I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Carole Boston Weatherford in Roxbury, Massachusetts last year. I was struck by her quiet elegance and dignity. Her books reflect that too.
Carole Boston Weatherford is on the left. Ekua Holmes is on the right.
I didn’t realize how many #BlackHistoryMonth stories that would have remained largely untold if not for Carole’s work. Today, I wanted to share with you her books in honor of #BlackHistoryMonth.
#BlackHistoryMonth by Carole Boston Weatherford
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Lena Horne, image from Wikipedia
Lena Horne was both a legendary actress and activist, born into a well educated and high achieving family. During the Great Depression, Lena started her career at the Cotton Club as a dancer in the chorus line. Her career catapulted from there, to Broadway, headlining an all-white band, to Hollywood. During WWII, her activist side emerged in full force, which resulted in being blacklisted during McCarthy’s Red Scare. Still, Lena persisted. With a new husband, she was able to further her career to become an international star and use her fame in the fight for civil rights. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Congo Square, U.S. National Register of Historic Places, image from Wikipedia
“Slavery was no ways fair. Six more days to Congo Square.” The back story of the birth of jazz in New Orleans: because Louisiana was a French colony, then a Spanish colony, even slaves had Sunday off from work. In most states, African drums and music were banned. But once a week at Congo Square in New Orleans, hundreds of slaves and free blacks would congregate, play music, and dance. Told in simple rollicking rhyme, this picture book is exuberant as it is informative about a little-known story that expresses a human’s capacity to find hope and joy even in the most difficult circumstances. And this resulted in the birth of jazz, America’s only original art form. Carole Boston Weatherford’s books are all exceptional. Both she and illustrator R. Gregory Christie are Coretta Scott King Honorees. Freedom in Congo Square is one of my (accurate) Caldecott picks. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Mae Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Fannie Lou Hamer. Image from Harvard.
Malcolm X once called me
the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.
But nothing about my beginnings would make you think
anyone beyond these parts would ever hear my name.
It’s time that the world learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and John Lewis. Working for voter registration in Mississippi, she lost her job and her home, but that didn’t stop her. She sang for freedom as an inspirational leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and cried like she lost her own sons when three of the boys were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
Arrested on bogus charges, she was beaten by the police who also made the other prisoners beat her too. She suffered permanent kidney damage and walked with a limp from this but still, she fought on. Voices of Freedom tells Fannie Lou Hamer’s story and achievements in glorious and vibrant mixed media collage illustrations. [advanced picture book, ages 9 and up]
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffrey Boston Weatherford
Walter McCreary, Who Was Among The Last Tuskegee Airmen Dies At 97. Image from Your Black World.
… before 1940, African-Americans could not become pilots in the U.S. military.
Carole Boston Weatherford’s novel in verse tells the story of the Tuskegee Airman, the pioneering African-American pilots of World War II and of life for blacks during this time. Jim Crow laws permeated the military during this time; the SS Mariposa actually had a rope to separate black soldiers from white. But it also curtailed training and leadership opportunities for African-Americans, both male and female. Top brass claimed that blacks were not fit to fly.
Of the more than 400,000 pilots trained by the Civilian Pilot Training Program, only 2,000 were black; less than half of a percent. With tremendous pressure to prove their worthiness, The Tuskegee Airmen earned 900 plus medals including Distinguished Crossed, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. Their accomplishments paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military. [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]
I have more books for kids who dream of flying here.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Gordon Parks self portrait from Gordon Parks Foundation
Gordon Parks’ white teacher told her all-black class, “You’ll all wind up porters and waiters.” Gordon did end up working as a porter and waiter but he also spent $7.5o on a used camera and taught himself to use it. He vows to bare racism with his lens. His most enduring subject is Ella Watson, a cleaning lady in the building where Parks works. Facing racism himself, Gordon Parks is an inspiration of how one man and a camera can take a powerful stand against racism with an unflinching eye, and the will to overcome obstacles. This is a picture book that kids of all ages will benefit from. Use it with Gordon Parks photos for a Civil Rights Movement unit using books and Civil Rights Movement art. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Last year, my tribute to Black History Month was about Gordon Parks and this picture book.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colón
Leontyne Price, image from Wikipedia
During a time when the stage was limited to African-American performers, Leontyne Price became the first black singer to star at La Scala in Italy. She starred on Broadway as well, in sold-out performances of Porgy and Bess. But her voice was trained for opera and that stage was the hardest to crack because of the color of her skin. Following the footsteps of Marian Anderson, the first black singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, Leontyne was finally able to perform as the lead in Il Trovatore in 1955. Other honors that Leontyne achieved included first black opera singer to perform on television, the recipient of more than a dozen Grammy awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Leontyne Price was a pioneer who helped other African-American opera singers find acceptance on the stage. This is a picture book to celebrate how the support of family and a rare gift can allow a young girl to rise above racism. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
For more African American Female Pioneering Musicians, I have a round up of books in chronological order including this one on Leontyne Price.
