It is hard for children to comprehend the notion of slavery as it once was in this country. However, slavery, and the horrors that went along with it, is something that we need to retell so that it never happens again. It is also an important part in understanding how divided this country has always been in terms of race. When looking for books on strong female figures in our history, I came across two really wonderful books about Harriet Tubman that not only tell her story, but tell the story of slavery for future generations to understand.
In An Apple for Harriet Tubman, author Glenette Tilley Turner does a marvelous job telling the story of young Harriet Tubman and how she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Through beautiful illustrations by Susan Keeter and words that are meant for a child to understand Tuner tells the story of what it was like to be a slave, to endlessly work but never taste the fruits of your labor, to constantly fear being whipped, to fear that you will be sold and separated from those you love. These are things that children can understand and relate to.
Harriet Tubman had promised herself that one day she would be free. Through the kindness of strangers along the Underground Railroad, she finally got a taste of freedom. But rather than stay safely in the North, she risked her life repeatedly to save others. Additionally Harriet Tubman loved apples, but as a slave was never able to eat them. In her freedom, she planted apple trees and every fall she invited the town around her to pick their fill. Those apples “were a symbol of freedom for everyone to share.”
Through lyrical text and conversations with God, this book shows Harriet Tubman as a Moses figure for slaves. She leaves her family behind to avoid being sold and to finally gain her freedom. All she takes with her is her faith in God. She is guided North and into the helpful hands of workers on the Underground Railroad. She is led to church where she finds that it is a stopping place for the Underground Railroad and where she learns how to be a conductor herself.
This version is more complex for a young child to understand, but is still a beautiful way to look at such a remarkable woman. Older children can also get a wealth of information from a very well written and researched author’s note.
I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.
Sharon Robinson invites us to travel with her to Tanzania in her book Under the Same Sun published by Scholastic Press. This lushly illustrated book is based on a family trip that Robinson and her mother took to Africa to visit her brother and his family and to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Robinson is the daughter of the famous baseball superstar Jackie Robinson, and while she and her brother grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, her brother moved to Tanzania in 1984.
The most beautiful portion of this book takes place in the first half when the family in Tanzania gets the home ready for their guests, when they wander through the marketplace, and then when the go on a safari through Sarengeti National Park. The illustrartions of the animals, by AG Ford, were absolutely stunning. Continue reading →
It is Black History month. I will admit that this is not a topic that I typically focus on with my kids, but the more my older daughter and I delve into the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews, the more important showing her that similar injustices have been faced by others.
One subject that both of my girls have been interested in has to do with Rosa Parks. We have a deep love of the Isabella books, and Rosa Parks is one of the pages in the original edition. Like most libraries, our local library showcases books on the top of the shelves for specific events and I was drawn to a book about Rosa Parks.
Jo Kittinger’s Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights is an excellent book that tells about the plight of African Americans from the perspective of bus #2857 – the scene of Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move. This book gets classified as a picture book rather than a non-fiction title because it is told from the point of view of the bus, rather than straight fact about Rosa and the boycott. Through absolutely wonderful illustrations, Rosa’s Bus shows how African Americans were expected to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats if the rows reserved for whites were full. If they didn’t move, they would be arrested. “Those were the rules, called Jim Crow laws. That’s just the way things were.”
“That’s just the way things were” is a common theme when I try to explain civil rights, women’s rights and the plight of the Jews to my kids. It is hard for them to fathom that blacks were told to stay separate from whites. That blacks had to sit in different places, go to different schools, drink from separate water fountains and that black and white children rarely played together.
Rosa’s Bus also recounts the bus boycott itself. Rather than just focusing on Rosa Parks, the book shows how Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved and led a peaceful protest that lasted for over a year. It also puts the bus itself as an important part of history that is now housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, where it was first built. “It welcomes people who remember the way things were and people who only have heard the stories.”
Another book about Rosa Parks that truly shines is I am Rosa Parks, a part of the Ordinary People Change the World Series. This series, by Brad Meltzer, is stunning in it’s simplicity. The Rosa Parks edition might very well be the best one that I have read of the series.
Beginning with childhood incidents that guided her later actions, this entry in the Ordinary People Change the World series proceeds with examples of Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal disparities. These set the scene for Parks’ involvement in civil rights, her now-celebrated refusal to give up her seat on a bus, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott she inspired.
Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos take the story of a strong young girl who stood up for herself from a young age and made her completely accessible. Kids are able to read these books and see that heroes from our history were normal people who just decided to do something extraordinary. Rosa Parks was never one to back down and had been taught from an early age to expect people to respect her just as she respected herself.
I love that this series encourages kids to be strong and to be the change that our world needs. As the last page of this book says, “I’m also proof that there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. I hope you’ll always stand up for yourself, and I hope you’ll remember that we’re all in this together.”
As we continue to have conversations about women’s rights (awesome post of books coming soon), I always find it important to compare all of the issues to similar plights of other minorities. The lesson of Rosa Parks is that we can all make a difference in this world by standing up for what we believe in. A great lesson from Black History Month and for every day of the year.
This post is a part of the awesome link-up of non-fiction picture books as hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. When I was writing this post, I had no idea that Alyson Beecher had written a post just the day before about the Ordinary People series. Check out all of the linked blogs here.