It's been a heck of a few weeks, has it not? In addition to Sprout starting kindergarten today (wha???), which has taken up most of my free brain space, there's the situation surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Events are continuing to unfold, but one thing is pretty clear to all involved - this was about far more than the death of one young man, tragic as that death may have been.
I have my opinions on this issue, and I'm betting many of you can guess where my sympathies lie. I'm not going to be debating the events in this space, however. It's a discussion that needs to happen, and I'm fully invested in that, but in other arenas. Instead, what I want to do today is share some resources for initiating a conversation about race and justice with the children in your life. That's where I feel change can begin - with talking openly about the history of our country, honestly looking at events that have transpired, and considering where we can go from here, as a nation and as individuals.
So, without further ado - my picks surrounding African Americans' struggle for civil rights, to help provide some context to discussing Ferguson in the classroom, library or at home:
1. Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester - (Ages 4-8) Possibly my favorite book ever to discuss race and difference between people. Lester acknowledges that race is important, and an element in everyone's story, and explores why difference can divide, or bring us together. Critical for every classroom or library.
2. We March by Shane W. Evans (Ages 4-6) - a family participates in the March on Washington, showing the power of individuals joining together to make their voices heard. Great introductory piece for young children, with a nice afterword for further discussion.
3. Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden (Ages 3-6) - a young boy is denied a library card because he is black - but Ron doesn't let it go, and stages a protest for the right to access the books he loves. Based on the true story of astronaut Ron McNair, this is one of the first books about race we read with Sprout, and he still remembers it.
4. Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud (Ages 5-8) - a fictionalized account of true events surrounding the drive to register to vote, and the fallout that happened when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This vivid title doesn't shy away from relating hard truths, but is beautifully done.
5. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Ages 7-10) - At the core of the Civil Rights Movement is nonviolent protest, and the Pinkneys demonstrate that in action with their account of the 1960 protest at the Woolworth lunch counter. A tremendous example of the small acts of injustice that wore away at African Americans daily, and how they stood up to gain basic freedoms.
6. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (Ages 8-12) - the firsthand account of a young black girl at the forefront of the movement to integrate public schools in 1960. The power of this first-person narrative draws readers in and provides plenty to think and talk about.
7. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman (Ages 8-12) - a nonfiction piece that explores the entire history of this pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement, giving context for the boycott and explaining how organized resistance brought about change. Illustrated with powerful photos, full of citations and additional reading suggestions.
8. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Ages 9 up) - a stunning portrait of black history in the United States, covering the entirety of the stuggle for equality and acceptance. This should be required reading for all Americans, in my opinion - much of the history Nelson provides is often glossed over in regular history classes. Simply the finest title out there.
9. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Ages 9 up) - Set a little later than many of the other choices here, this novel brings to life the late 60's and the rise of the Black Panthers. By setting her story against that of three sisters reconnecting with their absentee mother, Williams-Garcia personalizes the events and helps readers see a different view of the much-maligned organization. (Even better on audio.)
10. Revolution by Deborah Wiles (Ages 10 up) - this novel, the second in Wiles's Sixties Trilogy, is densely populated with facts that underscore the fiction. Students of history will appreciate the many small threads that Wiles weaves into this story, set in Mississippi during Freedom Summer; the shifting perspective of white and black characters adds power to the narrative.
11. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip Hoose (Age 12 up) - Hoose's award-winning title recounts the true story of Claudette Colvin, a teenager whose refusal to move to the back of the bus preceded Rosa Parks's by several months. Colvin's actions were instrumental in the beginnings of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but her story was mostly forgotten; Hoose corrects this wrong with a striking story of one girl at the epicenter of a vast political movement.
12. They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Age 13 up) - I've often wondered how an organization based on hate could get its start, and this book pulls back the curtain. This is a difficult title, so best for older readers - Bartoletti is unflinching in her examination of the cruelty and bloodshed that spawned this group, and I think this is an important read to understand not only Jim Crow and segregation, but also the roots of the Civil Rights Movement.
13. When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis (Age 12 up) - the struggle for civil rights is of course not confined to the United States. Here, with a powerful collection of poetry, Lewis brings voice to the leaders of civil rights struggles the world over, including many who are familiar and some that will be entirely new. An intensely personal volume, and one that will linger in the heart and mind of the reader.
In addition, here are some more resources for discussing civil rights, protest, inequality and the events both past and current:
- Nine Kinds of Pie Blog - "Ferguson: Response and Resources" compiled by Philip Nel (this is the best list I've seen - if you have time for only one, start here)
- School Library Journal, "Understanding Ferguson: Resources on Protest, Nonviolent Resistance, and Civil Rights"
- Lee & Low Blog, "Thoughts on Ferguson and Recommended Resources" by Jason Low
- Left Banks Books reading list - "#Ferguson: How We Got Here"
- #FergusonSyllabus on Storify, compiled by @neelofer
- Stacked Blog - "Ferguson, Race, Civil Rights, Social Activism and YA Fiction: A Round-Up of Reading" by Kelly Jensen
- Nerdy Book Club - "Top 10 Picture Books for Activists in Training" by Mathangi Subramanian