February gets a lot of love (pun intended) for being the month of lace, doilies, and hearts, but the month should also be recognized for being something much more important and significant—Black History Month.
The precursor to Black History Month was established in 1926 and was just one week in February dedicated to Black history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated the entire month of February as Black History Month, and for good reason. Many figures and events that are an important part of Black history are, unfortunately, often missing from history textbooks. Fortunately there are many books, including these 13 terrific picks for middle graders, that will give young readers insight into the courage, perseverance, and strength displayed by so many African Americans during incredibly dark times in our nation’s history, and will give families the perfect opportunity to discuss how Black history has shaped our country.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham is one of those books that will stay with you far past childhood; it’s one I still remember vividly. The story is about 10-year-old Kenny and his “weird” family on a road trip to visit grandma. The problem? Grandma lives in Birmingham, Alabama and it’s 1963, one of the darkest times in American history. It is poignant, it is raw, and it is gripping. As it’s told from the perspective of Kenny, it’s the perfect book for middle grades and will help your children truly understand what it was like to grow up in such fearful times.
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The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson
If you want to start a conversation about the horrors of slavery, The Seeds of America trilogy is the perfect way to get your middle school kid interested in a dark time in American history. Focused on the story of three young girls growing up as slaves, it ventures into the American Revolution where many slaves figured if the country could fight for freedom from England, then why couldn’t everyone in the country be privy to it? It’s an incredible trilogy with a lot of heart, grit, and history.
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
Rita Williams-Garcia is one of those authors you have to include, no matter what time of the year it is, but especially during Black History Month. She is known for writing some beautiful tales about what it means to be black in America and One Crazy Summer is one of my favorites. It’s 1968 and three sisters are on their way to visit their mother after she abandoned them to start a “radical new life.” Instead of Disneyland and family fun, their mother sends them to a camp run by the Black Panthers and they become increasingly aware of their place in country, their history, and their family.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
The Depression was a hard time for nearly everyone in America, but for black families living in the south, racism was rampant. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a stark look at that time in history as members of one family cling to one another, and to their land, as they attempt to make some sense of the tumultuous world they are living in.
The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine
The Lions of Little Rock is set during the time of school integration, but it’s so much more than a history lesson. In the story, two girls are best friends—Liz and Marlee. Liz is brave, outspoken, and bright. Marlee is shy, timid, and wants to be like her best friend so much. But when the school learns that Liz is not white, like she was pretending to be, but is black and attending the same school as Marlee, Marlee has to learn how to be courageous like Liz and stand up for her friend. If you’ve ever struggled with talking about racism or what segregation was like with your kids, this is a great place to start.
Sugar, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Sugar is the story of a 10-year-old girl, Sugar, and her life working on a sugar plantation. Slavery is over, but that doesn’t mean Sugar is given the same freedom or opportunities as other children, especially when she becomes friends with the plantation owner’s son and attempts to bridge the cultural gaps with the Chinese workers that come to help harvest. A great story about striving for more, no matter what, it’s a must-read for Black History Month.
Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges has a name synonymous with courage and perseverance and her autobiography, Through My Eyes, showcases this beautifully. The story shares what it was like to walk into that first integrated school in 1960 and it will really hit home with your children, especially to realize a young girl around their age was the one actually going through these emotions. It’s a huge part of black history and deserves a spot in your child’s library.
Rosa Parks: Courageous Citizen, by Ruth Ashby
Another book about a strong, brave black woman, Rosa Parks: Courageous Citizen is a story of oppression, of courage, and of the determination to do what’s right, no matter the cost. Rosa Parks’s story is one your children will probably recognize, so hearing her tale told in even more detail will fascinate them.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
A novel written in beautiful verse, Brown Girl Dreaming gives a first person account of what it was like to be an African-American girl growing up during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Each poem is beautifully evocative and packs a powerful emotional punch.
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levinson
In 1963, a march your children may not have heard about happened—the Children’s March in Birmingham. It’s an integral part of black history, especially as 4,000 children, ranging in ages from elementary school to high school, were arrested because of their efforts to protest peacefully and help desegregate schools. These kids ended up making a huge difference in an incredibly divided and violent city, and the story of their bravery will inspire your own kids.
A Picture of Freedom, by Patricia C. McKissack
It’s 1859 in A Picture of Freedom and 12-year-old Clotee is a slave. But she’s a slave who has taught herself to read and write in secret. Your children may take those skills and education for granted, but this book will remind them that at one point in America’s history, learning wasn’t allowed for certain groups of people. It will teach them gratitude along with a healthy dose of history as they read about slavery, literacy, and our changing country.
Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood
1964 Mississippi is the setting for Glory Be, which can tell you that it focuses on the civil rights movement, segregation, and prejudice. But in the middle of all of it is a young girl named Glory, who’s ready to celebrate her 12th birthday at the segregated public pool when it suddenly closes. Relying on family, friends, and herself, Glory Be is about making choices, even when they aren’t easy, and how deeply impactful they can be.
American Girl Beforever: Addy, by Connie Porter, Denise Lewis Patrick, Juliana Kolesova, and Michael Dworkin
One of my favorite American Girls, Addy, shines in American Girl Beforever: Addy. It’s 1864 and Addy, her mother, her father, and her brother are slaves. They’re planning an escape to freedom when her brother and father are sold. What begins is an incredible journey as Addy and her mother head for freedom on their own, hoping to find their family again.