking about voting rights was illegal, Reese knew it would be nearly impossible to convince the teachers to march because they would be risking jail time and losing their jobs. He asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma to help, and, in the end, over one hundred teachers marched together to the courthouse. Though the sheriff and his deputies tried to make them leave, the teachers stood their ground. They were not allowed to register to vote, but the teachers were not arrested, and their bravery inspired other African Americans to march, including the students who had witnessed their teachers taking a stand. The Teachers’ March was a major turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.