Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2021 American History Titles for Kids

“American History”. Whoo boy. Is any term as fraught as that one in 2021? Even as you read this, hoards of people (“hoards” is a good term for them) are challenging any work in our school libraries (and, sometimes, public libraries) that questions the concept that our American history has been a bucket full of roses. It hasn’t (spoiler alert) and some of the books on the list you’ll see today reflect that. Some are already being challenged. Some will be challenged in the future. All of them are real, and good, and interesting. So as you read this, think of the brave librarians and teachers out there facing this massive push to squelch the historical and true in favor of the American Myth. Think of them and honor their work.

These lists are split into several sections: Picture Book Biographies, Older Nonfiction, and Picture Books/Middle Grade Fiction. I should say that if you don’t see a bunch of your favorite biographies here, that’s probably because I’ve limited the list to those titles that had something to say about the history of America itself. You’ll see what I mean . . .

American History for Kids 2021

Nonfiction: Picture Book Biographies

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorrell, ill. Natasha Donovan

[Previously Seen on the Math List]

Every year we get a couple biographies of women working in the field of math. And with the exception of Katherine Johnson they all have one thing in common: They are white white white white white. So imagine my delight when I discovered this biography of a too little lauded female Cherokee aerospace engineer, written by a member of the Cherokee Nation. Bliss! Mary Golda Ross led an extraordinary life, but due to her work with the American government, a lot of what she did remains suppressed to this day. That’s a unique challenge for a picture book author to face, but Sorrell takes it on with apparent relish. As one of my co-workers pointed out, you should really see the backmatter. It’s something else!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark, ill. Brooke Smart

She was one of the great code-breakers in America, but the government kept her a secret until now (there’s a lot of that going around today, apparently). Learn about the woman whose work was so important, she may have literally won WWI and WWII for us. You know, I get the feeling that it must be hard to write a really good code-breaking children’s book. You have include some actual code-breaking for the child readers, but if the title is nonfiction then you also have to work in some kind of a plot. Elizabeth’s life is particularly interesting because she married, had kids, and kept working (and all this before and during WWII!). Her story also runs parallel with Alan Turing’s, which I thought was just fascinating. Have you noticed that there are a lot of picture book biographies of people out in 2021 that focus on their work during WWII but that was kept under wraps until right now? Looks like all that information can finally be told, and it’s making a lot of nonfiction authors very happy. I was very fond of the design, writing, and art in this book. And just LOOK at that backmatter and how Wallmark backs up every single solitary direct quotation! Truly a work of art.

Her Name Was Mary Katharine: The Only Woman Whose Name Is On the Declaration of Independence by Ella Schwartz, ill. Dow Phumiruk

Children’s Books I Will Never Write But Would Love to Read: A compiled compendium of true stories of the past consisting entirely of real world heroines that had to contend with profligate brothers. Ella Schwartz does her best but it’s hard to read the story of Mary Katharine Goddard without wanting to strangle her brother William Goddard. Still, I’m a sucker for a good story no one’s told me before, and this one’s a doozy. In a time when women did not tend to be prominent, Mary Katharine managed to get her name on the first printed edition of The Declaration of Independence. Author Ella Schwartz always plays by the rules (no fake dialogue, etc.) and even acknowledges problems with Mary Katharine’s life (like owning an enslaved person). Bonus: Want to see her name for yourself? As of this writing there is currently an exhibit at the main location of New York Public Library of its “Treasures”. And there, front and center, you can find a copy of the Declaration of Independence with Mary Katharine’s name on it. I saw it myself with me own two eyes two weeks ago!

I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story by Martha Brockenbrough and Grace Lin, ill. Julia Kuo

Wong Kim Ark was born in America in 1873 and that’s a fact. But could the government take away his rights just because his parents were Chinese? An inspiring story of one man that changed the nation for the better. Okay. There you go. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about good picture book biographies. This is an expertly crafted bit of modern storytelling about a historical incident. Notice how Brockenbrough and Lin work in references to the displaced Indigenous tribes, keep the focus on Wong, and yet are also able to show what happens to the people in his family. The art too looks simple initially but I was very impressed with Kuo’s use of red on Wong throughout the story. It’s just the right amount of text, never too much or too little on a page. Great backmatter (if he wasn’t already dead I’d want to wring the neck of that Holmes Conrad) and it’s just a really uplifting story.

