The Children's Book Compass

Outstanding New Books That Focus on the Struggle for Civil Rights

Posted on: February 2, 2010

Hank Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares.  (2010). Candlewick Press.   Pages not numbered Grades 2 and up.  Biography.

The first sentences of this biography of the famous baseball player strikes the tone for the book, “Henry Aaron had a dream./  He wanted to be a big-league baseball player./  He didn’t have a bat, / so he’d swing a broom handle/ or a stick/ or whatever he could find.”  Tavares shows Aaron’s determination to accomplish his dream and his struggles to do so.  He suffered from many racial incidents.  It was hard to even find a place to play baseball since his town, Mobile, Alabama, in the 1940’s only had baseball diamonds for whites with signs that said – “Whites Only. “  The author focuses on Aaron’s early life and ends the account when Aaron joins the major leagues, making his dream come true.   Jackie Robinson became Aaron’s hero who paved the way for other African-Americans to become major league baseball players.  See the connecting books for biographies about Robinson.

This book is an excellent choice to share with a class since everyone can view the large, expressive illustrations that capture Aaron’s emotions, struggles and triumphs.  An Author’s Note at the end together with a bibliography and statistics from Aaron’s career provide more information.

Please note the books under “Connecting Books” about Jackie Robinson.  Students could be invited to read those books and compare the experiences of Aaron and Robinson and how their hard work broke the color barriers in major league baseball.  Also, see We Are the Ship below to provide background for the students about the Negro Leagues.

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge.  (2009). Viking.  72 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Nonfiction.

African-American children were instrumental in the struggle for civil rights.  However, except for Ruby Bridges their stories have not been widely told.  This book closes that gap by focusing on children in Selma Alabama during the terrible spring of 1965.  Children and teens became part of the non-violent effort to obtain voting rights and were often beaten, tear-gassed, arrested and jailed.  The teens even influenced their teachers to try to register to vote.  The teachers defied their superintendent and the sheriff when they became outraged by their students’ arrests.   Partridge spotlights the stories of several different children and teens and shows how their bravery helped them to survive the terrible violence that they met in the marches and protests.  The second half of the book details the five day March from Selma to Montgomery.  Some of the children who hadbeen badly beaten on “Bloody Sunday” went along.  One of the girls wanted “Governor Wallace to see he hadn’t hurt her spirit-“even though she was still bandaged from the terrible injuries she had suffered at the hands of state troopers on “Bloody Sunday.”  The back matter in the book provides an Author’s Note, source notes, a bibliography, acknowledgments, and an index.  Archival photographs show the children involved in the efforts as well as leaders in the civil rights movement.

After the book has been shared with the whole class, use it as a model of an inquiry cycle.  Point out how the final sections in the book work together to demonstrate how Partridge did her research.  For example, the Author’s Note describes how Partridge went about her inquiry and the questions that guided her investigation.   Also, the sections on Source Notes, Bibliography and Acknowledgments clearly demonstrate the variety of resources she used.  Finally, the author provides her Web site for students to continue to learn about the topics in the book.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Illus. by Brian Pinkney.  (2010).  Little Brown.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Nonfiction.

The Pinkney’s combine their talents to create a powerful chronicle of the lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina during 1960.   Four African-American young college students started the sit-in and soon they were joined by their college friends.  Quotations by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enrich the text and demonstrate how the students based their protest on non-violent practices.  They learned that “Practicing peace while others showed hatred was tougher than any school test.”  The poetic text has a rhythmic cadence that builds to a dramatic resolution with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The last page features a fold-out that shows three full pages of illustrations that are a visual recap of all that went on in this struggle for equality.   Brian Pinkney’s use of watercolors and India ink effectively expands and compliments the text.  The designers of the book employ varied and colorful fonts for emphasis of some of the quotes and slogans. The last pages of the book feature a time-line of the civil rights movement, a photograph with more information about the young men who first sat down to sit-in and background on the civil rights movement.  Finally, the last page gives a bibliography for further reading and websites to visit.  Click on this link to see one of the recommended websites:  me

This book is an excellent choice for reading aloud and for choral readings.  The repeating refrains especially lend themselves to choral readings.  After you have read the book aloud, share it on the document camera so the students can follow along as you read.  Students then can be guided to recognize how the use of fonts helps the reader emphasize different parts of the text.  Then ask children to volunteer to read different parts with everyone joining in on the reading of the colored fonts.  Give the children lots of time for practice in order to make a powerful presentation.  Finally, see the connecting books below to offer even more opportunities to learn about the struggle for civil rights.

Connecting Books

Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds.  Illus. by Floyd Cooper.  (2010).  Philomel.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

A young boy relates his perspective of the arrest of Rosa Parks from his vantage point at the back of the bus.

Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner.  (2010).   Calkins Creek.  48 pages.  Grades 4 and up.  Nonfiction.

Archival photographs and comprehensive text combine to tell the story of the five children that were murdered in the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963.

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Illus. by Brian Pinkney.  (2008).  Amistad.   Pages not numbered.  Grades  2 and up.   Nonfiction.

Dramatic illustrations and rhythmic text combine to tell the powerful story of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.  (2009).  FSG.  114 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Biography.

A National Book Award winner for 2009 this biography focuses on Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus, nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford.  Illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue.  (2007).  Puffin.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

A young girl relates how desegregation takes place in her town and focuses on how her older brother and his friends stage a sit-in at a lunch counter.

The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner.  Illus. by John Holyfield.  (2010).  Putnam.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

In 1932 an African-American pilot, James Banning and his copilot became the first African-Americans to fly across the United States.

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed American by Sharon Robinson.  (2004) Scholastic.  64 pages.  Grades 3 and up.  Biography.

Robinson’s daughter recounts how her dad’s courage, talent and perseverance enabled him to break the color barriers in major league baseball.  She combines the history of the period with the events of her father’s life to create an intimate portrait of his life.  Also see: Teammates by Peter Golenblock and Stealing Home: Jackie Robinson Against the Odds by Robert Burleigh.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.  Illus. by George Ford.  (1995).  Scholastic. Pages not numbered.  Grades 1 and up.  Picture book.

The picture book version of how a six-year-old girls integrated her elementary school despite the racial slurs and abuse of a white crowd gathered each morning to taunt her.

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson.  Illus. by Eric Velasquez.  (2005). Simon.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1 and up.  Picture book.

A young girl describes the power of being involved in a civil rights march.

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges.  (1999). Scholastic.  64 pages.  Grades 3 and up.  Nonfiction.

Ruby tells her own story of how as a young child she integrated her elementary school.  She also describes the background of the civil rights movement.  Includes many photographs.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson.  (2008) Jump at the Sun.  96 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Nonfiction.

Dramatic and powerful illustrations combine with fascinating historical facts about the players in the Negro Leagues before major league baseball was integrated to make an absorbing book.

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Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

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