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Celebrating Black History Month and Early Literacy

Picture books that Celebrate Black History Month

The Beyond Our Gates early literacy initiative aims to empower parents and caregivers to support children's reading skills at home every day. When families read together, children build vocabulary and comprehension - and perhaps most importantly, take joy in words and books. We're celebrating Black History Month with picture books by and about Black artists, athletes and leaders. University of the Pacific junior Alex Holt, an athlete and aspiring educator, offers these recommendations:   

Kente Colors (Penguin, 2016)
By Debbi Chocolate
Illustrated by John Ward 
Kente Colors tells the story of the colorful kente fabric of the West African country of Ghana. With vivid imagery and a story told in rhythmic verse, readers explore the many colors of kente cloth and how it is traditionally worn. Kente Colors is an easy read for parent and child. The rhymes help children build phonological awareness, and are fun for early readers to share with a parent.

We March (Square Fish, 2016)
By Shane W. Evans
We March retells the story of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Told from the perspective of a participating family, this story vividly depicts the power and unity of the march. We selected this book because it offers a great introduction to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Not only does it illustrate the purpose of the march, but it gives a perspective not usually seen-that of an average family.

Wilma Unlimited (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)
By Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by David Diaz
Wilma Rudolph was the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. This children's biography describes how Rudolph pushed herself to overcome obstacles-including polio, which left her unable to walk as a child-to become a successful track and field athlete. An inspirational figure in Black history, Rudolph's story motivates readers to work through challenges that get in the way of personal success.

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Penguin, 2016)
By Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. begins with King's childhood and follows him as develops into the inspirational leader he would become as an adult. A great way to introduce children to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., this book, with comic book illustrations that complement the text, is a fun read for parents and children.  

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Lee & Low, 2014)
By Katheryn Russell-Brown
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Filled with the joy of music making, this book tells the story of trailblazing jazz musician Melba Doretta Liston who picked up the trombone as a child and went on to play with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holliday and other greats. Rhythmic, lyrical prose is a pleasure to read aloud.

What a Wonderful World (Jean Carl Books, 1995)
Illustrated by Ashley Bryan
With bright, engaging illustrations of multicultural children and families, Ashley Bryan brings to life the lyrics of this song, written by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, and made famous by Louis Armstrong. A perfect book for talking about what's happening in the pictures. Look for Armstrong himself in several illustrations.