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, ill. Jacqueline Alcántara 

There once lived a girl “who was attracted to tales like mosquitoes to skin.” Hear the tale of one of our greatest American writers, and see how it was stories that buoyed her up, even in some of her dark times. Right off the bat I’m going to confess to you that I think we can trust the dialogue in this book. If I don’t miss my guess, it’ll have been taken directly out of some book of hers about her own life. Why do I think that? Because some of it is written in a southern Black dialect. And when it comes to dialect, that’s a tricky way to go. For a lot of parents, they’re not going to like seeing it on the page, even if it is word-for-word replication of stuff Zora wrote down. The art is fantastic (yay, local Evanstonian Jacqueline Alcántara) and I was impressed with how Williams was able to take Zora’s haphazard life and give it form and structure and meaning. It gives free reign to Zora’s spirit, without sugar coating everything. The kind of book that leaves the child reader wanting to know more about the subject. What could be better?

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, ill. Christian Robinson

When history demands you speak, what happens when you sing? The story of Nina Simone’s life, from child prodigy to voice of multiple generations. Uh-oh. If it comes down to my having to decide between which of the two Christian Robinson books of 2021 I like more, this or Milo Imagines the World, I’m going to be completely torn. In large part because he’s doing his best work here. Robinson began his career with picture book bios, after all. Stuff like Harlem’s Little Blackbird and Josephine. But he’s pulling out all the stops with Nina. Somehow, he makes the art really kid-friendly, and then manages to pull in all these adult ideas. He incorporates the history into the day-to-day of Nina’s life. There’s this shot of the piano with the March on Washington featured on its top that’s stunning. And then you have Traci N. Todd retelling Nina’s life so well, and using phrases like “politeness had gotten her people nothing”. This is award-winner material. Right here. Read this stellar Eric Carpenter explanation on Calling Caldecott if you don’t believe me.

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, ill. Loveis Wise

[Previously Seen on the Holiday List]

American history retold through an honest lens. Now ithe history of children’s literature there has never ever ever been a thoroughly good Kwanzaa book. I’m not even kidding about that. So when I reached the end of The People Remember and saw that the book is steeped in the seven principles of Kwanzaa, I was floored. You know, a lot of adult authors try writing for children and however good their intentions might be, they can come off as earnest and message-y. What makes Zoboi’s book so remarkable, aside from the smart writing, is the fact that it actually fills a distinct need. I mean, Kwanzaa books, as we librarians know, were mostly published in the 70s and 80s. They’re too often worn, outdated, and (quite frankly) look dull. Occasionally Lerner puts one out that’s a little more fun, but no one would ever think to do one that links the history of African-Americans to its seven pillars. In her Author’s Note, Zoboi writes that, “On each day of Kwanzaa, I read books with my family and friends; however, I’ve always wanted there to be one book that both celebrates the principles of Kwanzaa and tells the story of Africans in America as a lyrical narrative, like a song or long poem that can be shared throughout the year, and every year.” If they don’t have your book, make it. She has. We’re grateful.

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Evan Turk

A finely wrought telling of the life of a boy who went from shtetl to tenement apartment to becoming an artist who would always fight for the oppressed. I feel like last year we had only a small sample of children’s books with Jewish content to include on our lists. 2021, in contrast, bestows on us a plethora of amazing titles. I was unfamiliar with Ben Shahn, his story, and his work prior to reading this book. So after reading this I looked him up and came to the realization that Evan Turk has seamlessly incorporated Shahn’s work into the illustrations of this book so well that you’d miss them if you weren’t looking. The storytelling is amazing and 20 points for that kicker of a last line. Turk’s art is, as ever, absolutely some of the best coming out these days. There’s even great backmatter, including this Timeline that pairs “Snapshots of Ben Shahn’s Life” in context with “The Bigger Picture” (that’s where the American history comes into play). It’s a beautiful idea and I wish every picture book bio had something similar. All told, this is a picture book bio done exceedingly well.

