Bookshelf roundup

Too often we complain about the shortage of books by and about African Americans. But folks, there’s much to celebrate, too! Here are a few of the wonderful books I’ve read recently:

c_1416917527Joseph (McElderry Books) by Shelia P. Moses (ages 12 and up)
Life is hard for 15-year-old Joseph Flood. His mother is no good. You know the type — ghetto, loud-trash-talkin’ a mile a minute about nothing. Top it off, she’s a crack addict who isn’t the least bit interested in rehab, or self dignity for that matter. Joseph is embarrassed by his mother and their living conditions. They live in a homeless shelter. Joseph’s father is responsible. He’s a good man. But he’s off fighting in the war in Iraq.

When Joseph is enrolled in a new school, a good school on the other side of town, he is forced to keep his life a secret.

But Joseph is a survivor, determined to do the right thing, in spite of his mother’s trifling ways. I especially liked that the author chose to make Joseph’s father the hero in this story.

mainHoward Thurman’s Great Hope (Lee & Low Books), by Kai Jackson Issa, illustrated by Arthur L. Dawson. (grades 3 – 4)

I saw my 7-year-old son in young Howard Thurman. My son is smart, a hard worker, an all “A” student. This is the kind of story I want him to read because it demonstrates how hard work and education can can pay off.

Born in segregated Daytona, Florida, in 1899, Howard Thurman grew up dreaming of a better life.

Through hard work and perseverance, Howard earned a full scholarship to attend the Florida Baptist Academy. But the opportunity was almost lost when he didn’t have enough money to ride the train to get to the school. That’s when a stranger out of nowhere stepped in and gave him the money. He went on to graduate first in his class.

Later, he attended Morehouse College and Rochester Theological Seminary, and ultimately became one of America’s greatest preachers and spiritual leaders.

Arthur L. Dawson, a self-taught artist, is new on the scene of children’s literature, although he is an established fine artist.

main-1The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby (Lee & Low Books), by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Robert McGuire (grades 3 – 4)

Jimmy Winkfield was born in 1880s Kentucky, to a sharecropping family. And, boy, did he love horses! Loved them so much, he grew up racing them and carved out a legacy for himself as one of history’s finest horsemen, and the last African American to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

morebooknewscoverMarch On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World (Scholastic Press), by Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd.

On a hot August day in 1963, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington D.C. to witness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his I have A Dream speech. From the sister of Dr. King, comes a stirring account of what the day was like for her.

Look for an interview of artist London Ladd soon, here on the Brown Bookshelf.

49039608e9e62Guardian (Amistad), by Julius Lester (ages 14 and up). I read an advanced copy of this book earlier this year, but never had the time to write up a review. This book captivated me from page one, and is probably the best book I’ve read since . . . well, probably since I first fell in love with Richard Wright‘s work more than 20 years ago. Yes, Julius Lester belongs in that category; this author’s talent blows me away.

The Guardian is powerful, but condensed. It’s like a stick of dynamite stuffed inside a firecracker (the book is very short, my advanced copy was 129 pages). It tells a story from the point of view of a white teenager, living at a dangerous and dark time in American history — a time when Black folk were hanged for nothing more than being Black. Small southern town, 1946, a lynching. Get the idea?

14-year-olds Ansel and Willie are best friends and almost like brothers. Only Ansel is White and Willie is Black. Ansel is being trained to take over his father’s business, a small grocery store. Willie works for Ansel’s family at their store.

Late one night, a preacher’s daughter is raped and killed by a young white man — a rival of Ansel’s, a kid from one of the richest families in town, notorious as a trouble maker. And he blames Willie’s father for the rape. Who they gonna believe, the rich white kid whose family owns much of the town, or the Black guy?

Ansel and his father know the truth and must make a decision, a decision that results in the lynching of an innocent man, the loss of a friendship, and the destruction of a family.

The story is gut-wrenching, and you won’t be able to put this book down.

main-2No Mush Today (Lee & Low Books), written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (grades 2- 3)

This charming story made me smile. It’s a day-in-the life story of Nonie, a young African American girl who’s had enough — no more bawlin’ baby brother, and especially no more mush! So she took off to spend the day with her grandma.

I enjoyed the story sure enough, but I especially loved Tadgell’s art. Her soft lines are expressive, her watercolors are crisp, her color scheme is dreamy! And her characters are real — they look like people you know.

djcompwebThe Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street) by Helen Hemphill (ages 10+)

This was such a fun read; I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s Black history, adventure and great storytelling all balled up in one adventurous chapter after another. Black teenage cowboys, Indians, buffalo stampedes, cattle drives and the wild, wild west! If that won’t interest a middle school boy then tell me what will.

Here are a few other books to look for:

Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story (Scholastic Press), by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin (ages 12 10 18)

Amiri & Odette: A Love Story (Scholastic Press), by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (ages: young adult) Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! Read it, frame it! The illustrations are rich and textured. A picture book for young adults.

main-3Bird by Zetta Elliott and Shadra Strickland. The paring of this author and artist was brilliant! This book is my prediction for a 2009 CSK nod.

— Don

4 thoughts on “Bookshelf roundup

  1. It’s great to see all of the new books coming out. However I still have a very difficult time finding chapter books for early readers by Black authors that would appeal to my 6 year old grandson. I would love to find an exciting, adventurous series on the level of the Magic Tree House books , not dealing with social problems, just fun. Any ideas?

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