Librarian Prep List for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month

by Lara Neel, Trade Marketing Manager

This list will help you get ready for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 20, 2020 and Black History Month in February. Simply use it to quickly pull together displays, featured reads or anything else you need!

Almost to Freedom

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Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just

Interest Level: Grade 1 – Grade 4

“A must-purchase picture book biography of a figure sure to inspire awe and admiration among readers.”—School Library Journal (starred review)
Extraordinary illustrations and lyrical text present pioneering African American scientist Ernest Everett Just.

Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists of his time. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. He persisted in his research despite the discrimination and limitations imposed on him as an African American. His keen observations of sea creatures revealed new insights about egg cells and the origins of life.
Through stunning illustrations and lyrical prose, this picture book presents the life and accomplishments of this long overlooked scientific pioneer.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

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Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 4

In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., had an itch he needed to scratch—a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore.

And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people—Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes, to name a few. In his father’s bookstore people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. They came together here all because of his father’s book itch. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and helped people stand up for what they believed in.

Ruth and the Green Book

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Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5

Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family’s new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren’t treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws . . .

Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth’s family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook—and the kindness of strangers—Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma’s house in Alabama.

Ruth’s story is fiction, but The Green Book and its role in helping a generation of African American travelers avoid some of the indignities of Jim Crow are historical fact.

Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game

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Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5

When they piled into cars and drove through Durham, North Carolina, the members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team only knew that they were going somewhere to play basketball. They didn’t know whom they would play against. But when they came face to face with their opponents, they quickly realized this secret game was going to make history.

Discover the true story of how in 1944, Coach John McLendon orchestrated a secret game between the best players from a white college and his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes. At a time of widespread segregation and rampant racism, this illegal gathering changed the sport of basketball forever.

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent

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Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5

Told for the first time in picture book form is the true story of James Lafayette—a slave who spied for George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. But while America celebrated its newfound freedom, James returned to slavery. His service hadn’t qualified him for the release he’d been hoping for. For James the fight wasn’t over; he’d already helped his country gain its freedom, now it was time to win his own.

The Civil Rights Movement

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Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6

Civil rights have been in the news with the rise of Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem at NFL games, and more. Yet civil rights activists have many other causes they are fighting for, such as calling attention to police brutality and combating racism in everyday life.

The Civil Rights Movement started in the 1800s and remains a prominent movement within our modern society. Find out how activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer set the stage for activists in modern times and learn how activists are speaking out today to expand rights for African Americans.

Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion

Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6

“Nelson plaits her narrative with Western lingo and homespun similes. . . . James’ painterly oils swirl with energy, visible daubs creating the dusty, monumental landscape and equally monumental horses and humans. . . . A champion indeed.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The true tale of a cowboy’s epic rodeo ride from acclaimed author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Caldecott Honoree Gordon C. James.
In 1911, three men were in the final round of the famed Pendleton Round-Up. One was white, one was Indian, and one was black. When the judges declared the white man the winner, the audience was outraged. They named black cowboy George Fletcher the “people’s champion” and took up a collection, ultimately giving Fletcher far more than the value of the prize that went to the official winner. Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells the story of Fletcher’s unlikely triumph with a western flair that will delight kids—and adults—who love true stories, unlikely heroes, and cowboy tales.

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

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Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6

Sitting tall in the saddle, with a wide-brimmed black hat and twin Colt pistols on his belt, Bass Reeves seemed bigger than life. Outlaws feared him. Law-abiding citizens respected him. As a peace officer, he was cunning and fearless. When a lawbreaker heard Bass Reeves had his warrant, he knew it was the end of the trail, because Bass always got his man, dead or alive. He achieved all this in spite of whites who didn’t like the notion of a black lawman. Born into slavery in 1838, Bass had a hard and violent life, but he also had a strong sense of right and wrong that others admired. When Judge Isaac Parker tried to bring law and order to the lawless Indian Territories, he chose Bass to be a Deputy US Marshal. Bass would quickly prove a smart choice. For three decades, Bass was the most feared and respected lawman in the territories. He made more than 3,000 arrests, and though he was a crack shot and a quick draw, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty. The story of Bass Reeves is the story of a remarkable African American and a remarkable hero of the Old West.

Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song

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Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6

Enslaved African Americans longed for freedom, and that longing took many forms—including music. Drawing on biblical imagery, slave songs both expressed the sorrow of life in bondage and offered a rallying cry for the spirit.

Like a Bird brings together text, music, and illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator Michele Wood to convey the rich meaning behind thirteen of these powerful songs.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song

Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6  

The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever.

Discover how two outsiders—Billie Holiday, a young black woman raised in poverty, and Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants—combined their talents to create a song that challenged racism and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Walking in the Light

From the Series Gateway Biographies
Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8

Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential and inspiring leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. His life, work, and death are brought to life for readers like never before.

John Lewis: Courage in Action

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Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8

John Lewis is known as one of the most courageous leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired as a boy by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis would go on to spend more than fifty years fighting for equal rights. Lewis used nonviolent protest methods, participated in sit-ins, helped organize the March on Washington, and led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In 1986 Lewis won a seat in US Congress, and has held the position ever since. Walk with Lewis from a tenant farm in Alabama, across the segregated southern United States, and into Washington, DC, where he continues to work for equality for all Americans.

Colin Kaepernick: From Free Agent to Change Agent

From the Series Gateway Biographies
Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew positive and negative attention for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against minorities in 2016. Two years later, he made headlines again when he became a spokesperson for Nike. Explore Kaepernick’s football career and his work as an activist.

Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade

Interest Level: Grade 5 – Grade 8

In 1963, more than 30 African-American girls ages 11 to 16 were arrested for taking part in Civil Rights protests in Americus, Georgia. They were taken without their families’ knowledge to a Civil War-era stockade in Leesburg, Georgia, where they were confined in unsanitary conditions and exposed to brutal treatment. Over the following weeks, their commitment to the fight for equality was put to the test. Combining historical research and personal interviews with several of the girls, Heather E. Schwartz brings this true story of the Civil Rights Movement to life.

More Than a Game: Race, Gender, and Politics in Sports

Interest Level: Grade 5 – Grade 12

Sports has never been only about what takes place on the playing field. Author and sports fan Matt Doeden explores past and current controversies including black boxer Jack Johnson’s fight with the “Great White Hope” Tommy Burns, Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, Colin Kaepernick’s protests, #MeToo and the US gymnastics team, and much more. Doeden weaves in information about Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter, and other essential background young readers will need. This book is sure to engage everyone interested in sports, history, and civil rights.

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

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Interest Level: Grade 7 – Grade 12

“You can’t walk straight on a crooked line. You do you’ll break your leg. How can you walk straight in a crooked system?”

Lewis Michaux was born to do things his own way. When a white banker told him to sell fried chicken, not books, because “Negroes don’t read,” Lewis took five books and one hundred dollars and built a bookstore. It soon became the intellectual center of Harlem, a refuge for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Malcolm X.

In No Crystal Stair, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines meticulous research with a storyteller’s flair to document the life and times of her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, an extraordinary literacy pioneer of the Civil Rights era.

“My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I’m taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could never sell books to black people are eating crow. I’d say my seeds grew pretty damn well. And not just the book business. It’s the more important business of moving our people forward that has real meaning.”

The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, Survivors, and a Painful Past

Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12

Some true crimes reveal themselves in bits and pieces over time. One such case is the Florida School for Boys, a.k.a. the Dozier School, a place where—rather than reforming the children in their care—school officials tortured, raped, and killed them. Opened in 1900, the school closed in 2011 after a Department of Justice investigation substantiated allegations of routine beatings and killings made by about 100 survivors. Thus far, forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle and her team from the University of South Florida have uncovered fifty-five sets of human remains. Follow this story of institutional abuse, the brave survivors who spoke their truth, and the scientists and others who brought it to light.

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