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

How to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind

I initially read this book as part of a 2017 Reading Challenge put together by Jami Balmet at a Young Wife’s Guide. As a newlywed, I am currently gobbling up any and every book on homemaking. When starting the challenge, I sat down and looked at all the titles and cross-referenced them with those on Audibles. This book was one of them. So I decided to use my free Audibles book in order to listen to this book. I AM SO GLAD I DID!!!

 

This book was wonderful! Ironically, I listened to it as I was doing the dishes and laundry. (I felt less guilty about listening if I was being productive.)

Dana K. White continually said, “ do what is best for you”. She never once said, “ do it like me!”. She spent the entire book offering practical advice all the while encouraging her readers in their deslobification journey. There were two specific ideals that stuck out to me:

  1. Just… do the dishes.
  2. Just declutter.

Long before this book, I started the habit of doing the dishes daily; sometimes multiple times a day. I can attest to what she says about the importance of just doing the dishes. It makes such a big difference when my kitchen is clean. (Sidenote: I started hand washing most of my dishes so that I can listen to a podcast or a book. This has become a great way to refill myself.)

About seven months ago, I watched Katie Bennett’s course in the Homemaking Mentor’s Academy. She discusses the amazingness of a simplified wardrobe. After listening to her course, I went through my closet. Several months later, I was bit by the bug again and I went through my closet again. (After rewatching her course.) This motivated me to start decluttering other parts of my apartment. The last few months, I have spent time really decluttering. I found Dana’s idea about decluttering to be great! She pointed out that decluttering is DIFFERENT from organizing. She felt less overwhelmed when she decluttered versus trying to organize. Because, let’s be real, how can we organize when we have so much stuff? A lot of what she said reminded me of Elsie Callendar’s lesson in 2016’s Online Homemaking Conference.

 

Dana does a great job of discussing the potential difficulty one might face decluttering. She also discusses the possible grief one might go through when decluttering. She also brings up the difficulty of telling people “No” when they ask you if you want something. She points out how difficult this is! But I thought her points were really very good. Do not take something out of guilt.

 

She also discusses the importance of having a donate-able box close by that you fill up and then donate!

If you feel like you don’t have the time to read, then this is the best book to listen to audibly. Dana is such a great writer and reader. Listening to her book was motivating and thoroughly enjoyable.
So, go get her book NOW and just… do the dishes!

The Hour of Peril

The Hour of Peril

Grade Level: Upper Middle/High School

 

“We never sleep” was the motto of the first private eye in the United States. Allan Pinkerton, an immigrant from Scotland, made a name for himself as Chicago’s best and only private eye. The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower follows the early years of Pinkerton and ultimately outlines how he came to Baltimore to uncover a plot to kill the newly elected President: Abraham Lincoln.

 

The book is divided into three parts. Part one does an outstanding job of describing the life of Allan Pinkerton. The reader is taken all the way to Scotland during a time of civil unrest and introduced to the fiercely passionate Allan. Stashower brings us into the story of a youngman caught up in the Chartist movement of his day. So much so, that he will become a fugitive and board a boat to America with his new wife.

 

Stashower gives the reader many details depicting the early life of Pinkerton in the United States. Using many of Allan Pinkerton’s own words, Stashower portrays the story of the unlikely detective.

 

The meat of the story really develops in part two. There, Stashower introduces the reader to the turmoils of America in the late 1850s. After Lincoln was elected president, there was an outcry from the Southern states, many of which seceded. Maryland is what we call a border state. It did not secede and housed both pro-slavery and anti-slavery sentiments. It is discovered that there is a plot to kill Lincoln to his way through Baltimore en route to DC. Allan Pinkerton is hired by a railroad owner to investigate these rumors and foil the plot to kill the president-elect.

 

Part three ultimately wraps up the plot and ends with the installation of Lincoln in the White House.

 

This book is well written and plays out like an old fashioned mystery. I was eager to continue reading to learn the details. Daniel Stashower moves back and forth between Pinkerton’s investigation in Baltimore and Lincoln’s travels to the capital. Because of the back and forth, the reader is constantly wondering if Pinkerton will foil the plot in time for Lincoln to safely pass through Baltimore on his way to the White House.

 

This book would be a great read if your child already has some basic understanding of the tension in the United States at this time. It is a rather lengthy book at 340 pages, but is well researched. The use of primary sources is outstanding and really allows the reader into the thoughts and feelings of all of those involved at the time. There are two specific instances to be aware of: on page 123 there is a description of one of the plotters spending time with a woman of ill repute. The gentlemen is said to have “hugged and kissed” this woman for over an hour. That is as far as the description of the scene goes. The other area to be aware of is the use of the word G–D— in the primary sources. These particular sources, found on page 83, are addressed to the president and written by southern sympathizers.  

 

Lesson Ideas:

 

  1. Draw Pinkerton & Lincoln’s heads and create a conversation between the two of them.
  2. OR create a text message conversation between Lincoln & Pinkerton. (Or any two characters)
  3. Since the book moves forward and back through time, creating a timeline might be really helpful. Timelines are a great way to practice chronology.
  4. Create biographies for some of the minor characters like Pinkerton’s detectives or Lincoln’s travel companions.
  5. Create a biography/backstory for the detective’s characters.
  6. Create a facebook or instagram for any of the characters in the book.

Wild Rose

Grade Level: Upper Middle School/High School

 

Wild Rose is a detailed account of Rose Greenhow’s espionage on behalf of the Confederacy. Ann Blackman does a superb job detailing the life of Rose. Using excerpts from letters and diary entries by Rose herself, Blackman pieces together the life of this unlikely spy.

 

After the death of her father, Rose is sent, along with one of her sisters, to live with an aunt in Washington, DC. There she is introduced to society and sophistication. Never one to bend to others, Rose spoke openly about her support of the south and her love for the Confederacy. Through a series of connections, Rose is able to send word of Union movements to southern officials. Her outspokenness for the southern cause and her fraternization with union officials, eventually lands her in prison.

 

This book, while heavily supported by Rose’s own words, reads more like a novel than a scholarly work. As a history teacher, I loved that Blackman set the stage for the Civil War by mentioning all the events of the 1850s and how they connected to Rose. The connection between Rose and many key players for both sides of the war is fascinating. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the role of women in the Civil War.
My one word of caution is this: she was a southern sympathizer. The reader must understand that this book will point out Rose’s views and beliefs about slavery and the Confederacy. Blackman does a great job of presenting Rose’s point of view without belittling any one group of people. Rose is also thought to have had intimate relations with multiple men in order to receive important information. Blackman only mentions this to educate the reader on how Rose knew so much. She does make a point to mention that there is no evidence to support these claims. Only Rose will ever know what truly happened in her personal space.