Black History Month: Two Excellent Books for Children

Let me be honest for a minute, when I first came to the United States, I did not understand Black History Month. At all. I would sit in my education classes listening to my professor talk about the importance of emphasizing Black History Month in our future classrooms and I admit to being confused. In my naivete, I thought, “Why can’t we just teach American history?” I did not understand why we were segregating history.

And then I started to read American history.

I realized that America’s history has always been segregated. The more I read, the more I realized that outside of sections on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, the vast majority of U.S. history textbooks were stories about Americans of European descent. James Baldwin is famously quoted as saying,

“When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history, because it seemed that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

Reading these stories and listening to gracious and patient African American friends describe their educational experience helped me to realize that there can be no “unified” historical story until everyone’s story is included.

One of my favorite songs from the musical, Hamilton, is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” The song begins with George Washington’s character singing:

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

We have no control who tells our story, but we do control which stories we choose to tell. The stories we choose to tell need to do justice to the people who gave so much to the foundation and formation of this nation. The stories we choose to tell need to go beyond the broad strokes children learn year after year and into the fine detail of underappreciated creators and inventors. The stories we choose to tell need to inspire, uplift, and excite a new generation of history-in-the-making individuals. Stories that are not limited to just one cross-section of our society, but stories that represent all contributors.

This is why Black History Month has gone from being a source of confusion for me to being something I view as essential. If our everyday history teaching is only going to cover the generalities of American history, then taking a month out of the year to shine a spotlight on events and individuals otherwise left out of the story is exactly what is needed.

The thing is, even when we do celebrate Black History Month, we often mimic our textbooks’ incomplete picture. Our focus tends towards topics of some familiarity, namely slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As such, we often do not look much further than Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Please don’t misunderstand, we need to and must learn about this country’s horrifying history with slavery and celebrate the individuals and groups who worked tirelessly and sacrificially to bring about it’s end. The same is true of the brave national heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

This is not a call to stop learning about those times or people in American history; rather, this is a call to expand our knowledge to include so much and so many more. Our children (and the adults too) need to learn about Lewis Howard Latimer, Daniel Hale Williams, Alice Ball, Garret Morgan, Bessie Coleman, and many, many others. We need to know the stories of the inventors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and artists who made significant contributions to American life and development.

Two of my favorite books that do just this are:

    • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: This is an excellent book to jump start your child’s historical education. I think this book is a great resource and an interesting read for any age, not just the “little leaders” in the title.

Between these two books, you would have over 29 individuals to learn about, research, and study; one person for each day of February. If you are looking for more resources, Be the Bridge has fantastic book lists for younger kids and another, equally good, one for older kids. You can also see my list from last year here.

With the broad strokes of America’s historical painting finished, let’s start filling in the details.

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15 Stealthy Books About Ninjas

Many people wonder, and a few brave souls even ask, if my husband and I planned to have four children. The surprising answer to most is that, yes, yes we did hope to have four kids. Four seems like the perfect round number, everyone always has someone they can get along with for that moment, no one is ever naturally excluded (my lone son may have something to say about this after seeing his sister’s notebook that read, “The Secret Sister’s Club”), and there is a built-in, substantial group of friends to play with at all times.

Now that our youngest child is about to turn five, these theories, for the most part, are finally proving true. There are natural pairings among the four, but on any given day, for seemingly any random reason, those friendships strain. The effected children are able to find different siblings to commiserate play with relatively effortlessly. Secret Sister Club’s aside, there are very few times when an odd sibling is, intentionally, left out. It is also true that they now have a small village to play with every day before and after school. Our house and backyard sound like it, too.

Lately, as all of our neighbors can attest, the kids have been playing a game they call “Ninja Training.” Which is awesome, except that in all of their research, they have failed to realize rule number one of ninja-ing: SILENCE! I need to give them one of my favorite shirts (which you can find on Woot.com).

“Ninja Training” works like this:

  • My second born is the Ninja Trainer, always.
  • She teaches the others her stealthy moves.
  • They try to always stay in the shadows.
  • They try to blend in with their surroundings.
  • They try to move with extreme caution (though, again, silence seems of no import).
  • They learn to fight with some pretty sweet, made up moves.