Rosie the Riveter : The Legacy of an American Icon by Sarah Dvojack

Dvojack is an utterly fascinating illustrator to watch. I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of books for kids coming out with cameos by people from the past. This book sorta jacks up that idea to another level. First off, allow me to introduce you to the endpapers. I had every intention of just skimming on past them, convinced that I’d be seeing the same old, same old. Then my eye alighted on Bernadette Devlin and Ching Shih and that was it. I was hooked. Those women led to a look at the equally intense and fascinating back endpapers (Chipeta (White Singing Bird), Chien-Shiung Wu, Boudicca, etc.). And don’t even get me started on pages 16-17! There’s a very handy guide at the front of the book that could really help you out of you’re curious. Oh. And have I mentioned at all that the book itself is quite good? It runs down the context around Rosie’s existence, and also how she shaped history for women. No fake dialogue. Great text. This one’s a winner through and through.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, ill. Keith Mallett

Sometimes I’ll read through a load of perfectly decent and unexciting picture book biographies and think that maybe I’m too picky. I mean, how many great bios do you even get in a given year? And then I’ll read something like Runaway and it all comes flooding back. THIS is how you write something that’s original and exciting and simple and has an epic point. Shepard’s book is an exercise in restraint. He takes the “best” possible slave situation and shows just how awful it can be. This feels like the answer to the problem that was A Birthday Cake for George Washington. A much needed corrective.

Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress by Alicia D. Williams, ill. April Harrison

Thank God for Shirley Chisholm. Not just in real life, but in children’s books these days. You ever noticed that when people do group shots of famous women of the past, Shirley always has the best clothes? Like, consistently the best. She just pops too. The hair, the glasses, you recognize her. Now this isn’t the first Chisholm picture book bio we’ve seen and it certainly won’t be the last, but I like its style. It’s one of those all-encompassing bios that starts in childhood and really nails Shirley’s personality from day one. It talks about her childhood in Barbados and has this nice way of punctuating the book with types of things people said about Shirley (but never in quotation marks, thank god). It ends with her election to Congress and then mentions her run for the presidency in the Author’s Note, which I also found a smart choice. Harrison’s art works. Though her colors are a bit muted, I thought she really gave the characters personality in each of the scenes. My sole, teeny objection to the art is that Harrison never captures Chisholm’s trademark gap between her teeth. As a gap-toothed gal myself, I was missing that detail. Otherwise, spot on.

Song for Jimi: The Story of Guitar Legend Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Smith Jr., ill. Edel Rodriguez

From Jimmy to Jimi. A young motherless boy goes on to become a rock and roll legend in this eye-popping deep dive into the Jimi Hendrix life and legacy.  It’s not the first Jimi Hendrix bio I’ve ever read and it won’t be the last but this book is a truly gorgeous piece of work. What Smith has done here that’s so good is to really pair different moments of Jimi’s life with different types of music. The most obvious of these is when he’s young and sad and the text is written with the cadence of the Blues. Smith’s a poet himself so this makes perfect sense, but less obvious are the moments when he takes the rhythm from songs like “Crosstown Traffic”. Meanwhile Edel Rodriguez has just outdone himself with some of this art. The psychedelic 60s never looked so good. As for why it’s on today’s list, watching Jimi serve in Vietnam (something I knew nothing about) and then change the landscape of American music… that’s good enough for me.

Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States by Louisa Jaggar and Shari Becker, ill. Floyd Cooper

I harbor a particular fondness for picture book bios that feature people who have never been properly celebrated in the adult sphere. Even as recently as 20 years ago you would almost have never seen a biography for kids talk about someone who wasn’t already famous. These days there’s a burgeoning awareness that heroes have been with us always, and we just didn’t acknowledge them properly. Case in point, Mr. James Herman Banning. Lindberg gets all the flight press and is HUGELY problematic. Why not celebrate a pilot who knew what he wanted from a very young age and broke down barriers to get it? The story of Banning and the Gold Book (the plane he flew across the country and was signed by people along the way) reminded me a lot of that Mara Rockliff title Around America to Win the Vote, just in terms of the sheer amount of energy it took to get these early vehicles to not break down every hour or so. And, of course, this is one of Floyd Cooper’s last books. His work on it is just as extraordinary as you would expect. Note the particularly heartbreaking details at the end about how Banning died. But it’s not in the main text, so you have to look for it.

