February is Black History month, and here at the library we have a wealth of resources to learn about the history of civil rights in America. There are many great books on the topic written specifically for kids and teenagers. These ten books about African-Americans and their struggle for equality are excellent reads for young and old alike.
Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe: Hiram Hillburn has resented his civil-rights-minded father ever since the age of nine, when his parents moved him from his adored grandfather’s home in Greenwood, Miss., to the more liberal climate of an Arizona college town. Now that he is 16, Hiram has finally been permitted to visit Grampa Hillburn again. He soon meets Emmett Till from Chicago, who is also visiting relatives for the summer. Hiram suspects a childhood friend of being involved with Emmett’s subsequent murder, and becomes a witness in the nationally influential court case.
The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Ten-year-old Kenny’s tale of his trouble making teenage brother Byron and his family is at times a side-splitting humorous tale of an African American family living in Flint, Michigan. That drastically changes as they drive through segregated states to deliver Byron to Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama to see if she can straighten him out over the summer. In the summer of 1963 Birmingham is a dangerous place.
Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper: Sylvia is excited about going to the local high school with all her friends, but all that changes when she is selected to be one of the students selected to be the first African –Americans to attend the all white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. She has important decisions to make that will affect not only Sylvia but all African-Americans. If she attends her segregated school, she’s guaranteed a good education as well as an abundance of activities and an assured social life. If she goes to Central, she will be prohibited from participating in clubs, sports and all social events, and will definitely be subjected to threats and danger to herself and her family.
Devil on my Heels by Joyce McDonald: It is 1958 and the townspeople of Benevolence, Florida, are coping with anxieties brought on by the Cold War and the recent Civil Rights Movements. Fifteen-year-old Dove has spent her life as the sheltered daughter of a respected orange grove owner. Dove opens a Pandora’s box when she tries to protect Gator, an African-American picker and childhood friend, from white bullies. Dove soon discovers that many people in Benevolence adhere to a code of silence when it comes to treatment of the nonwhite workers.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D Schmidt: The year is 1912, and Turner Buckminster III has a mighty cross to bear: his family has just moved from Boston to Phippsburg, Maine; no one in Maine seems to throw a baseball so he can hit it; and, worst of all, he is the minister’s son. That is until he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, an African-American girl from nearby Malaga Island, who teaches him how to hit a Maine baseball and doesn’t hold his parentage against him. But the tide is turning against Malaga Island, a settlement of some 50-plus outcasts, very poor and mostly black: the good elders of Phippsburg want to replace the failing ship-building industry with tourism, and the collective eyesore that is the Malaga community will just have to go. Based on real events.
Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe: Most American history books don’t include Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old from Chicago who was brutally murdered while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta in 1954. But the gruesome, racially motivated crime and the court’s failure to convict the white murderers was a powerful national catalyst for the civil rights movement. Crowe details what happened on the horrible night, the court proceedings, and how the nation responded– the “aftershocks” of the unbelievable ruling. Crowe is particularly successful in placing the murder within its larger historical context. Four months after Till was killed, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and the wheels of the civil rights movement were set in motion.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni: With passionate, direct words and large watercolor and collage illustrations, this winner of both the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Medals is a picture book biography which shows Rosa Parks as a political activist whose refusal to give up her seat on the bus in 1955 helped spark the crucial bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen Levine: Participants in historic events of the Civil Rights movement share their own experiences with segregation and participating in integration of schools, boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter registration drives.
A Summer of Kings by Han Nolan: Overshadowed by perfect siblings and saddled with a reputation as a slow, stubborn, late bloomer, 14-year-old Esther expects the summer of 1963 to be life-changing. Her hopes are fulfilled when her parents offer a room in their Westchester, New York, mansion to an African American refugee from southern racial violence, whom some call a murderer, others a “victim of prejudice and circumstance.”
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: When a new, white student nicknamed “The Jesus Boy” joins her sixth grade class in the winter of 1971, Frannie’s growing friendship with him makes her start to see some things in a new light. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, And sings the tune— without the words, And never stops at all.” The words of Emily Dickinson, mixed with the exquisite, spare prose of this short novel, float through this gentle story like a feather. On one hand, this is a book about bullies and good girls and social and racial stratification. On the other, it is the story of a family holding itself together through many trials.