Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

BadNewsForOutlaws

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

“Bass shook his head. He hated bloodshed, but Webb might need killing.” OH SNAP.

The story starts in medias res with an action-packed showdown shootout! Reeves has the tough job of being a lawman in Indian Territory. As Natives were forcibly moved to Indian Territory to live, Whites squatted on the land illegally. The Territory was ripe with outlaws, gamblers and dangerous people. Reeves was the right man to uphold the law; in addition to being clever, well respected and honest, he was a crack shot, tall, broad and strong. He grew up a slave in Texas but escaped after an altercation with his master to Indian Territory. There he lived with tribes and learned their ways and languages until the Civil War when he became free.

Reeves married, had kids and was hired on to be a Deputy Marshal for Indian Territory. Though he couldn’t read, he had an excellent memory and was known for his disguises and clever schemes to track down outlaws. Being a church-going man, he also tried to talk sense into the criminals. Though he was generally respected, he was still a black man with power and many whites weren’t keen on that. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves lost his job as Deputy Marshal but later became a part of the Muskogee police force. In his entire career, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty!!!

BadNewsForOutlaws2

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

One issue I have with this book is the way in which the author addresses the murder of Reeves’ daughter in law. Reeves’ son Benjamin murdered his own wife because she was “untrue” and though he was sentenced to life, he only had to serve ten years because he was a “model prisoner.” Micheaux Nelson retells historical events (focuses on how tough this is for Reeves) but Reeves’ daughter in law has no agency in this story. She’s the victim of horrific violence yet we never learn her name, we don’t see her in the illustrations and there’s no mention of her in the material at the end of the book. This is unfortunate and I hope readers use this as an opportunity for discussion and to learn more about her. [After about 20 minutes of searching the internet, I found two sources that list her name, Cassie Reeves. Here and here on pg. 39.]

R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations bring Reeves and the unpredictability of the “Wild West” to life. Christie’s color palette is full of sandy browns, rich greens and dark colors. The first page with outlaw Jim Webb bursting through a window (shards of glass flying) to escape from Reeves on horseback is my favorite. By the way, Micheaux Nelson and Christie also collaborated on another excellent book, The Book Itch. Read that one too.

Be sure to check out Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. Bass Reeves isn’t as well known as he should be and this picture book is an excellent introduction to his remarkable life.

 

 

Recommended for: 3rd-4th grade and up
Great for: Western, Indian Territory, Native Americans, Oklahoma Tribes, Squatters, Fairness, Law Enforcement, Relationships, Family, Law, Discussion, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Outlaws, African-American, Slavery, Injustice, Respect, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2009 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780822567646

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

VoiceofFreedom

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

VoiceofFreddom2

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Excellent Black History Book Series

EmpakBlackHistBooks

If you can get your hands on these books, please do! They’re by the Empak Publishing Company (Empak Enterprises, Inc.) and I believe there are ten books total in the series. They’re most likely out of print now (mine are from the 80s) so you’ll have to look for them at a used book store or online.

What I love about these books is that they cover so many great topics like Historic Black Women, Historic Black Firsts, Historic African Kings and Queens, Historic Blacks in the Arts, Historic Black Educators, etc. Below is a sample page from A Salute to Historic Black Women (Vol. 1 in the series).

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Click image for a closer look

Ruth and the Green Book

RuthandtheGreenBook

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Floyd Cooper

Family vacations are an American staple right? They’re when we take time away from our jobs to get in a car, train or plane to travel and have fun. But can you imagine needing to rely on a little book to help you stay safe on the road? The danger isn’t from other cars or weather conditions; the danger is from people who don’t like you because of the color of your skin.

 

Ruth and the Green Book is a story based on real historical events. Like Ruth and her family, in the 50s, many Black families were prospering in the North but had to take precautions when traveling, especially back down South and into Jim Crow. In this story, Ruth’s dad gets a brand new car and they head from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandparents. Ruth tells the story from her perspective and we experience her confusion and anger towards segregation. She doesn’t understand why they can’t use the restroom at the gas station and why the white hotel owner won’t let them stay in the hotel but she sees the effects these events have on her family.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia.org (New York Public Library) 1940 Edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book

“Whites Only” signs are everywhere on their journey but her family sings joyfully as they drive and enjoy each other’s company. They make do as oppressed people do! Ruth learns the hard truth about Jim Crow, but luckily a family friend along the route tells them to look out for Esso Gas Stations. Esso is one company that accepts black business. At the first Esso Gas Station they see, a black worker sells them The Negro Motorist Green Book which lists safe places for Black people to eat, sleep and rest on the road. As they travel, Ruth grows up and makes a new friend at one of the inns they stay at. The Green Book helps Ruth and her family get to Alabama safely and she reflects on how thankful she is for a nationwide network of black people looking out for each other!

