Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BHM Wrap-up: 8 More Books

Well, I lost steam. I have no idea if anyone is reading these, so the daily thing didn't work. But I do want to finish up. Here are 8 more picture books we love, with Black main characters. And that makes one for each day of the month.

In Coming On Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson, Ada Ruth's mama is going away to Chicago to find work, "They're hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war." After Mama leaves, Grandma holds Ada Ruth when she cries. While they wait for Mama to come on home, a kitten comes around. Grandma says, "You know we can't keep it." But they do. Grandma and Ada Ruth make it through a rough winter, and eventually Mama does come on home.

We have two different books about John Henry. The one we like best is by Julius Lester, with pictures by Jerry Pinkney. In a wonderful introduction, we're told that John Henry may, or may not, have been a real person. The legends around him grew and grew, and in this story, he grows as big as a man within a few days of being born. Soon he goes to work building the railroad. One day John Henry and a steam drill have a contest... (If you don't know the song, google it.)

Want another tall tale? Patricia McKissack's, A Million Fish ... More or Less, about the weird things that happen in the Bayou Clapateaux, is one of our favorites. Papa-Daddy and Elder Abbajon come rowing by while Hugh Thomas is trying to catch some fish, and remind him of some of their adventures in the bayou. After they leave, he catches a million fish (more or less), and then has his own strange encounters with the creatures of the bayou.

In Flossie and the Fox, also by Patricia McKissack, Big Mama asks Flossie to take some eggs over to Miz Viola at the McCutchin place, but tells her to watch out for the fox. Flossie does as she's told, and when the fox comes round, she outsmarts him somethin' fierce!

Liza Lou is good at outsmarting trouble too, in Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer. She outsmarts a haunt (with a confederate cap on), a witch, a gobblygook, and a devil, all while running errands for her mama.

Two years ago, my son had to deal with someone he loves dying, so we started reading lots of books about death. One of them, Z's Gift, by Neal Starkman, is about a boy who helps his mom and classmates realize that their teacher who has AIDS is not contagious. He makes her passing a little easier, and she offers him a gift after she's gone.

Alice Walker has written the most amazing children's book, To Hell With Dying, a true story about her childhood neighbor, Mr. Sweet. Over and over, he'd be at death's door, and Alice's father would say, "To hell with dying. These children want Mr. Sweet!" And she and her brothers and sisters
... would come crowding around the bed and throw themselves on the covers, and whoever was the smallest at the time would kiss him all over his wrinkled brown face and begin to tickle him so that he would laugh all down in his stomach...
 Although Mr. Sweet was alcoholic, he was a good playmate, and they were determined to bring him back.
It did not occur to us that we were doing anything special; we had not learned that death was final when it did come.
While Alice was in college, she got a telegram asking her to hurry home, Mr. Sweet was dying. She made it in time, but this time there was no bringing him back. He was really gone. Such a tender story! And such an affirmation that "I did not need to be perfect to be loved. No one does." Mmm...

I started out the month with a civil rights book, and I'll end it that way, too. In From Miss Ida's Porch, Sandra Belton offers a fantastic introduction to the issues, and a warm affirmation of community.
There's a very best time of day on Church Street. My street. It begins when the sky and my feelings match, both kind of rosy around the edges.
Most of the best times ... just about all of us end up at Miss Ida's. Sitting on her porch. ... the biggest reason we all end up there is that Miss Ida's porch is a telling place.
The kids don't believe it's possible that Lena Horne stayed at Miz Jackson's place. The adults tell them why famous people did stay at their houses. Mr. Fisher says:
Nowhere else for them to stay! Couldn't stay in hotels. Hotels didn't allow no black guests! Famous or not. When our folk came to town to give a speech, put on a show, or whatever they came to do, we had to be the ones to give 'em a bed.
Then he gets to tell his story about the time Duke Ellington stayed at the boarding house he lived at. Shoo Kate follows with her story of the time she got to see Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, because Anderson's concert at Constitution Hall had been canceled - the hall owners would not allow a black performer to sing there. Lots more stories in the book, told in just the right way.

Happy reading!


  1. I am a black mother to an interracial toddler. Just days ago, a friend sent me an article about how children as young as my daughter begin to firm their ideas about race. Days later, a public radio program discussed the lack of black characters in children's books. I became obsessed with finding a book that I had read and loved as a child, featuring a young black heroine. I spent hours searching, with no luck, until I came across this page. I immediately recognized the picture from the front of the book, though in reading your summary I realize that I had forgotten quite a lot of the content. Thank you so much for helping me to find this so I can share it with my little girl.

  2. Thanks for writing, Nkese. Which book was it?