I’m a big proponent of teaching your children things. I like to teach my kids fun stuff, like how to give bear hugs, how to paint, how to sing. Also taught, are things about safety like, look both ways before crossing, chew your food thoroughly, etc. I also know that it’s my duty as a parent to teach them the hard stuff. This means exposing them to some really tough subjects.
One of these subjects is slavery.
February is Black History Month and it while teaching about Black history and heroes, it would be irresponsible as a parent, especially a white parent, to try to shield my children from the harder topics that come with this history. Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow Laws; these are all part of our history in America.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to go into every single detail of what slavery entailed, but also don’t soften it or downplay it. This is a fact of life for Black children, something they have been raised with, it’s the story of their ancestors, it’s been written into their DNA. There was a time where books for children on these very topics were far and few in between. Now, there is a great abundance of books highlighting these topics and the extraordinary Black figures who have shaped history.
1. Various Titles by Brad Meltzer
Brad Meltzer has a series of biography books called, “Ordinary People Change the World” and there are several in the series you’ll want to read. My preschooler loves these books. The pictures are bright, the wording is short enough to keep children engaged, and still learn about the person of interest. For Black History Month, I would recommend going with I am…Jackie Robinson, I am Harriet Tubman, I am Martin Luther King Jr., and I am Rosa Parks. Each one is a short biography and explains how they helped change the world through their incredible actions.
2. We March by Shane W. Evans
This book is a great introduction to the civil rights movement for young children. The words are minimal, but the pictures are bright and hold a child’s attention. My son asked all sorts of questions about why they were marching and it was a great way to start the talk about discrimination and segregation with him.
3. This is the Dream by Amistad
This book is very similar in nature to We March. Bold pictures, with rhyming words, this book also is great introduction about civil rights movement and the peaceful protests that happened during this era. My preschooler listens to it with ease and likes the pictures.
4. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
This a story of a slave who is separated from his family and his trip towards freedom. It does deal with some of the harder elements of slavery, like the fact that families were often separated and sold without each other even getting a chance to say goodbye or ever see each other again. However, the character of the story was able to live the rest of his life as free man. (This is not a story that I have read to my own children yet, as they aren’t quite old enough to sit through it.)
5. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
We loved this book. It has 40 Black women who have made some kind of incredible contribution or change to history. Each women’s biography is a short page and it’s easy to read one or two a night and then talk about the different things that she accomplished. My preschooler loved to ask questions about the picture and I was able to give answers from the biography. He has actually asked for this book quite a bit recently!
6. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
This book is based off the best-selling novel, Hidden Figures, and condenses the story of the remarkable ladies who accomplished amazing things and helped the American eventually get to the moon. My preschooler lost interest occasionally, so it would probably be best for children 5-8. I would still give it a try with your younger ones though!
7. Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
This is a story about Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space. It’s all about how she was obsessed with space as a child and how her parents helped cultivate that curiosity. This then motivated her to become and astronaut. My children love the fun pictures.
8. Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
This book is about the Underground Railroad. It’s the story of a sailor who teaches the slaves on a plantation a song. It turns out the song is actually full of clues on how to progress on the Underground Railroad. The story then follows a family as they make their way towards freedom. My children really liked the lyrics and the pictures.
While some of these topics may hard to start, I promise that it’s worth it! Black History Month is a great time to introduce these stories, in addition to the topics, but I can also tell you that most of these are now read year-round in our home.
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