Creeping Around the Picture Books #2 (Books starring African Americans)

On WordPress, there seems to be a very large community of book and writing blogs. I’ve written 14 posts since I began this blog (this is my 15th post). My two most “successful” posts are one that I wrote about Rowan Blanchard (which is 100% because Blanchard graciously linked to the post on her Twitter) and my very first edition of “Creeping Around the Picture Books.” These last couple of days, I’ve had a surprising amount of new blog followers and likes. It has really meant a lot, and it would be really cool to be part of this community, even if my blog isn’t solely dedicated to literacy. If you follow my blog, I’ll follow you back. I’ve enjoyed reading and discovering the blogs that have come my way.

Anyway, I enjoyed writing my last blog post so much, that I couldn’t wait to review even more picture books. However, since it was Labor Day Weekend, the library was closed. So, instead, I decided to borrow some books from Open Library. Open Library is a nice, convenient way to read picture books online, without going to the library. No, not every book is available (particularly newer books). And if an ebook has already been checked out by another person, then you would have to join a waiting list until that book is available. But I still think it’s a nice resource. Usually, the point of these posts is to randomly and freely pick out books I had never read from the library; however, I have to admit, these are all books I remember reading when I was very little. I can’t wait to read them again and relive my youth!

So, I guess, for this edition of “Creeping Around the Picture Books,” I’m not technically “creeping.” But, don’t worry, for the next edition, I’ll go back to being creepy and awkward, and I’ll take books from the top shelf, preventing little kids from getting them first.

amazing grace

Amazing Grace (1991) by Mary Hoffman / Pictures by Caroline Binch: OK, I have so many thoughts about this one. Don’t worry, they’re good thoughts. I don’t know what the kids are reading now, but when I was in elementary school, this was the “Go-to” book all the teachers used during Black History Month. This book could be used as lesson on tolerance, acceptance, perseverance, and straight up anti-racism. I revisited this book last year; it had been the first time in over a decade I had read the book, yet every panel/picture was instantly recognizable. And, as an adult, I appreciate the book more. Despite this book’s popularity, it was not nominated for a Caldecott, because (who knew?!) this book was written and illustrated by two white, British women! Caroline Binch was instead nominated for a Kate Greenaway, which is the British equivalent to a Caldecott. Apparently, there are more books to this series and I hope to seek them out soon. Obviously this book is a 10/10 for me.

Although, I have to laugh every time that Raj kid tells Grace she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s a girl. Honey child

snowy day

The Snowy Day (1962) by Ezra Jack Keats: Another book from my youth. This Caldecott Award winner is probably the most adorable picture book about a boy playing in the show EVER. And that’s pretty much the entire plot of the book. I love it. The paper cut illustrations are perfect. They really are product of it’s time…and a spiritual precursor to South Park. Along with the pictures and the simplicity, I love how Keats (who is a white man) represents a little black boy. This book was published during the early 60’s. Stereotypical depictions of black people and, most disgustingly, children were either still being created in the media, or earlier works were still being widely distributed. Peter could have been any race…because his race doesn’t define his childhood experience. The book, at the time of its release, received some criticism from the black community because his race isn’t acknowledged. It’s a fair point, and later picture books starring black youth will address race more. However, there’s something so refreshing and relatable about what Keats is doing here. This is truly a landmark book, and I hope kids are still reading it today.

chicken sunday

Chicken Sunday (1992) by Patricia Polacco: I’m a HUGE fan of Patricia Polacco. She has another picture book called Pink and Say, which is probably in my top 5 of all time. Chicken Sunday is also a really great book about community, friendship, respect, and, again, perseverance. Based on Polacco’s childhood, the book is about a Jewish girl and her two black friends, who decide to buy their grandmother, Miss Eula Mae, a beautiful Easter bonnet. Polacco does a really great job of writing an engaging story with an emotional punch in the end; and, like Pink and Say, this story still makes me sad every time I read it. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful story with distinct illustrations.

mufaro

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (1987) by John Steptoe: You know how in the recent Cinderella movie, the main thesis seemed to be “Be kind, and you will be rewarded?” That same thesis applies to this book. Actually, you could say this book is sort of an “African” Cinderella. It’s about 2 sisters: one is nice, one is not nice. When the king announces he is looking for a bride, the father sends his daughters to the city to be considered. You can kind of guess what happens in the end. I remember reading this when I was little. Although, as a 24 year old, I do notice that there are a couple problematic things about the text (like not setting the story in a specific African country, just “a certain place in Africa” whatever that’s supposed to imply), the story is still engaging. The illustrations are dynamite (Caldecott Honor Book, yo!). They’re lifelike. They’re detailed. They’re beautiful. Give this book to your kids…just be sure to tell them that Africa isn’t a country.

john henry

John Henry (1994) by Julius Lester / Pictures by Jerry Pinkney: I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired (it’s taken me 3 days to create this post) or what, but I had a hard time engaging with the text. To Lester’s credit, he does sprinkle the words with some personality here and there, as if this were “2nd person” as opposed to 3rd. I will say that Pinkney (who won a Caldecott Honor for this) is as well known and beloved as his illustrations. When you open a Jerry Pinkney book, you know what to expect from the illustrations: a sort of free, smudgy, blurry paintstroke thing going on. Anyway, any kid who loves tall tales and legends will enjoy this one.

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One thought on “Creeping Around the Picture Books #2 (Books starring African Americans)

  1. Pingback: Creeping Around the Picture Books #3 (Drylongso, In the Night Kitchen, and more) | Lifestories

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