February is Black History Month, the perfect time to remind young readers of beloved heroes and heroines like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. This year, new books focus on other important figures, including Malcolm X, the many voices of the Harlem Renaissance and unexpected champions of equality, from unstoppable performers to long-forgotten slaves.
We picked our 10 favorite new books for honoring African-American heroes and heroines. Some of these stories are inspiring, some brutal and unflinching, but all are valuable and educational.
"Kristy Dempsey revisits a watershed moment in performing arts history in her sparkling new book, A Dance Like Starlight. The story’s spirited young heroine, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, lives with her mother in Harlem. The year is 1951." Read our full review.
"This lyrical tribute to Sugar Hill, the historic Harlem neighborhood of the 1920s and ‘30s, and its legendary inhabitants packs a lot of information with an economy of words and R. Gregory Christie’s colorful, stylized paintings." Read our full review.
"With appeal for younger and older readers alike, Under the Freedom Tree is both a beautiful tribute to a lasting symbol of freedom and a powerful reminder that one brave action can change the course of history." Read our full review.
"Malcolm Little is a terrific introduction to a polarizing historical figure and an inspiring tale that children can apply to their own lives. We all face adversity at one time or another; it’s how we respond that counts." Read our full review.
"In Josephine, Patricia Hruby Powell writes with great reverence and a vigor fitting to the life of the illustrious performer Josephine Baker. This handsomely designed tribute to Josephine’s life is refreshingly uncluttered in every way: Powell’s free-verse text doesn’t waste any words, and Christian Robinson’s minimalist acrylic illustrations communicate the very essence of Josephine’s vivacious spirit." Read our full review.
The Sittin' Up by Shelia P. Moses
Putnam | Ages 10 and up
"While most African-American children’s literature focuses on either slavery or the Civil Rights movement, Moses gives middle grade readers a glimpse of a time when slavery was recent enough to weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of African Americans, yet a more equitable future was also imaginable." Read our full review.
"Using the framework of Sarah’s unlikely wealth, Bolden offers a wide-ranging book discussing the creation of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma, the rise of black towns and boomtowns, and the greed and corruption that surrounds money. Searching for Sarah Rector draws upon photographs, census records, sensationalist newspaper articles and first-person interviews to tell a fascinating account of a little-known time in American history." Read our full review.
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook | Ages 10 to 14
"In The Port Chicago 50, Steve Sheinkin, author of the Newbery Honor book Bomb, tells the harrowing story of the fight for the lives and rights of 50 black sailors." Read our full review.
"Cy in Chains is a difficult, painful novel, but it’s an important one. Cy quickly morphs from a kind, compassionate boy, looking out for his friend before the accident, to a young man who’s been broken by a life of hard work and cruelty, and who comes to see compassion as a weakness he can’t afford." Read our full review.
"In a highly credible fashion, Willow grapples with her choices—she is as afraid of the path of freedom as she is of the certain horrors of continued enslavement. Perhaps most important to Willow, however, are the secrets she learns about the fate of her own mother, a beautiful and educated African woman." Read our full review.
Vibrant, rhythmic prose and inspired illustrations make Patricia Hruby Powell's new picture book, Josephine a fun and fitting tribute to one of America's greatest performers, Josephine Baker.
Powell's story spans Baker's full history: from her early childhood on the streets of St. Louis to her rise to fame, her civil rights activism and even her WWII espionage for France.
Watch the animated trailer from Chronicle books and get jazzed (pun definitely intended) to pick up a copy for a little one, or just for yourself.
And if you're as captivated by Christian Robinson's illustrations as I am, head on over to our reviewer, Julie Danielson's blog for Robinson's guest post featuring tons of extra artwork, storyboards and more!