Children's Books Spotlighting African Americans: Bring the Representation & Visibility They Deserve
Black History is American History. We need to be teaching about influential, world changing people of color all year long-not just in February. We think it's especially important that children of color are exposed to diverse books in our classrooms! According to Conscious Kid, "Each year, there are more children’s books published about animals than Black people. Black people have historically been, and continue to be, underrepresented, misrepresented, or invisible in children’s literature. Black male characters are even less visible, and even fewer still, are books reflecting positive and empowered depictions of Black boys."
We realize how "white & European" history is and this is shameful to us. We want to ensure that our students see the many facets of American history-the good, the bad, the ugly (in an age appropriate way) so today we're sharing many of the books we've added to our classrooms to ensure that all students are well represented. Our classroom libraries try to keep the 50-50 fiction/nonfiction balance so I'll be sharing quite a few informational texts BUT I'd like to share these AMAZING graphic novels first.
Do your students love graphic novels? I love using graphic novels to motivate and engage reluctant and struggling readers. It's even better when those graphic novels feature history AND represent many different cultures and backgrounds. Most of the ones I've found are by Graphic Library published by Capstone Press. These books are perfect for upper elementary and middle school classrooms. There's a mix of text boxes and comic bubbles, a glossary, index, and amazingly detailed comics. My favorite female graphic novels are Bessie Coleman: Daring Stunt Pilot and Wilma Rudolph: Olympic Track Star. My boys always tended to gravitate toward Muhammad Ali: American Champion and Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion as their top pics. They are a bit of an investment but if you think you'll stay in the same grade level for several years or teach history, these are well worth every penny. Your students will love them and they will thank you for adding these to your library. (Consider creating an Amazon Wishlist or Donors Choose to help fund these!)
Do you use Rookie Reader Biographies in your classroom library? I've been using them for YEARS and they are amazing for students in upper grades who are struggling and reluctant readers. Many are out of print now, but you can find some on Amazon and be on the lookout at your local thrift stores. I love Rookie Readers because they have pictures and larger text for readability, short chunks of information on each page, and come in a HUGE range of nonfiction topics. You will be gently exposing them to a wide variety of information that they can appropriately digest- without the risk of them feeling threatened, overwhelmed, or confused. Honestly, they are perfect for any elementary classroom. While their reading levels typically range from second to third grade, they are great quick reads or again, helpful for adding more nonfiction texts to your classroom library.
Nat Geo Kids have always been my "go to" source for quality nonfiction. While their collection of African American biographies is quite limited, the text features are on point and the text levels are perfect for upper elementary readers.
Next, we love the "Who Was" series. They are for older students (third grade all the way into middle school) but really go in depth into the biographies of important people, each includes 10-12 chapters kept to 100 pages, timelines, and some B&W sketches to keep things interesting. As of January 2020, they have 22 influential African American musicians, athletes, politicians, business owners, inventors and civil rights leaders in the series. Personally, I think students would most love the stories of Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley, Tuskegee Airmen, and Venus & Serena Williams!
After thoughtfully going through our extensive library of children's books, we realize our picture book selection is somewhat limited. We have many picture books about abolition and slavery specifically, but we need more featuring Black culture. We've added our favorites found on IG (#picturebooks) to our Amazon Wishlist and will add to this list soon! Once you've found some great books to read with your students, download this free Black History Month Comprehension Crossword Puzzle to review the key vocabulary you've learned.
Interested in some leveled texts about influential African Americans? We have 36 biographies filled with 𝒶𝓂𝒶𝓏𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝓈𝓉𝑜𝓇𝒾𝑒𝓈 of resilience, bravery, and dedication. We are in awe of what people can accomplish- even when the odds are so unfairly stacked against them. These differentiated and integrated lessons and activities are perfect for Black History Month and ALL YEAR LONG! Engage your students with differentiated reading passages and comprehension questions about Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and many more!