I love Cooper’s illustrations. He uses muted colors of browns, greens, and blues and it gives the feel of an old soft crackly television. Warm, expressive brown faces and Ruth’s loving family are beautiful to see. I really like the design of the cover of the book with its swooping green retro font, Dad’s brand new “sea mist” green Buick, and Ruth smiling proudly as her mom holds her steadily (strength, determination and a little worry in her expression.) This book is excellent for ALL ages because it discusses an important (and probably little-known) aspect of Black History. Check it out and talk about it!

 

P.S. For more information on The Negro Motorist Green Book and to browse through one online, click here and here. These links are super cool. I really encourage you to take a look!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, 1950s America, Jim Crow, Segregation Community, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Travel, African-American, Social Issues, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2010 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761352556

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

 

Happy Black History Month!

Please use this concentrated acknowledgment of BLACK EXCELLENCE to learn something new and keep it with you throughout the year.

I’ll be reviewing quite a few books for Black History Month this year so I hope you’ll enjoy my posts!

TheBookItch

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

The Book Itch was recently awarded the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor and for good reason. Not only are the illustrations cool but the content!! The content is gloriously heavy. It’s inspirational and thought provoking. This is a unique book.

The story is told by the son of Lewis H. Micheaux, the founder & owner of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. “Louie” as his father calls him, takes us back to 1960s Harlem, explains the significance of the bookstore and tells a story that honors his father’s brilliance and determination. The bookstore is more than a bookstore, it’s a gathering place, a refuge, and space for knowledge and politics. All types of people visit, even Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X! We get to experience Louie’s sheer amazement and adoration when he meets such powerful Black figures of the time.

I love Lewis H. Micheaux’s way with words. His catch-phrases and poetic slogans are catchy and real. “Don’t get took! Read a book!” encourages young people of color to educate themselves through reading; a message as important today as it was in 1960s America! He constantly encourages his son to read and learn so that he can sort out the truth of the world. This book doesn’t shy away from discussing civil rights and racial issues; the bookstore often hosts rallies and Micheaux jokes “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” The later half of the story explores Micheaux’s close friendship with Malcolm X. As the reader finishes the book, he/she is left thinking about the power of words and are reminded that some are willing to die for freedom.

TheBookItch2

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie’s paintings are excellent at creating place and mood. He places the reader directly in Harlem, on its streets and in the bookstore with its large collection of books knowledge. He draws long lanky bodies again like he did in Freedom in Congo Square but this time he focuses on detailed faces and expressions. His palette is dark and earthy and suits the story.

Please take time to read and discuss this book! The last few pages tell more about Lewis H. Michaeux’s life and there’s a great Author’s Note. I’m so grateful that Vaunda Micheaux Nelson created this book to share her great-uncle’s story; it’s a moment of Black History that I didn’t know about. The Book Itch is one of the strongest non-fiction historical books for children to come out in 2015. Oh the power of books…and words.

 

P.S. I love endpapers and this book has GREAT ones! Check out some of Micheaux’s “poetry” 🙂

 

Malcolm X delivering a speech outside of one his favorite places, The National Memorial African Bookstore, in 1961.

 

Recommended for: 2nd-3rd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, 1960s America, Community, Black Bookstores, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Harlem, Lewis H. Micheaux, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Non-Fiction, Power of Words, Social Issues, The National Memorial African Bookstore, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2015 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761339434

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

Freedom in Congo Square

FreedomInCongoSquare

Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

TheAmazingAgeofJohnRoyLynch

Image Credit: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Chris Barton/Don Tate

John Roy Lynch. A child of slavery and reborn during Reconstruction, he is a true example of hard work and determination. This biography gives us a glimpse into his amazing life during a very important but overlooked part of American history, Reconstruction.

John was a half Irish boy born into slavery. Soon the Civil War came and though slaves were eventually emancipated, John wasn’t really free until he set off on his own as a teen. He took several jobs in Natchez, Mississippi; just being able to make his own way, as a free man, was liberating! He taught himself to read and write and started to speak out in local politics on the issue of Blacks and voting. Before he knew it, he was Justice of the Peace and would eventually be elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. He became the Speaker of the House and would rise on to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. He did all this in just ten years time from being a slave and would live his life striving for equal rights.

