Not my pithiest title, is it? Oh well.
I went through Nat's pile of picture books with tearable pages (still hiding in the closet until she stops eating books) and pulled some of my favorites. Without further ado, here's an annotated bibliography (subject to revision--this is just a start).
For Smaller Children
Shades of Black by Sandra and Miles Pinkney
This is a photo book of Black children with all different shades of skin and eyes and types of hair. The focus is on claiming Black identity regardless of how your body looks. "I am Black, I am unique" is the recurring motif. I bought this book strictly because when I flipped through the pages I saw a child pictured with locs and it's hard to find photos of children with locs (which Nat will have in a couple of years). But I also like the message that Nat has a right to claim her racial heritage even if she has white parents.
Edited to point out that these authors have a number of great books for and about Black children and their families. We have some of their others too.
Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo
A lovely introduction for a young child to Langston Hughes both as a historical figure and as a poet. Beautiful illustrations accompanied by brief, lovely text make it good for small children.
Nappy by Charisse Carney-Nunes
This is one of two books I got in DC that are autographed (I'm a sucker for collectable books). As the mother combs her daughter's hair, she connects her to Black women's historical experiences through hair. At the end of the book are brief, factual introductory profiles of some important women in Black history.
No Mirrors in My Nana's House by Ysaye M. Barnwell
This is the second of my autographed DC haul. It's a beautifully illustrated rhyming memory of the narrator's grandmother and how she constructed beauty and worth through something other than shallow appearance.
Updated 20 December 2006
We found a couple of wonderful books this weekend at Reading Reptile children's bookstore in Kansas City.
Bintou's Braids by Sylviane Diouf
I generally prefer books about African American culture to books about African culture, but I had to get this one because Bintou's hair is exactly like Nat's: "four little puffs." I also like that because it is set in Africa it assumes Black hair as the norm--not something compared to white hair, but compared to other Black hair. Bintou wants beautiful braids like the older girls and women, but only has little girl hair. It's got highly appealing illustrations, too.
Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson is another book that is really based on African culture, but is presented in this book in a fairly universal way. I used to get Old Turtle for everyone for baby gifts. I still like it, but it has officially been bumped now, in favor of Earth Mother. As Earth Mother walks the world, caring for all its creatures, the Man thanks her for the frogs he eats but complains about the mosquitoes. He suggests the world would be perfect with more frogs and no mosquitoes. Guess what Frog and Mosquito suggest? It's a beautiful image of God and a wise lesson about ecology that does not hammer itself at the reader. Earth Mother just smiles quietly at everyone's suggestions and the reader sees for herself how short sighted her creatures are. It features a beautiful Black woman with dark skin and a soft afro as the Goddess herself. In a world short on beautiful images of women who look like Nat, this is a must-have book not just for my daughter, but for every little girl.
Updated February 2008
Lately, Nat's favorite book is So Much by Trish Cooke and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It's the story of a mother and a baby welcoming family members one at a time until Daddy finally arrives for his surprise birthday party. The language is Carribean-inflected English and the pictures are great, as Helen Oxenbury's always are!
Updated July 2008
We found a new ABC book in Chicago over Selina's birthday weekend. It's D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. Every letter of the alphabet is a piece of African American history or culture. What I like best about it is that it has three built-in levels for reading aloud. First, you can just say, "A is for Abolitionists; B is for Buffalo Soldier..." etc. Second, you can read the short rhyming text for each letter's entry and third, there is a longer piece (two or three paragraphs) on each entry that gives a bit more extensive background on the subject of each letter. So what can begin as a toddler's introduction to certain words or concepts can grow with a child's understanding and curiosity. Right now, Nat is getting more and more interested in who has brown skin and who has pale skin and who is African American and who is white. This book is a good vehicle for discussing those things. R is for "roots" and it features Africa. I say "R is for roots. African American people have roots in Africa. White people have roots in Europe. But really, most of us have roots in more than one place." Nat has no idea what that means, but she will come to understand it and can ask her questions as we continue to read this beautifully illustrated book.
Not about Black History and Culture Per Se, but also Good
People by Peter Spier
I love this book and used to teach it to my preschoolers. It is full of illustrations of people and various people-parts, like eyes, noses, mouths, hair, skin, etc. and pictures of housing, transportation...everything about people all over the world. It basically introduces race and culture in a neutral, "wow look at the variety" kind of way. My only quibble with it is that in the opening pages, there's a sort of Eden-esque picture of a man and a woman in a big beautiful outdoor space and they are...white and blonde. Heh, I don't think so. I got a brown marker and colored them in. Then I got a black marker and made their hair black and curly. Then I did the same for the family representing the typical "USA" family.
A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs
This is an ABC book featuring illustrations of queer parents and their children. It shows a nice mix of races, ages, abilities, etc. and the family representing "L for Lunch" might even be Cole, Nat and I if you squint and imagine Cole in drag... So it's a nice book just for representation purposes.
Whistle for Willie or really anything by Ezra Jack Keats
Keats was a favorite of mine as a child and now I love reading the books to Nat. She can "read" The Snowy Day herself, in fact, her favorite part being when the snow falls..."plop! Right on Peter's head." Keats' illustrations are great not just because they feature Black children, but because they feature children living in urban spaces. These are also nice for purposes of simple representation. (I've linked to a treasury of ten stories under one cover.)
For Older Children
Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
With her typical genius, Toni Morrison writes a fictional, first-person narrative of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of children integrating schools. It's creatively real, but perfectly age-appropriate for a child's first introduction to a tough, important part of U.S. history.
Harlem Stomp: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill\
This is a really cool book! If you don't know much yourself about the Harlem Renaissance, you'll learn a lot from this book. It's a great reference for any age, but geared to older children.