Two Grooms On a Cake: The Story of America’s First Gay Wedding by Rob Sanders, ill. Robbie Cathro

The true story of the first same-sex couple in America to marry legally. A tale of law, love, and what you need to build a strong relationship. In most cases I am not a fan of inanimate objects telling stories about their roles in historical moments. Books from the p.o.v. of Rosa Parks’ bus or the tree outside the window of Anne Frank make me shudder. But somehow or other, Rob Sanders manages to pull of a story narrated by the two male cake toppers on the first legal gay wedding in America. And the story is really fascinating. Not just what’s on the page for kids (I adore the 70s vibe in the barn where Jack and Michael met) but also the backmatter. This telling gets the tone right and the art works too. Sweet and smart.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Floyd Cooper

Once in Tulsa, Oklahoma there was a thriving Black community of successful businesses, churches, libraries, and more. Then a terrible violence was perpetrated on those residents. This is that story. I think I needed time to properly process this book. Once I was able to, I found it without compare. There’s a distance in the art that is completely necessary considering the horror of the subject matter. Plus, I just cannot get that image of the older girl with her arm wrapped protectively around her little sister out of my head. This is probably the book that may finally get Floyd Cooper that Caldecott he’s been courting for so many years. With repeated reads I’m also really appreciating the tone Weatherford took with the book. An incredibly tricky story and task that got handled exactly right.

Nonfiction Older

Escape at 10,000 Feet (Case Unsolved Files) by Tom Sullivan

In 1971 a man hijacked a plane and stole $200,000 before parachuting out. He was never found. Did he live and, if so, what happened to the money?  I guess 2021 is the year when authors really double down on doing nonfiction books for kids on seriously adult topics. The case of D.B. Cooper certainly applies. I think I watched a Drunk History episode about this case. Sullivan’s smart with the layout. This reads like a spy thriller, using lots of visuals but never tipping over into graphic novel territory. Instead, you get a look at a lot of primary documents as you find yourself trying to solve the case. I was impressed with how the information was doled out, and the book has this essential respect for the intelligence of its child readers that really spoke to me. It’s thrilling and scary and very mysterious. Everything a real world unsolved crime should be, don’t you think? Bonus: If you’ve got kids that liked watching Loki this year, they’ll be able to recognize this moment from that show.

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin

Missiles, nukes, deadly showdowns, a paperboy that broke a spy ring, and the bear that almost started WWIII. Get a gripping look at the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis that will make you understand how lucky we are to be alive today. As ever, the real question with a new Steve Sheinkin book is never whether or not it’s list-worthy. Steve just sucks you into the story of the Crisis with his customary aplomb and flair. He begins the book with the aforementioned paperboy and that story, like so many others in this book, feels like fiction, but is so meticulously researched that you know you can trust it to be true. No, the question with this book is whether or not it’s for teens or kids. I vote kids. I, for one, had never really had that firm a grasp on the ins and outs and details of the Missile Crisis, and this breakdown helped immensely. Be sure you get to the five or six times random events almost set off WWIII. You’ll come away from this book honestly surprised any of us are even breathing. 

Hear My Voice/Escucha Mi Voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford, ill. Various

Where does history stop and where does the present begin? To be frank, this book is a present day catastrophe, full stop, but also came to national attention during the Trump administration. It straddles the past and the present and has more to say about the country we live in than a lot of the other books on this list. 61 children in migration detained at the border of Mexico and the United States tell their stories and 17 Mexican and Mexican-American artists bring those tales to life. A bilingual exploration of American mistreatment. Hand this to anyone who feels like having their hearts bodily ripped from their chests. This one’s harsh. Accurate and necessary and harsh. For that reason I’m putting it in the Nonfiction for Older Readers section, since I think the kids that will get the most out of it won’t be the usual picture book crowd. The art is universally well done and I liked the mix of familiar names with new inclusions. A more than worthy inclusion for this list.

Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace  

In 1919, twelve innocent Black men sat on death row, their fate sealed. In this gripping tale, it took the clever resourcefulness of their Black lawyer, Scipio Jones, to free them. A pulse-pounding look at history with a happy ending. One question I’ve faced with this book is whether or not it’s actually YA. After all, there are descriptions of torture in the text. But it’s not done to a lengthy extent and it isn’t lingered over. You might also argue that it’s for an older crowd since it talks a lot of about Scipio’s legal maneuverings, but I felt like these were handled in a really straightforward way. A compelling argument could be the book’s design. Dull brown cover (I sure as heck didn’t want to pick it up). Uninspired design and ALL black and white photos inside. So why do I like it so much? In the end, it’s the writing that did it for me. This book was gripping. It reads like a thriller, with Scipio just dancing one step ahead of the racist murderers. And this is a book for kids in that no one (once the twelve men were arrested) was killed. For the smart kids, this book would be fine. IF you could find a way to get them to pick it up, that is.

