Books about our history—past, present, and future.
Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons, Keith Mallett (Illustrator)
In Jacksonville, Florida, two brothers, one of them the principal of a segregated, all-black school, wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” so his students could sing it for a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. From that moment on, the song has provided inspiration and solace for generations of Black families. Mothers and fathers passed it on to their children who sang it to their children and grandchildren. It has been sung during major moments of the Civil Rights Movement and at family gatherings and college graduations.
Inspired by this song’s enduring significance, Kelly Starling Lyons and Keith Mallett tell a story about the generations of families who gained hope and strength from the song’s inspiring words. (Penguin Young Readers)
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James (Illustrator)
The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.
A fresh cut makes boys fly.
This rhythmic, read-aloud title is an unbridled celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair—a tradition that places on their heads a figurative crown, beaming with jewels, that confirms their brilliance and worth and helps them not only love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a high-spirited, engaging salute to the beautiful, raw, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror. (Agate)
Ada Twist, Scientist (Questioneers Collection Series) by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts (Illustrator)
Inspired by real-life makers Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, this beloved #1 bestseller champions STEM, girl power and women scientists in a rollicking celebration of curiosity, the power perseverance, and the importance of asking “Why?”
Don’t miss Ada’s further adventures—with her friends Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere—in the instant New York Times bestseller Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, the first all-new chapter book starring The Questioneers!
Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie—stars of their own New York Times bestselling picture books Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer—Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious. (ABRAMS)
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
An important book for all ages, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of forty trailblazing black women in American history. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.
Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things – bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them.
The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, Laura Freeman (Illustrator)
Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.
They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.
In this beautifully illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. (Harper Collins)
Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen? by Sherri L. Smith
During World War II, black Americans were fighting for their country and for freedom in Europe, yet they had to endure a totally segregated military in the United States, where they weren’t considered smart enough to become military pilots. After acquiring government funding for aviation training, civil rights activists were able to kickstart the first African American military flight program in the US at Tuskegee University in Alabama. While this book details thrilling flight missions and the grueling training sessions the Tuskegee Airmen underwent, it also shines a light on the lives of these brave men who helped pave the way for the integration of the US armed forces. (Penguin Young Readers)
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.
David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly’s inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors. (Random House Children’s Books)
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina Young Readers Edition by Misty Copeland
Determination meets dance in this middle grade adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland.
As the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has been breaking down all kinds of barriers in the world of dance. But when she first started dancing—at the late age of thirteen—no one would have guessed the shy, underprivileged girl would one day make history in her field.
Her road to excellence was not easy—a chaotic home life, with several siblings and a single mother, was a stark contrast to the control and comfort she found on stage. And when her home life and incredible dance promise begin to clash, Misty had to learn to stand up for herself and navigate a complex relationship with her mother, while pursuing her ballet dreams.
Life in Motion is a story for all the kids who dare to be different, dream bigger, and want to break stereotypes in whatever they do. (Aladdin)
Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Kathleen Van Cleve
In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive.
From her childhood, to her time with the Washingtons and living in the slave quarters, to her escape to New Hampshire, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, along with Kathleen Van Cleve, shares an intimate glimpse into the life of a little-known, but powerful figure in history, and her brave journey as she fled the most powerful couple in the country. (Aladdin)
Mo’s Bows: A Young Person’s Guide to Start-Up Success: Measure, Cut, Stitch Your Way to a Great Business by Moziah Bridges, Daymond John (Foreword by), Tramica Morris
Running a successful business can be hard for anyone, but seventeen-year-old Moziah Bridges has becomes a pro at it. His company, Mo’s Bow’s, is what today’s “kidpreneurs” dream of achieving—a successful business selling a product that one loves and is passionate about. Mo shares with young business-minded readers his BOWS of Business: Believe in yourself, take the Opportunity to give back, Work hard/study hard, and have Support from friends and family. He knows there is a Mo’s Bows in every household-kids just need someone to help nurture their talents.
Aimed at young middle grade readers, Mo’s Bows: A Young Person’s Guide to Startup Success follows Mo’s journey to success and reveals all the ups and downs and important lessons he’s learned along the way-as well as provides information and tips on how to start your own business and succeed. Complete with a foreword by New York Times bestselling author Daymond John, this book is sure to inspire budding young entrepreneurs to achieve their business goals. (Running Press Book Publishers)
Storytelling plays an integral part in history, specifically Black History. It is the way by which African Americans, from the the days of slavery, passed on their history from generation to generation. One of the ways by which African Americans did this was through music.
