When famed author Ta-Nehisi Coates crashed a South Carolina school board meeting in defense of his book, “Between the World and Me,” which school officials and students alike alleged that the book made them feel guilty about being white, they may or may not have foreseen the fall out to come, including the threats to academic freedom and perhaps more importantly the void of information, accurate information it would create for younger students still in their very formative years.
So each February, the U.S. recognizes the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have shaped the nation, make it a point to educate Black children about heroes and life beyond Harriett Tubmann and Frederick Douglass and turn to literature to assist with Black History.
Books can help children engage with all kinds of history, but can be particularly helpful for the nuanced aspects of Black history, said Meg Medina, an award-winning children’s author and the 2023-2024 National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature.
“I think when we give kids really rich texts, and trust them with the information, trust them to be curious, allow them to follow their curiosity, we do them an enormous service,” she said.
As the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden oversees the national library of the United States, which contains a collection of approximately 164 million items. For Black History Month, she has two recommendations for children — firstly, A Library by Nikki Giovanni, with colorful illustrations by Erin K. Robinson.
“It’s a book that I would recommend for anyone, and particularly though, in Black History Month because it features a young African American girl and she takes so many adventures through books. And to have a young African American child having those adventures in a library at this time is very significant when so many things are being challenged,” Hayden said.
“Books can do so much. And during Black History Month, I think we owe it to the young people in our lives to introduce them to that free resource: The library,” Hayden said. “I’m a little prejudiced.”
The book, published in 1946, is about a young African American girl named April who experiences racial prejudice for the first time. The main character has pigtails and is a Brownie — a Girl Scout in the second or third grade of elementary school — which blew the mind of a young Hayden, who also was a Brownie with pigtails.