What could a biography of a champion fighter, a fictional story based on the childhood of one of America’s most famous 20th-century authors and a tale of a slave who bakes bread that allows for time travel possibly have in common?
For one, each book features a well-told story that will have you turning page after page. But beyond being good books, each of these stories can also tell you a little about black Americans and their experiences – some happy, some not so – in this country. Because February is Black History Month, we thought we would share these suggestions for books that will entertain and teach.
– Tracy Grant
“A Nation’s Hope”
By Matt de la Pena,
illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Age 6 and up.
While this is a picture book, it deals with historical events including segregation in America and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. It tells the story of a black American boxer named Joe Louis, whose childhood struggles included not being able to speak until he was 6 years old. In 1938, just before the start of World War II, Joe Louis must fight Max Schmeling, a German boxer who represents what Hitler calls his “master race.” Louis had already lost to Schmeling in 1936. The fight comes at a time in America when blacks and whites live largely separate lives, but Americans unite behind Joe Louis in his historic fight.
“Zora and Me”
By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Age 10 and up.
The Zora in “Zora and Me” is Zora Neale Hurston, a black writer who went to Howard University in Washington and wrote several famous books, including “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” But this is a fictional story, based on Zora’s childhood in the small town of Eatonville, Florida. In its pages, you see that even as a girl, Zora was a compelling storyteller. One of her tales involves a shape-shifting gator-man. Could it be that this creature is behind a real death in Zora’s normally quiet home town? Zora and her friends aim to figure it out in what turns out to be part ghost story, part historical fiction, part murder mystery. And all fun.