One of the things I love about our book selections this month is the discovery of a common thread that runs in 3 out of the 4 books. I just love when a theme develops organically based on the book selections! At the center of the stories in these books is a special grandparent-grandchild relationship. Each of these books explores the passage of legacy through music – Our Nest Jr. book tells a lovely story of this special familial relationship within the context of jazz and our Nest book does the same within the context of blues. Lastly, our Soar book takes a different approach – it showcases this relationship while weaving in hip-hop culture and outer space in an interesting manner. While our Hatch book does not have a grandparent-grandchild relationship at its center, it is storytelling at its best – a little bit of history in the form of beautiful images and lyrical text for the youngest amongst us.
Sign up for our February Box to get a little bit of this story telling magic!
In the meantime, here are 4 more stories featuring the beauty of child to grandparent relationships.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson (Illustrator)
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights the wonderful perspective only grandparent and grandchild can share, and comes to life through Matt de la Pena’s vibrant text and Christian Robinson’s radiant illustrations.
When Grandmama Singsby Margaree King Mitchell, James Ransome (Illustrator)
When Grandmama Coles gets a big chance, Belle gets one, too. Belle’s going to spend the summer touring the South with Grandmama and a swing jazz band! Belle’s never been outside Pecan Flats, Mississippi, and she can’t wait to go on the road with Grandmama, helping her read signs and menus and hearing her sing. There are so many new things to see on their travels through the Deep South. But some things aren’t new. Everything is segregated, just like at home. But Grandmama stands up for what’s right. And when she sings, Belle knows that Grandmama’s song can bring everyone together.
From Margaree King Mitchell and James E. Ransome, the award-winning author and artist of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, comes this new picture-book collaboration about the gift of love, the beauty of music, and its power to bring people together—even in the segregated South.
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally—in this “pitch-perfect contemporary novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) by the winner of the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award.
Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck, Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he hides it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).
How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.
Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?
Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrongby Joan Steinau Lester
As a biracial teen, Nina is accustomed to a life of varied hues—mocha-colored skin, ringed brown hair streaked with red, a darker brother, a black father, a white mother. When her parents decide to divorce, the rainbow of Nina’s existence is reduced to a much starker reality. Shifting definitions and relationships are playing out all around her, and new boxes and lines seem to be getting drawn every day. Between the fractures within her family and the racial tensions splintering her hometown, Nina feels caught in a perpetual battle. Feeling stranded in the nowhere land between racial boundaries, and struggling for personal independence and identity, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery. Is there direction in the tale of her ancestor? Can Nina build her own compass when landmarks from her childhood stop guiding the way?
LANGSTON HUGHES, AWARD WINNING POET AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST, 2/01
JAMES P. JOHNSON, PIONEERING PIANIST AND COMPOSER IN THE EARLY DAYS OF JAZZ, 02/01
ROSA PARKS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, 2/04
TRAYVON MARTIN, 2/05
HENRY “HANK” AARON, RECORD-BREAKING MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER, 2/05
BOB MARLEY BEST SELLING ALBUM WINNER, 2/06
CHRIS ROCK, EMMY AND GRAMMY AWARD WINNER, 2/07
SANDRA BLAND, 2/7
ALICE WALKER, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING POET, 2/09
YARA SHAHIDI, NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNING ACTRESS, 2/10
JAMES WEST, INVENTOR OF THE CONTEMPORARY MICROPHONE, 2/10
LEONTYNE PRICE, AWARD-WINNING OPERATIC SOPRANO, 2/10
JACQUELINE WOODSON, NEWBERY MEDAL WINNING AUTHOR, 2/12
FREDERICK DOUGLAS, ABOLITIONIST, JOURNALIST, & A KEY FIGURE IN THE ANTI-SLAVERY MOVEMENT, 2/14
DANAI GURIRA, ACTRESS AND TONY-NOMINATED PLAYWRIGHT, 2/14
MAHERSHALA ALI ACADEMY AWARD WINNING ACTOR, 2/16
LEVAR BURTON, AWARD-WINNING TV PERSONALITY AND HOST OF READING RAINBOW, 2/16
MICHAEL JORDAN CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING BASKETBALL PLAYER, 02/17
TONI MORRISON, EDITOR AND PULITZER-WINNING AUTHOR, 2/18
AUDRE LORDE LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNING POET AND FEMINIST, 2/18
TREVOR NOAH, AUTHOR, COMEDIAN, AND EMMY-WINNING TV PRESENTER, 2/20
SIDNEY POITIER, GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATED ACTOR, 2/20
NINA SIMONE, LEGENDARY JAZZ SINGER AND ACTIVIST, 2/21
W.E.B. DUBOIS. CO-FOUNDER OF NAACP AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, 2/23
MARIAN ANDERSON, GRAMMY AWARD WINNING SINGER, 2/27
Jazz, you might know it by the booming sounds of a brass section, maybe it’s the toe-tapping beat you hear on the radio, or maybe you know it by the sax solo you can’t get out your head- the one that you never want to end. Jazz, you know it when you hear it, but do you know about its roots in Black history and how it surprisingly connects to, of all things, the Space Race? Let’s take a look into the history of jazz and outer space!