“Ninja Training” takes place anytime, anywhere: in the car, in the hallway, on the walk to school, at the table, while going to bed. But their favorite place to play is in the trampoline, in the dark. The trainer has a flashlight and the ninjas have to sneak around the trampoline in the shadows and scare the trainer. It is hilarious, often violent, and always noisy (really, why can’t they get the silence component!).

There is just something universally awesome about ninjas. They embody mystery and adventure, poise and control. It is an irresistible combination of imaginative thrill for children. A thrill they like to incorporate into every facet of their lives, including the literary. I know it is not actually true that my children have read every ninja picture book there is, but I am pretty sure they have read every ninja picture book there is! And there are some very good ones:

Nighttime Ninja (Barbara DeCosta) – This is one of my favorite birthday presents for little kids (don’t worry, I give them other things too, not only one small book). This little ninja fulfills every child’s fantasy of sneaking through the house in the middle of the night in search of the forbidden!

N.D. WilsonHello Ninja is a fantastic ninja rhyming adventure for the younger kids in your life. Ninja Boy Goes to School is the perfect book for the child who doesn’t want to take their ninja costume off as they head off to school.

Chris TougasDojo Daycare is a hilarious book that leaves every child I have ever read it to laughing and KA-POWing. It is a remarkably relatable tale for those of us reading it, as well! You have definitely felt like this dojo master at the end of the day!  Dojo Daytrip and Dojo Surprise follow in the same vein. These are very fun books.

Arree ChungNinja! is the go to ninja book for the picture book lovers. Arree Chung has two other ninja books that deserve attention as well, Ninja!: Attack of the Clan and Ninja Claus.

Corey Rosen Schwartz – Schwartz has cornered the market on turning fairy tales into ninja stories, which does not sound like something that should work. I was skeptical at first, but these books are funny and children love them! Be sure to check out The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel & Gretel: Ninja Chicks.

Little Kunoichi The Ninja Girl (by Sanae Ishida) – My girls loved reading this book. It is still rare to find ninja books that feature girls. As if that weren’t enough, the story is actually good.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Alex Latimer) – An active imagination can be a burden when amazing things keep happening and no one will believe you!

Magic Treehouse: Night of the Ninjas (Mary Pope Osborne)  – This is book 5 of the Magic Treehouse series and one of my kids’ favorites. It now comes with a companion, Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker: Ninjas and Samurai.

When the books no longer suffice, I give you this song, Ninja by Slugs and Bugs.
https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0fObBZiutHOWoeq0QwJcq2
Unapologetically.

Books to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life with Children

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. 50 very short years since his life was brutally cut short and what was his life’s work became his lasting legacy.

It is that lasting legacy that we commemorate and honor on this upcoming American holiday.

While it is sometimes easy for us to think of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work as bygone history, it is important to remember that, according to the Census Bureau, approximately 29% of the population of the United States is 50 years old and above. That means that within the lifetime of 29% of Americans, in parts of this country, there were separate drinking fountains for black Americans, black Americans were not allowed to check out library books from the public library, schools were segregated, black Americans could not stay in public hotels, eat at public restaurants, or swim in public pools. The list goes on and on and on. Within the lifetime of 29% of Americans. This is not slavery-days history, this is contemporary history.

It is this contemporary history we must not ignore. In his, now famous, 1967 speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King begins by talking about the progress and success of the Civil Rights Movement up to that point. But shortly after this introduction, he turns his attention to the future and asks, “Where do we go from here?”

As we celebrate and honor the life of Dr. King, this is a question we must ask ourselves now. “Where do we go from here?”  We now live in a country quite different from the one he knew, and yet, even now, we still have so far to go towards realizing his dream. “Where do we go from here?”

We start by not being content with almost realizing the dream. Almost is not good enough. We commit to working tirelessly, sacrificially, and determinedly towards true equity and equal standing, politically, financially, and practically. We commit to teaching our children and students the truth of our collective past. We give them tools, resources, and support to bring about greater change in their generation.

