Black History Month

By Molly Alexander

By Molly Alexander

It’s Black History Month! Here at Family Reading Partnership we celebrate the many courageous people who have advanced critical reforms in children’s literature in order to amplify and uplift Black stories and voices. 

Did you know that Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month, led a publishing company called Associate Publishers, which during his lifetime became the most important black-owned publishing house in the United States? Dr. Woodson was determined to publish well-written children’s literature free of racial prejudice, featuring Black protagonists that truly represented Black lives and Black history. Black librarians Augusta Baker in Harlem and Charlemae Rollins in Chicago worked tirelessly to advocate for improvements in the representation of Black children in children’s literature. They developed new criteria for evaluating children’s books and pushed publishers and editors to take a more critical look at how Black children were represented in children’s books. Rudine Sims Bishop’s groundbreaking research in “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” informs us of the necessity for diverse representation in children’s literature, for all children. 

It is thanks to the legacy of the many scholars, librarians, educators, organizers, activists, authors, illustrators, and publishers who dared to push children’s literature forward that there now exists an abundance of high quality, diverse, unbiased children’s books for readers to choose from. The work toward progress is ongoing, and here at Family Reading Partnership we are committed to doing our part to increase the distribution of high quality children’s books in Tompkins County that represent Black families- not just during Black History Month, but all year round.

What children’s books are you choosing to read to honor Black History Month? If you’re searching for ideas, we recommend Diverse BookFinder and The Brown Bookshelf as excellent resources. We also recommend checking out the resources that Reading Rockets put together, including the inspiring interviews with several Black children’s book authors and illustrators.

Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month locally as a family? We invite you to get outdoors and enjoy one of our Story Walks!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is currently on view in Dryden, NY at the Jim Schug Trail (and can be accessed next to the Dryden Agway). The Snowy Day is a delightful story featuring Peter, a young Black boy who playfully explores his neighborhood on a snowy day. The story and beautiful collage illustrations in The Snowy Day capture the joy and wonder of a child waking up to fresh snow. This Caldecott Award-winning book was first published in 1962 and broke ground as one of the first picture books featuring a Black child as the protagonist. It has been beloved by generations and in January 2020 the New York Public Library announced that The Snowy Day was the most circulated book in its 125 year history.

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats is currently on view in Dotson Park in Danby, NY. Whistle For Willie is a charming book that follows The Snowy Day’s Peter on a warm summer day as he tries and tries to learn how to whistle for his dog, Willie. With delightful collage illustrations and minimal text, Whistle for Willie sweetly captures the theme of persistence from a child’s point of view.

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