John Roy Lynch accomplished quite a great deal but he was frustrated with the slow speed of progress for people of color. Though Blacks were legally liberated, Whites started to push back against the progress Free Blacks were making in American society though processes like voting to make changes, owning property, and gaining government positions. Some of this push back was done with violence. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is an important historical biography that not only tells us the story of a great man but also reminds us of the importance of Reconstruction.

The illustrations for this book are great! Don Tate brings John’s life to life though soft ink and gouache paintings. From his early days in the cotton field, to my favorite spread of John Roy Lynch standing in front of the flag with determination in his eyes, his life is honored though skillful illustration. Here’s to making your own amazing age and living with purpose!

 

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Non-Fiction, Biography, Leader, Role-Model, Determination, Government, Slavery, Reconstruction, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, History, Social Issues, African-American
Book Info: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton/Illustrated by Don Tate, 2015 Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780802853790

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

LittleMelbaBigTrombone

Image Credit: Lee and Low Books Inc., Katheryn Russell-Brown/Frank Morrison

 

A little girl picked up a big instrument and made a big sound that would rock the jazz world.

In recent years, there’s been a surge in excellent music biographies about women; I’ve already reviewed great books about Leontyne Price and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. What attracted me to this biography of Melba Doretta Liston is that she is a Black female musician. Sure history remembers and celebrates many great Black female singers but musicians? Not really. I’d never heard of this woman until this book. Jazz fans, is she well known? I certainly hope so…

Melba Doretta Liston grew up with music in her blood and luckily she lived in the thriving, jazz town of Kansas City in the 20s when it was a mecca of #BlackCreativity. Like Millo and Leontyne, she dreamed and lived music and when she was seven years old, her mama bought her a shiny new trombone. Her grandpa helped build her confidence and skill and in no time, she was blowing and making waves on the radio. Her family moved to LA and Melba continued to shine. She began touring the country with a band in the 40s, arranging music and throwing down. Her sound and skill was glorious. Unfortunately she and her band faced segregation and racism on their trips down South but Melba didn’t let that stop her. She’d continue to make music for years to come, touring the world, writing music and being true to her craft.

Morrison’s art is so dynamic. Limber bodies sway to the beat, round smiling brown cheeks, energetic musicians and Melba, the star, takes full control of that huge yellow trombone. His oil paintings embody jazz. Be sure to check out this awesome biography; Melba is someone to know and remember.

P.S. What a great cover, right? 😉 She’s sttrreeettchhing from edge to edge.

Recommended for: All Ages, especially 1st grade and up
Great for: Girl Power, Diversity, Music, Music History, Girls in Music, We Need Diverse Books, Determination, Family, Jazz, Dreams, Segregation, Community, Biography, African-American, BlackGirlsRock, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2014 Lee and Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600608988

Drum Dream Girl

DrumDreamGirl

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Do you feel the beat? Have a desire to make music and feel rhythm in everything around you? Cuban-American poet Margarita Engle’s new picture book is about the Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dared to drum when it was taboo for a girl to do so.

Drum Dream Girl dreams of drums; she can’t help it because the music is a part of her but on her island of Cuba in the 30s, only boys can drum and even her father discourages her drumming. She continues to dream in drumbeats and every sound is a rhythm. Despite what everyone thinks, she drums and drums and even joins an all girl dance band formed by her sisters. Though he tells her once again that she shouldn’t play the drums, her father finally comes around and takes her to a teacher who nurtures her talent and helps her grow into a gifted drummer. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga would go on to be a world famous musician and her music, her defiance and passion, would inspire female musicians in her home and no doubt, around the world.

DrumDreamGirl

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Passion, color, music and hope fill the pages through Raphael López’s glowing illustrations. He uses acrylic paint to create warm brown skin, large hands, wide expressive eyes, colorful flowers and birds and these details bring the island of Cuba to life. There’s often a smiling sun or moon shining down on Millo as she drum-dreams. Similar to Raul Colón’s illustrations in Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, López draws a whirling strand of colorful ribbons to depict music. Engle’s poetry is beautifully descriptive and great for reading aloud. Drum Dream Girl will inspire you to learn more about Millo and it will make you feel like you’re in Cuba, sitting in a café on a hot summer night, sipping a drink and enjoying the sound of drums.

P.S. If you’re looking for more info about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, check out the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band by Alicia Castro, published by Atlantic Books, London, 2007. Thanks for the info Margarita Engle and Tony Koehler!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Defiance, Non-Fiction, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Rhythm, Family, Poetry, Gender Non Conformity, Girl Power, Music, Music History, Cuba, Dreams, Drums, Biography, Jazz, Girls in Music, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Rafael López, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544102293