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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recommended Picture Books for Black History, Part II

This post is way overdue! But the fact is, the books I'm about to share are great for any time of the year, and certainly need not be limited to Black History Month. Be sure to also check out Part One of this post for more great ideas!

George Crum and the Saratoga Chips, written by Gaylia Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison, is a terrific tale of invention. Having always felt like an outsider because of the color of his skin, George Crum thinks he's finally found in his place as chef at a prestigious Saratoga Springs restaurant. But when a customer's complaint makes him feel inferior, his inventiveness helps to create one of America's finest "delicacies," now enjoyed in almost every American home.

Students, of course, love to create, so some exercises in invention are in order as an extension to this fun book. There tons of sites on invention, but I'm a teacher, and I know you don't want messy, time-consuming projects to litter your classroom! Here instead are a few simple, neat web links to explore:
  • African American Inventors is a site designed for upper grade students, but can be easily navigated with just a little assistance. There students can research achievements of an assigned Black American. If you need a few names to get started, see Cengage Learning's Invent-O-Rama page.
  • Meet Me at The Corner is a cool virtual field trip site, and their video on Kid Inventors' Day is supplemented with some simple follow-up questions and activities.
  • Whizzball allows students to either solve or create a pathway of gadgets to move a ball from one place to another in a Mousetrap-like environment. Extremely open-ended and adaptable to many skill levels.
  • The History of Invention is a cool invention timeline which can be scrolled either vertically or horizontally. There students can learn about the origins of the "stuff" they use every day.
Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield is the inspiration behind The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby, written by Crystal Hubbard and illustrated by Robert McGuire. Jimmy Winkfield is the only black Jockey to win two Kentucky Derby titles back to back, and for this honor was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. This book chronicles his determination to win on and off the track in the face of increasing racism in the world of horse racing.

Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Francois Roca, tells the tale of the man who would be King, not on the race track, but in the boxing ring.

This is the true Ali: proud, controversial, devastating. Roca's thick, sculpturesque paintings are the perfect complement to Winter's narrative, which echoes the language and rhythm of the Book of Genesis. All in all, a satisfying, fact-filled tribute to the Champion of the World.

Be sure to check out Ali's complete biography, as this book is certain to prompt questions from many students. From Ali's own official site, you'll find many video segments of his greatest fights.

Willie and the All Stars, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, is one of that author's finest titles. While many of us know Floyd Cooper as simply an illustrator, providing beautiful images for the words of others (as in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, by Joyce Carol Thomas), Willie and the All-Stars establishes Cooper as a double threat talent.

Young Willie dreams of playing professional baseball one day, but is dissuaded from pursuing that dream because, after all, Blacks don't play in the major leagues in 1942 America. He's close to giving up hope until one day a neighbor gives him tickets to an exhibition game between Negro League and Major League All-Stars at Wrigley Field. The Negro League players, led by Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, quickly impress the crowd with their determination playing style, and through their grit edge the much-favored major leaguers for the win. The book ends with a glimmer of hope for Willie and boys like him as white and black players shake hands on the field at game's end. An author's note adds a bit of history regarding the Negro Leagues.

This book would, of course, be a perfect companion title to Let Them Play, mentioned in my Recommended Picture Books for Black History Month, Part I post. Let Them Play details the struggle of young players which mirrored those of their idols.

Following a reading of Willie and the All Stars, students may wish to explore the history of Negro Leagues. A good place to start would be Carole Boston Weatherford's A Negro League Scrapbook or Kadir Nelson's excellent We Are the Ship. See my Going Extra Innings with Baseball Picture Books post for questions, lessons, and more online extensions.

For further research and activities, you'll find everything you need at the Negro Baseball League site at 42Explore (Four to Explore). Using the resources there, students can create a baseball card, player biography, or team poster, or complete a webquest on Negro Baseball.