A Shot in the Arm! by Don Brown

From smallpox to measles, from polio to COVID-19, we owe vaccines a lot. Take a trip back in time to see where they came from, how they work, and why we need them right now more than ever. A couple years ago I read Brown’s book on the 1918 flu pandemic, and when COVID-19 hit I kept thinking about that book. It’s all the more fitting that he should create his next book in the “Big Ideas That Changed the World” series on vaccines. I know we don’t do much with series titles, but Brown’s books all stand on their own. This one is hugely timely, and though the information at the end feels a bit dated (he wasn’t able to include any information about COVID after November of last year) it’s also fascinating to see such recent events rendered on the page. Oh, and the book’s super gross. Like super super gross. So that’s a good selling point with the kids, don’t you think?

Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies by D.K. Publishing

While “Black History” is too broad a topic to encapsulate in 96 pages, this book takes a dive into both the history you know and the history you should have been taught long ago. Please believe me when I say that I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m seriously including a DK book on this list. I think I got burned out on all those Eyewitness Books years ago and never quite recovered. So imagine my surprise when I pick this book up and discover that it takes a really serious look above and beyond the usual slavery/Civil Rights Movement focus. You’ll find quite a lot of African history, both ancient and contemporary, as well as highlights of individuals, some you know, some you don’t. I learned a TON from this book (Ethiopia was the only nation besides Liberia to successful withstand the European colonizers?). A great book for our expository nonfiction readers. Take a gander. You never know.

We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, ill. Frané Lessac

Clearly I’m all about the Traci Sorell today. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, twelve students from different tribes present the history of Native life in America. And how does each presentation end? “We are still here!” While I accept that this looks like a picture book, the sheer amount of information it packs on every page makes it too advanced for your average 5-year-old. This is the history of Native Americans we were never taught in school and, for the most part, not really taught in adulthood either. If this looks a little familiar, it’s because this same duo created We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. A good book, but this one’s even more impressive. Using the conceit that each section is a presentation by kids in a class, the topics are chronological and carry such names as “Economic Development”, “Relocation”, “Sovereign Resurgence” (see what I meant about putting this in the older reader section?). The More Information section at the back shows what’s going on the art rather than the text (example: When Native people occupied Alcatraz Island in protest in the 60s – which was a particularly good Drunk History episode, by the way). Then you get a really magnificent Time Line, Glossary of Terms, Sources, and an Author’s Note. Really and truly the best book I’ve seen do this yet. 

Picture Books & Older Fiction

Being Clem by Lesa Cline-Ransome

[Previously seen on the Middle Grade Novels List]

If you are an author, it is good to find fellow contemporary authors to aspire to. Me? I aspire to someday lasso even a tenth of the emotional power of a Lesa Cline-Ransome novel. In a sense she’s sort of painted herself into a corner. This book is a companion to her previous books Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon. And yet it had been a long time since I read either of those books. Having completely forgotten their plots, I came into Being Clem cold and I can tell you for sure and for certain that it stands entirely on its own. There isn’t so much of a whiff or a hint that there are other books out there. And this book may be one of the best written, most enjoyable of this year. Seriously. You other authors out there need to read this to get a sense of how to write with the least amount of fat. There’s not an excess sentence or superfluous scene in this book. I had the distinct pleasure of listening to the audiobook and reader Dion Graham KILLS IT with his rendition. He made the jokes work. He put real emotion into every page. Sometimes I have to drag myself back to continue listening to an audiobook. Not this one. I kept finding excuses to listen to more. I certainly hope the Newbery committee puts aside the whole this-is-a-companion-novel nonsense and judges this book on its own merits because it is far and away high time Ms. Cline-Ransome got herself some shiny gold. This book would completely deserve it. Why’s it on this list today? Well, in the course of the book you discover that Clem’s father has been killed in the Port Chicago disaster. Additional information about that event appears in the back of the book.

Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird

[Previously seen on the Middle Grade Novels List]

So I run this marvelous committee out of my library every year that determines the 101 Great Books for Kids. It’s something I stole from my former employer New York Public Library, and I absolutely love running it. Now here’s the problem. I also write books for kids. And putting your own book on the committee that YOU created and help run… that’s a bit skeezy, isn’t it? It’s a little “Oh wow! What a coincidence! A book I wrote made it onto this list I run!” Yech. So it was with a tiny bit of sadness that we made sure that Long Road to the Circus, my debut novel, didn’t make it onto our list. That said, I suffer no such compunctions with today’s list. Why? Because unlike my work’s committee, this is a one-woman show. And as such, I actually think my book is kind of good. If you haven’t heard of it before, it was born out of a crazy coincidence. You see, my grandmother’s no good uncle used to skip out on his farm chores when she was a kid. Why? Because he’d walk on over to an elderly ex-circus performer’s house to try to learn how to teach the farm horses circus tricks. Her name? Madame Marantette. Fast forward to the future and Caldecott Award winning illustrator David Small actually lives IN the Marantette House! I thought a picture book might come out of this story. David, however, saw it as a novel. The end result? A kooky tale about Suzy, a girl determined to get out of small town Michigan and into the big bright world. And how’s she gonna do it? Well… you ever seen a lady ride an ostrich side saddle? You will. It’s a goofy little thing, but I’m fond of it. And the New York Times recently included it on their list of 25 Best Children’s Books of the Year, so that’s something.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

[Previously seen on the Middle Grade Novels List]

During the pandemic, Malian has to shelter in place with her grandparents. While doing so, she learns fascinating truths about her family and the struggles they endured. And then a mysterious dog arrives. Bruchac does the audiobook and it hardly takes any time to listen to since it’s so short. On the day that I listened to it I needed a gentle book about family and history, and this one provides precisely that. A good and quiet novel.

Root Magic by Eden Royce

[Previously seen on the Middle Grade Novels List]

If any of you ever teach a course on How to Write a Great First Chapter, I hope you use this book as one of your examples. Eden Royce grips you with her writing and turn of phrase right at the start and that passage echoes so beautifully later in the last chapter as well. I would advise you NOT to listen to the audiobook, though, if only because the reading is a bit too slow for my tastes. Brought up to speed this book is a skilled mix of folklore and American history. I was a bit worried that the defeat of the villain would feel cheap if it was solved via magical means, but then Royce EARNS that ending. Color me seriously impressed.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, ill. Nikkolas Smith

[Previously Seen on the Poetry List]

A class assignment to “trace your roots” leads one Black child to ask her grandmother about their family history. Grandma tells the story of Black pride, history, and what it means to come from a resilient people that have loved, resisted, and persevered. I know we’ve ordered this for the Nonfiction section (973, specifically) I’d argue that with its mix of history alongside a fictional framing sequence, this book is more poetry than anything else. Each section is a poem, and the author even calls it as such in the back. This first came to my attention all thanks to our friends at New York Public Library. I decided to see what all the fuss was about. What I found was an engrossing history of Black Americans from 1619 onward. But as author Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson says in their Author’s Note at the end, the intention here was to, “show that Black Americans have their own proud origin story, one that does not begin in slavery,, in struggle, and in strife but that bridges the gap between Africa and the United States of America. We begin this book with the rich cultures of West Africa and then weave the tale of how after the Middle Passage, Black Americans created a new people here on this land.” The poems are strong, the history good, and the art is extraordinary. Definitely a good strong book for this section.

If you are interested in reading past “American history” booklists that I’ve compiled, please consider the following:

And here’s what else we have happening this month:

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Books with a Message

December 11 – Fabulous Photography

December 12 – Wordless Picture Books

December 13 – Translated Titles

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 16 – Middle Grade Novels

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Older Funny Books

December 20 – Science Fiction Books

December 21 – Fantasy Books

December 22 – Informational Fiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Autobiographies *NEW TOPIC!*

December 26 – Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 28 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Let Liberty Rise!: How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty, by Chana Stiefel would be an excellent addition to this list. The history of how school children were instrumental in getting the Statue of Liberty erected sends a powerful and important message: everyone can make a difference. This truly is a book that shows the best of America!

Speak Your Mind