Book Corner: Children’s Books Share African American Experience

In February, Central Rappahannock Regional Library celebrates African American history with a traveling exhibit, opens a new window exploring the Black experience in Virginia, a National African American Read-In,, opens a new window special book lists, and more. The books included below are selected from a list created by CRRL librarians, Our Stories: The African American Experience for Children,, opens a new window which includes titles for readers through grade 6. The complete list can be found at https://www.librarypoint.org/african-american-history/., opens a new window

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen, opens a new window by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Charlot Kristensen
Bessie Stringfield was a one-of-a-kind, trailblazing African American woman who did not let racism or gender stereotypes stop her from chasing after her dream. Starting at age 19, she drove her motorcycle throughout America, competed in motorcycle races, and performed stunts. Though she encountered violence and discrimination and was often prevented from going where she wanted, she continued to travel and compete, breaking down racial and gender barriers as she went.

Glow, opens a new window by Ruth Forman, illustrated by Geneva Bowers
In this board book perfect for the youngest readers, a child winds down their day with fireflies, ice cream, and a bath. As the moonlight comes in the window during their nighttime routine, the child smiles at how it makes their “smooth brown” skin glow and drifts off to sleep wrapped in the thought that they “shine night too…”

A History of Me, opens a new window by Adrea Theodore, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson
It is hard being the only brown person in class. Especially when learning about slavery or the fight for civil rights, it feels like all eyes are on you. It’s hard to focus on learning when classmates make racist comments. While considering her own struggles, the narrator recalls the stories of her ancestors and draws strength from their example as well as her mother’s empowering message.

More Than Peach, opens a new window by Bellen Woodard, illustrated by Fanny Liem
A little girl is sad, confused, and a little angry when her classmates ask for the “skin-colored crayon” when they want the peach crayon. Peach is not the color of everyone’s skin! After talking it over with her mom, the little girl comes up with a strategy that changes the way her classmates, teacher, and everyone at her school talks about skin color.

These Hands, opens a new window by Hope Lynne Price, illustrated by Bryan Collier
The sparse, rhyming text of this board book celebrates all the wonderful things a child’s hands can do as they go through their day with their family. Hands can create, build, write, and fly a kite. Hands are also for giving hugs and helping loved ones walk. Colorful illustrations convey the joy of childhood and make obvious the love that surrounds this family.

The Me I Choose to Be, opens a new window by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, art by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt
Dazzling, fantastical photographs accompany buoyant text, which together emphasize the endless strengths that lie within every child. The powerful, positive message of this book conveys possibility and resiliency in equal parts:

My creativity and curiosity
flow without end,
and if I meet an obstacle,
I just begin again.

Unspeakable, opens a new window by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
In 1921, the thriving, prosperous African American community of Greenwood, Oklahoma, was home to 10,000 people. The main street of Greenwood, lined with Black-owned businesses, was known as Black Wall Street.  All of that was destroyed in two days, when a white mob initiated the worst racial attack in United States history. Hundreds of people died, thousands of people were left homeless, and the community of Greenwood was destroyed, much of it burned. The full scope of the tragedy was largely covered up for decades and wasn’t fully investigated until the late 1990s.


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