Children’s Historical Fiction for African American History Month

by on February 6th, 2012
Children’s Historical Fiction for African American History Month Cover Image

African-American History Month in February invariably means that January is a great month for children’s historical fiction releases. This year is no exception. Four different eras/struggles are covered in these strong new releases: Reconstruction, the Depression, School Desegregation and Swimming Pool Desegregation.

Crow by Barbara Wright tells the story of the only coup d’etat in the United States through the eyes of Moses. It’s 1898, the summer between grades five and six. Moses is looking forward to swimming with his friend, Lewis, and dreaming of the day he might own a bicycle. The first part of the book is filled with the everyday joys and sorrows of a young boy growing up in a racist environment. A sense of foreboding is created in the very first sentence so the reader never gets too comfortable even when it is clear that Moses is well loved and African Americans are better off in Wilmington, North Carolina than most cities.  Moses’ life is upturned when mob violence by white supremacists burns large sections of town, chases the educated African-Americans out of town and overthrows the city council, including his father. His tragedies mirror that of the larger community. A tragedy based in historical fact that is shocking and shameful.

In The Mighty Miss Malone, Christopher Paul Curtis fleshes out Deza Malone from Bud Not Buddy. Her family is struggling through the Depression in Gary, Indiana, but Deza is smart as a whip and loves life with her amazing family. Things change drastically after her father gets in an accident and moves to Flint for work. After her mother loses her job, Deza, her brother, Jimmie, and her mother set off to Flint as well. It’s a bumpy road filled with heartache, poverty and discrimination, but Deza never loses sight of the fact that the Malones “are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.”

Moving forward to 1958, Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine takes up a friendship impacted by race. Liz is the best friend super-shy Marlee has ever had. Liz has been passing and is forced to change to an African-American school. Marlee is determined to continue their friendship, but in a year when Little Rock closed its high schools rather than integrate, this is not an easy, or, for Liz, safe undertaking. Written in very brief chapters, the history of Little Rock comes alive through Marlee.

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood takes place in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, beginning just before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Every year Gloriana has celebrated her birthday with a party at the swimming pool, but this year the swimming pool has been shut down “for maintenance.” Outraged at the injustice of her birthday and summer days at the pool being ruined, Glory comes to understand the deeper injustices in her segregated town. The town’s struggles are mirrored in Glory’s changing relationship with her sister and best friend. Teenage Jesslyn is turning her back on her little sister while her friend Frankie is cowed by his racist father and older brother. Glory’s budding friendship with the Northerner Laura whose mother has come to nurse in the Freedom Clinics just adds to the tension.



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