5 Great Reads for Black History Month

 

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Grade Level: Fourth

I can’t even deal! This book was so well written. Ann Rinaldi has written a wonderfully, heart-wrenching novel about Phillis Wheatley. I am ashamed to say I really did not know much about her other than she was a slave who was known for her poetry. The novel chronicles her story from the moment of abduction until the start of the American Revolution. Little is really known about her life, especially once she married.

This book would be a great accompaniment to any American Revolution study. There are a lot of important events in Boston that are mentioned. Phillis meets personally with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

A word of caution: the trip on the slaver is pretty intense for Phillis. Her mother is thrown overboard and she nearly starves to death. All Africans are referred to as negra or negro; the more derogatory term is not present in the novel. Phillis, while treated as a daughter of the Wheatley’s, is still seen as a slave. She may be relieved of many normal slave duties, but her masters, especially Nathaniel, still remind her of her place.

Lesson Ideas:

Research each Boston event she mentions.

Read her poems and compare any events to the novel.

Write your own poem about an important event or person in your life.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Grade Level: Fifth

I first read this book  in junior high. I do not really remember my initial thoughts, but on this go around, I thoroughly enjoyed it! This book is a powerful tale of the power of family and staying strong through adversity. The Logan Family is a great example of a strong family. They rely heavily on each other to get them through deaths of friends, threats, and fire. I think this should be a regular read for junior high students.

Caution: the N word is used regularly through this novel. Cassie gets into a fist fight with a girl who mistreats her. Some local African-Americans are attacked and severely burned by a group of whites. Cassie’s own father is attacked for encouraging people to shop in Vicksburg and not at the Wallace store. Stacy’s friend TJ gets in with the wrong crowd and is accused of killing a white man. He is brutally beaten and nearly lynched. This book does not sugar coat the difficulties African-American sharecroppers faced in the south. Mr. Morrison also shares the story of the deaths of his parents (pg 147-150).

Lesson Ideas:

Write a Journal Entry as Cassie explaining her thoughts on the books they received at the beginning of the novel.

Research sharecropping

Research Jim Crow Laws & segregation

Sounder

Grade Level: Fifth

This is a sweet story about a man and his dog. Set during the days of sharecropping, Sounder shows us the love between humans and dogs. There are no names used in this story. One day the boy’s father comes home with a ham we soon learn is stolen. Eventually, the sheriff comes to pick up the boy’s father. In the midst of his arrest, his dog is shot. Sounder runs off for months and the boy’s father is taken to jail and eventually put on a chain gang. Once Sounder returns, severely disfigured but well, the boy decides to venture off in search of his father. On one adventure, the boy befriends an old school teacher who asks him to stay so that the boy may receive an education. The boy’s mother agrees and he only returns to help with harvest. During the years, the boy’s father has been working only to return one day out of the blue. Do to a severe injury, they let him go. Now father and dog are both shells of their former selves. The boy’s father goes out one day alone, never to return. He passes away in the forest do to his injuries and hard labor. Sounder, too, passes soon after.

This book is only 116 pages but it packs an emotional punch! The arrest of the father is really harsh. He spends years on a chain gang for the theft of a ham.

I guess, in a way, this book is a coming of age story. It is based on a story told to the author.

Lesson Ideas:

Research sharecropping and Jim Crow laws

Write an alternative ending to the book.

Give all the characters names based on their character/personality.

Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North

Grade Level: Fourth/Fifth

I loved the Dear America series when I was a young girl. It is so wonderful how the style of these books put you into the everyday thoughts of the character.

Nellie Lee Love is from Tennessee. It is 1919 and the Great War is over. Her family lives in a multi-generational home and runs a funeral business. The tensions in the south are increasing so Nellie’s father decided to move himself and two daughters to Chicago near his brother. There he will start a new funeral home and have a better life.

The Love family is truly a wonderful example of a family whose first priority is Jesus followed by family. They are not exempt from adversity even in Chicago but they never sway from their love for each other. While in Chicago Nellie and her family become more involved in the ever growing NAACP as well as the suffrage movement.

Cation: While swimming at the lake, a neighbor swims into the white’s section. He is so terrified by the uproar of the whites, that he drowns. This causes a massive riot in the streets of Chicago.

Lesson Ideas:

Write your own diary for a year.

Research the causes and battles of World War I.

Respond to Nellie’s comment on page 130: “Will there ever be a time when people stop hating and hurting one another?”

Respond to Reverend Prince’s comment on page 123: “Ignorance and fear breed violence. Knowledge is the only way to overcome intolerance.”

12 Years a Slave

Interest Level: High School/Adult

This book is a powerful true story told from the man himself. Solomon Northup was drugged and kidnapped by slave catchers. This was common practice in the north after the Fugitive Slave Law. Free blacks were warned not to talk to anyone they did not know. Solomon finds himself sold down south. For twelve years he will live the life of a hardworking plantation slave. Until, finally, one day he is reunited with his family.

Caution: this book is for mature audiences. It is a personal narrative set in the 1840s. There are very brutal scenes and hard truths. I would encourage any parent to read this book prior to allowing your child to read it.

 

This is an amazing primary source for sure!

Lesson Ideas:

Research other slave’s stories like Frederick Douglass.

Research newspaper articles warning of slave catchers.

Research the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman.

For further reading, check out some of my previous posts: Chains, Forge, Ashes, Flygirl, and Elijah

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