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Celebrate Black History Month All Year Long

Lee Littlewood on

February is Black History Month, but the stories in these books resonate every month of the year. Now especially, black heroes need to be remembered and celebrated.

"Betty Before X" by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson; Farrar Straus Giroux; 248 pages; $16.99.

"Freedom is a strong seed," said Langston Hughes. The seed for freedom in this stirring tale was planted in the mid-1940s in young Betty Shabazz, who noticed African-Americans in her congregation standing up for their rights despite widespread racism. Betty and her best friend, Suesetta, begin volunteering as girls for the Housewives' League in order to help better black businesses. As her confidence grows (she feels a bit forgotten by her mother), Betty overcomes her personal challenges of self-acceptance and belonging.

Beautifully penned, Shabazz's inspiring story for middle-grade readers is really the story of her mother before she met Malcolm X, her father. It should help young girls and boys know that standing up for what they believe in is noble and can start at any age.

"Streetcar to Justice" by Amy Hill Hearth; HarperCollins; 143 pages; $19.99.

"How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York" is Amy Hill Hearth's subtitle for this comprehensive true story about a girl forced to give up a seat on a streetcar in 1854. One hundred years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, Elizabeth Jennings was injured as she was thrown off a streetcar by a conductor and a policeman. Her story wasn't over then, and her family and the African-American community helped take her case to court (interestingly, her lawyer was future President Chester A. Arthur). Jennings' case was won, and she's still remembered as being an integral part of the desegregation of New York City's public transportation.

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A fascinating biography for any kids ages 8 to 12 (that would even intrigue kids of high school age), "Streetcar to Justice" includes photographs and lots of archival material from the mid-1800s. This little-known fight for equality will hopefully garner more attention, especially now.

"The United States v. Jackie Robinson; by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; Balzar + Bray; 34 pages; $17.99.

A lot of people don't know that before Jackie Robinson was a baseball player who broke through barriers, he was a soldier during World War II. During his days in the Army, Robinson experienced segregation. One day he refused to move to the back of a military bus, and the military police took him to trial. Bardhan-Quallen's important true story of Robinson's court-martial showcases a determined young man who knew right from wrong and stood proudly for his beliefs. He was actually one of the first black Americans to challenge a segregation law in court and win.

Young readers will enjoy the picture book's precise writing and learn that Robinson wasn't allowed to join the Fort Riley, Kansas, baseball team because of his skin color. That's certainly one team that made a huge mistake!


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