Jazz has deep ties to African-American culture and music. The history of jazz can be traced all the way back to the 1600s with the introduction of slavery to North America. With a culture of enslaved Africans singing old spirituals while working, and with the influence of blues music in the late 1800s, jazz was born. The music allowed African Americans “a powerful voice and was especially important to minority groups suffering unfair treatment because of the color of the skin”. Learn more! But what makes jazz as a genre unique and so memorable? It might be that jazz encourages you to do your own thing! Jazz has so many different variations. Some songs rely on woodwind instruments and percussive rhythm while others have a heavy piano influence. There is no one way of creating jazz. Doing your own thing is highlighted by the theme of improv in jazz. Coming up with a solo on the spot in the middle of a familiar tune is not only expected but encouraged, improv is what makes jazz so exciting. Learn more!
Around the same time as the boom in jazz music, the Space Race was in full swing (pun intended). The Space Race was a period between the late 1940s to 1975 when the United States and the Soviet Union each tried to best each other with their technology by expanding their exploration of space. 1957 saw the Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite into space and one of the most famous trumpet players in history, Louis Armstrong’s public denouncement of President Dwight D. Eisenhower over segregation. Learn more! In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon, the same year Early Jazz by Gunter Schuller was released, one of the first comprehensive studies on the origins of jazz. The end of the Space Race in 1975 occurred only one year after the death of Duke Ellington, one of jazz’s most remembered lead orchestrators and pianists. Learn more!
Jazz and the space race are connected through more than just time. Many musicians inspired by the mystery of space took up their instruments to celebrate the influence of the Space Race including George Russell who composed the enchanting “Jazz in the Space Age” in 1960 and Shorty Rogers who gave us the space-themed “Martians Come Back!” in 1956. Learn more!
Jazz can teach us so much about the history of music, especially musical styles that were embraced and pioneered by African-Americans. Jazz linked communities during times of oppression and allowed novel artistic expression to flourish. Where other musical styles are rigid, jazz provides an alternative, fueled by taking risks through improvisation and spontaneity. Jazz proves its timelessness and uniqueness through its transformative ability to make music that is both familiar and brand new through its combinative nature. It’s no wonder why the great undertaking of exploring space coincides with jazz- a style that has always pushed the limits!
Did you know the first instrument in space was the saxophone? Learn more!
Saxophones, as we know them, are made of brass, but the first was made of wood! Learn more!
The first African American woman in space, Mae C. Jemison was a jazz dancer! Learn more!
In 2013 Chris Hadfield performed a live concert from space. Learn more!
CHECK OUT SOME OF OUR FAVORITE JAZZ SONGS!
When I set out to plan the book selections for this month’s boxes, I knew I wanted to showcase African American authors and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to music. I grew up with late 80s and 90s hip-hop – hip-hop has my heart! As such, showcasing books that featured hip-hop culture was a no brainer. But I didn’t want to focus on just hip-hop, I wanted to highlight other genres such as jazz and blues, particularly the music of the Harlem Renaissance era.
Enter the photo known as A Great Day in Harlem. On a summer day in 1958, Art Kane, a young freelance photographer took this iconic photo, his first assignment, at 17 East 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenue in Harlem. You almost cannot talk about the history of jazz without referencing this photograph. Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams and the list goes on and on! Every time I look at this photograph, I marvel at the talent and the era it represents. Oh the stories those faces could tell, so much history in one frame. I also marvel at the ability to get 57 iconic jazz musicians into one photo! Have you ever tried to coordinate 4 of your friends for a lunch or dinner date? It’s a herculean task!
Netflix recently recreated this photograph with 47 black creatives to celebrate diversity in television and the result was amazing. Which black authors would you include in a recreation of this iconic photo? Drop your suggestion on our social channels!