Black History Month spotlight
CHILDREN’S BOOKS | Reviews of four books featuring black characters
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(Bloomsbury Children’s Books 2023)
The rhyming cadence of this picture book draws readers in as the jump-roping characters encourage other friends to “jump in!” Alliteration and crisp wording accompany Strickland’s colorful illustrations depicting urban life. The children encourage anyone passing by to join them. Ms. Mabel, the self-described “queen of hopscotch,” jumps in to show them more moves. One line seems to joke about the woman’s weight, but the next line scolds, “Be nice, everybody!” The text encourages loving our neighbors with a nod to God, but it doesn’t provide a theologically robust foundation: “Give the man upstairs his due time, live a life that’s good and fine.” Ages 4-8
Jerome Gay Jr.
(New Growth Press 2023)
This introduction to 11 early Christian leaders begins with two children asking their parents if there are any heroes of the faith who lived after Bible times. The father tells them that there are many theologians and heroes in history, including many from Africa. John Joven’s engaging, colorful illustrations complement age-appropriate material about each person that could spark further discussion or research. While some names, such as Augustine, will be familiar to most parents and teachers, many adults will find that they learn something new, too. The text sprinkles in Bible verses and questions to help children further ponder the stories. At the end of the book, a brief timeline charts each of the African heroes. Ages 7-10
When Bo’s mom marries Bill, they move into the Harlem brownstone that he shares with his daughter and another family of four. As Bo adjusts to life with her blended family, she joins the other kids for “free schooling” instead of going to public school. The four girls—who all consider each other sisters—explore their own interests and the city but also have periodic learning games, projects, or reports to complete. This slow-paced book is a sweet story about how four girls learn to appreciate their differences and work together, with no mean-girl drama except for a few run-ins with cliquish girls from Bo’s old school. Note: Some brief, positive references to the Black Lives Matter political movement. Ages 8-12
Not an Easy Win
Chrystal D. Giles
(Random House Children’s 2023)
Lawrence knows it’s not his fault that his dad doesn’t visit and they had to move again. He’s also pretty sure it’s not his fault that the principal at his mostly white school expelled him for fighting—again—because he didn’t start those fights. But in small-town North Carolina, Lawrence feels like others constantly misjudge him. As he navigates the pain of his dad’s absence, Lawrence takes up chess at the nearby rec center where he masters the moves in his race to qualify for a tournament. Along the way he learns to think first when dealing with opponents and realizes that, like a chess game, each move he makes will write his own story. Note: A few uses of “dang” and a subplot about Lawrence’s innocent crush on a girl. Ages 10-13