Celebrate Black History in pictures for kids
In honor of Black History Month, Eliot Schrefer recommends four picture books for young readers that celebrate the lives of black people across the globe.
TWO FRIENDS: SUSAN B. ANTHONY AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS Written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko Orchard Books/Scholastic, 32 pp., ages 4-8
The stylish Two Friends (out of four) imagines the meeting between two great progressive minds of the 19th century. When writer/orator Frederick Douglass joins abolitionist Susan B. Anthony at her home for tea, he learns of her fighting an educational system that doesn’t grant equal access to women, and in turn recounts the hardship of his enslaved childhood. The two activists share a goal: expanding the right to vote. Given such weighty material, Two Friends is remarkably light on its feet, the composition of the pages lively and dynamic and the political figures rendered with high-beam charm. The book takes the time to note what the characters are wearing, wisely indulging kids’ interests in both the superficial and the political.
MARVELOUS CORNELIUS: HURRICANE KATRINA AND THE SPIRIT OF NEW ORLEANS Written by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra Chronicle Books, 44 pp., ages 5-8
The heroics of a street cleaner— what a refreshing topic. Phil Bildner recounts the true story of Cornelius Washington ( eeeg), “a wizard of trash cans” famed in New Orleans for singing and dancing while he worked. When one day a storm comes and “the great city filled with water,” Cornelius sets out on his most daunting task yet— helping his beloved city rise again from “a gumbo of mush and mud” after Hurricane Katrina. These pages have a folk-art feel, down to the quilted images that open and close the tale. Some kids will fall for Cornelius’ big garbage truck, others will adore his fey and dancerly poses. Still others will love the language itself: “The old ladies whistled and whirled. / The old men hooted and hollered. / The barbers, bead twirlers, and / beignet bakers bounded behind / the oneman parade.”
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET Written by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson Putnam Books for Young Readers, 32 pp., ages 3-5
It’s been quite a year for Last Stop on Market Street ( eeee): It won the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature. It’s not hard to see why. This story of a young boy taking a bus trip with his grandmother captures the diversity of people on everyday city streets. Though CJ complains that they have to take the bus, and that he doesn’t have an MP3 player like other boys, his nana teaches him that feeling impoverished is more about outlook than material wealth. “He wondered how his nana always found beautiful / where he never even thought to look.” The surprise destination of themorning’s bus trip will please kids, as will the wealth of visual details contained in the vivid and blocky illustrations. A generous and inclusive reminder about counting one’s blessings.
THE GIRL WHO BURIED HER DREAMS IN A CAN Written by Dr. Tererai Trent, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist Viking Books for Young Readers, 40 pp., ages 6-8
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can ( eee) recounts the author’s own story, beginning with her girlhood in rural Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she was told that education was hatigone— forbidden. She is committed to learning, though, and convinces her brother to teach her to read. When opportunity for proper schooling comes, she seizes it and eventually moves to the USA, where she earns multiple degrees before returning to help educate the children of her birthplace. Trent’s story is an empowering model for children, but the book might be a tough go for some of them— the watercolors beautifully illustrate the text but don’t move the narrative forward, making for an overly stately pace. That said, children who devote their attention here will be inspired by this tale of a steadfast girl from Rhodesia who changed the world.