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford, illstratrated by Jerome Lagarrigue Lagarrigue
Greensboro Four image from Iowa State University
All over town, 8-year-old Connie is not allowed to sit at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s, drink from the water fountain, swim in the public pool, go to the movie theater, or even use the public bathrooms because of the color of her skin. Dr. King came to town and brought hope for change. Four of her brother’s friends, students from A & T college, took a stand. An old white lady supported them. They sat for four hours without being served. It was the start of something much bigger. Next, her sister is jailed for sitting at the lunch counter. The sit-ins continued all summer until finally, things changed. And Connie finally got her ice cream sundae at the lunch counter. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Harriet Tubman, image from Wikipedia.
From 1619 to 1865, Africans and their descendants were enslaved in colonial America and the United States. This was the first time in history that enslavement was based solely on skin color. In 1820, there were about 1.5 million slaves in the United States. By 1861, the slave population had risen to more than 4 million. Somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 slaves escaped to freedom through a loose network of helpers and hideaways known as the Underground Railroad.
I’m proud to live in a town that housed multiple stops in the Underground Railroad. Our Newton Jackson Homestead and Museum is one such stop, but there are others in my neighborhood. Before moving here, I lived in Boston’s South End, which has a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman in Harriet Tubman Square. Her life is depicted in a way that makes you feel like you are right beside her during her first journey to freedom in this moving poetic tribute to her life. Risking her life, she returns to bring her family to freedom, and heads back, again and again, to help others, freeing as many as three hundred slaves. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Obama: Only in America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Robert Barrett
Barack Obama, image from The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama.
For those of us who miss Barack Obama in the White House, read this soothing biography of his life. His young life was difficult. His parents separated and his father wasn’t a presence in his life. It took him time to find his direction in life but he discovered that community service was his passion, and this turned him towards law school. His climb in politics seemed meteoric but he had put in the hard work years before. His story is not over and his legacy still needs a few decades to view its full impact. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
John Coltrane, image from Wikipedia
This is a very simple picture book depicting the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane. Kids who like Charlie Parker Played Be Bop will like this book and they make a great pairing. The illustrations are marvelous in this picture book. End notes give more history on his childhood including the tragedy when four of his family members died when he was twelve. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Jesse Owens from Jesse Owens Site
Weatherford captures exactly what Jesse Owens went through, from his childhood to the Berlin Olympics, in detailed free verse poems. That he was the fastest man at the Olympics, defying Hitler’s chance to showcase White Supremacy is well-known. What is less known is that the Berlin crowds cheered for Owen’s four Olympic gold medal performances. And his German opponent in the long jump befriended him. Rising from poverty, it was his track coach, Coach Charlie Riley — a white man — who developed his talent by coaching him in the morning because Jesse worked after school. While Jesse Owens showed that the color of his skin didn’t matter when it came to setting track records, it did affect Owen’s ability to get endorsement deals. This is a great picture book to discuss the relationship between race and sports. Compare Usain Bolt to Jesse Owens, for example, and the opportunities each had post Olympics. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig
In many ways, The Beatitudes, published in 2010, is an overview of what Carole Boston Weatherford’s books are all about. She focuses in on African American heroes, both well known and little known, and weaves them into a tapestry of larger events in a free verse poem that covers the history of African Americans from slavery to modern times. Throughout this tumultuous journey are African American men and women whose courage and acts marked milestones along the way. Some of the people in this book are now featured in a picture book by her. Perhaps they will all get covered as part of her life’s work. ForBlack History Month, use this picture book to kick it off as an overview or to summarize it at the end of the month. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Image from Forgotten NY
I feel like Sugar Hill is author Carole Boston Weatherford’s spiritual home. This is a special part of Harlem that is a historic district, home to some of the most famous African-Americans including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis, The Nicolas Brothers, Aaron Douglas, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Zora Neal Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, and Thurgood Marshall. Second generation Sugar Hill inhabitants include Faith Ringgold and Sunny Rollins. The juxtaposition of Sugar Hill’s Who’s Who made for a creative and inspiring environment which nurtured big dreams with role models who ambitions were realized. In rollicking rhymes that burst with energy and color, this picture book celebrates African American success and community of some of the best and brightest that lived there. R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations bring this picture book to glorious and vibrant life. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
I, Matthew Henson, Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Matthew Henson, image from Wikipedia
Matthew Henson led a remarkable life, marked by his will to accomplish incredible feats in order to succeed. And it wasn’t easy at the turn of the century for a young black boy to get opportunities to explore the world. A naval officer, Admiral Peary, offered him a position as a manservant for an expedition, and Henson accepted. His contribution went far beyond that of manservant including learning Inuit, handling a dog team, and carrying Peary back alive in the North Pole. Peary’s achievement in reaching the Pole faced controversy and Henson’s role was downplayed by Peary. It was not until 2000 that Matthew Henson’s full contributions were recognized with the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal. Credit-stealing from African Americans, though, was a common theft (see Tiny Stitches for another similar story). [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African-American Champion by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Erik Velasquez
Wendell Scott, image from Wendell Scott Foundation
Ironically, it was running moonshine that made Wendell Scott’s driving prowess well known. Able to outrun every deputy in the county, the police offered up his name to a race promoter looking for a black driver. Scott had a garage and a car that he rebuilt for speed. He was hooked on racing after his first attempt. The races were not always fair; his first NASCAR win was disputed by the judges who claimed he placed third and only announced their correction hours after the race was over. A movie, Greased Lightning, was made about his life, his love of racing, and his achievement as the most successful African-American race car driver. In 1999, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.