Black history is part of our nation’s history. And how we choose to teach our children about all of our history starts in early childhood, whether we realize it or not. As a white American, I remained ignorant about a large chunk of our history for the first part of my life. Living in Detroit and finishing out my education at a largely African American-attended school, I was no longer able or willing to remain ignorant. But even now, after all these years, I continue to strive and work to keep up.
Every year since Annika has been born, I make an effort every February to instill regular discussions and education about black American history.
If not for having a brown-skinned child, I don’t know that I would have made such an effort. But being that I’m white and she’s black, AND since I’m her primary caregiver, I worry that she won’t have a real understanding of what it means to be black in America. So, I figure the least I can do is give her a good academic base of knowledge.
All that said, I think it’s hugely important for white parents, as well as parents of color, to teach their children about racism, otherism, and other forms of prejudice, including homophobia and genderism, which we also discuss.
This month, we have been reading children’s black history books. I plan to keep black history books as part of our regular rotation, rather than just doing it in February so she will have a constant influx of knowledge throughout her childhood.
Children’s Books for Black History
Two black history books that we read this week were both great for two reasons. One gave Annika a beautiful illustration of a strong and talented African American songstress, Ella Fitzgerald. And the other introduced her to some of the subordinate racial slurs that African Americans have had to endure, as well as a lesson on segregation with a child-like twist.
In the book, Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa authors Audrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney tell the tale of this super songstress in the voice of scat cat, a kitty jazz fan who regales us with the tale of her life; how she taught herself to dance on the sidewalk; almost bombed at the Apollo and turned out to be one of the most lauded black singers of her time. After we read the book, we watched a video on Youtube.
I loved this book because Annika was very excited about the beautiful illustration on the front and it gave me an opportunity to introduce her to a beautiful part of black history.
The next book I’m recommending is Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson. This book made me blanch just a little because I didn’t read it ahead of time and I came across the words, negro and colored, in reference to people. The boy, Brewster, calls himself both a few times in the story. And the word colored is used by white people, in a negative light.
But this one was her favorite book out of the two. She asked me to read it over and over again. I think we read it 10 times this week. In at least two instances we read it twice in a row. I’m not sure what it was about this book that she loved so much. She didn’t seem very concerned about the ending of segregation or why the two brothers had a hard time going to the “white school.” There was just something about the brothers that she really liked. Although, she did question why the white people were angry about the brothers going to their school.
This book is a tale of two brothers who find out they are going to the “white school,” while the older brother is upset and angry about it, the younger brother, who is just entering kindergarten, is just a little confused, and also a little excited.
In Busing Brewster, the brothers encounter picketers; rocks being thrown at their bus; and a white boy who tells them he wished their “kind” stayed at their old school. But after a while, he makes friends with them, until his father picks him up from school and mutters ugly words about the brothers, making young Brewster feel unsure about his pending friend.
I highly recommend both of these books. The first one is a great example of a talented and strong African American woman. And the second is a history lesson that gives just enough to provoke interesting discussions about the ugliness of our past, and how we have moved forward.
To read Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa and Busing Brewster (these are Amazon Affiliate links) or check them out at your local library, which is where we picked up these books.