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Friday, February 20, 2015

Three Little Ladies with Big Dreams, Black History Month Picture Books Worth a Look, by Andrea Perry

I am Rosa Parks
      by Brad Meltzer
      illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

"Always stand up for yourself (even if it means sitting down)" is the simple message from this child-friendly biographical sketch of Rosa Parks.  As a girl who was small for her age and sick a lot, we meet Rosa Parks,  a pivotal figure in the American movement for racial equality.  She speaks from her child's heart about noticing the different water fountains, bathrooms, bus seats and elevators for blacks and whites in her town, even wondering if "colored" water tasted differently than "white" water.  These differences culminated in her not giving up her seat, sitting down for what she believed, starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The simple language and first person narrative, and the few photographs at the end of the book, will make Rosa come alive to any child who wants to learn who she was.

My Name is Truth      The Life of Sojourner Truth
      by Ann Turner
      illustrated by James Ransome

From "I am Rosa Parks," to "Ain't I a Woman?" another first person narrative speaks in plain language about a black woman from a different time.  Born to slave parents in 1797 and one of twelve children, Isabella was sold into slavery for $100 when she was 9 years old.  She would not let her own children be separated from her and went so far as to hire a lawyer to reunite her with a son sold illegally by the Dumont family, one of many families she worked for.  Isabella reinvented herself as Sojourner, her self-proclaimed name of respect, and traveled throughout New England preaching as God had led her to do.  Sojourner preached the good news of salvation, and the terrible days of slavery.  Though she was famously known for her "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the 1851 Ohio Women's Rights Convention, we also learn that a woman author, Olive Gilbert, wrote her biography which Sojourner went on to sell at her speaking engagements. 

Mahalia Jackson     Walking with Kings and Queens
      by Nina Nolan
      illustrated by John Holyfield

Mahalia Jackson was also a tiny girl, but one with a big voice.  She was from New Orleans where she loved gospel singing in church, which raised her spirits particularly after her mother died.  Though she had to leave school at a young age to help care for her cousins, and then also went on to work for years as a maid, Mahalia kept singing.  One of her aunts told her one day she would even be singing for kings and queens.  Mahalia never forgot.  She refused to sing in nightclubs, and saved money for singing lessons for years.  She was 25 when she recorded her first gospel record with Decca Records. 
And her aunt was right.  Eventually Mahalia made it to Carnegie Hall, and even sang at the March on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

These three black women from humble beginnings all were true to themselves and never stopped believing that what they had to say or sing or sit for was important enough to make a difference.


  1. Nice list, Andrea. I'd also like to recommend Catching the Moon, about Marcenia Lyle's big baseball dreams (search this blog for "Picture Book Biographies to Delight and Entertain").