We all want to live Dr. King’s unforgettable words:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls”

In order to reach that dream, we must teach our children the truth, the truth of our history and the truth about each other. It can be difficult to know how to talk to children about these awful realities. We naturally want to shelter and protect our children from unpleasant things and preserve their innocence as long as possible. As a result, in many settings, “race” has become a new “four letter word,” a taboo subject, for any age. But this should not be the case. Racial differences are not inherently wrong, they are actually a beautiful, healthy, and completely natural part of human existence. It is our responses and reactions to those differences that are either morally wrong or right. Our discussions with our children should reflect that reality.

With all this in view, we look back and remember the life of a man who gave voice to a movement, a movement that altered the course of a nation, a nation in desperate need of change.

Here are some books to help your children or students learn more about Dr. King’s lasting legacy and the movement he helped lead.

Picture Books:

Early Readers:

Middle Grade Chapter Books:

Junior High and above:
I highly recommend just reading his speeches, besides the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a remarkable speech and should be listened to or read in its entirety, often. But he had many other equally remarkable and memorable speeches that deserve our attention as well. My 3 favorite are “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” “Where Do We Go From Here?” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

In his own words, from “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!” [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

2018: The Year of Reliability (I hope)

2018 is 4 days old and so far I have:

  • purchased 3 books on Amazon.
  • returned 24 books to the library…on time!
  • checked out 19 different books.
  • placed 13 books on hold at the library.
  • set off the alarm trying to leave the library, again. (Actually, this happens so often that my 4 year-old son will no longer walk through the scanner with me. He makes me go ahead of him so that he doesn’t have to be seen with the embarrassing alarm-setter-offer.)
  • gone over (and over and over) in my head exactly how to phrase my conversation with the kid from my daughter’s class that I lent 2 of my books to over the break when I ask for my books back.
  • started reading 2 different books only to give up on both (for the time being) to catch up on This Is Us and The Crown.

For the most part, there is very little “new” about this new year. I guess I should be fine with that. Last year was a really good year, actually. I resolved to work towards greater organization and self-discipline. And I, moderately, did just that.

I was able to get a family system of organization in place that kept the 6 of us going, often in 6 different directions, where we needed to be, with the things we were supposed to have, fed, and appropriately dressed…mostly.

As far as self-discipline goes, considering my default mode is to use as few muscles in a day as possible, I feel pretty good about how I did. I wrote at least once a week. I exercised for at least one-third of the year. For a majority of the year, I was carbonated diet drinks free, which for this fizz-lover was an impressive feat of self discipline. I cut down on my daily dark chocolate intake. Mind you, there is still daily intake, but less than there used to be. I also spent more time reading than watching TV. Some may argue this is not self discipline, as actual self discipline would have been to spend more time cleaning the house more than I did read. But that is just crazy talk!

Now here we are at the beginning of a new year and nothing has changed. I need something to change though, because I have a whole new word of emphasis for this year. Somehow January 1st is supposed to bring with it the magical powers of renewed determination and refreshed enthusiasm. How am I supposed to accomplish my goals when the first 4 days are more “meh” than “whoosh” (that’s the sound magic makes, right)? Especially when this year’s word may just be my most difficult one yet.

Reliability.

You know, that word that means when you offer to help someone learn how to drive, you actually get in a car and teach them to drive, not just never call them again because you realized you don’t have time to teach someone how to drive. That word that means when you say you will meet someone for coffee, you actually put it in your calendar and meet said person for coffee, not totally forget and get a “are-we-still-on” call while reading in bed in your pajamas. That word that means when you say, “Mom, don’t buy that album yet. I want to get it for you for Christmas.” You actually go online and order the album for your mother, rather than forgetting until you hear her playing it 5 years later and realizing she got tired of waiting for you to follow through. Because when even your own mother gets tired of waiting for you to follow through, you have a very significant problem indeed…not that I would know?! (Ahem)

And so, I find myself much like Hamilton’s George Washington, “in dire need of assistance.” I am determined to find a way to be more reliable this year, to consistently follow through with what I commit to, but so far it is more of the same. To help motivate me, I will start off with a thing I have no problem being reliable about…books. Here are a few of the books I am most looking forward to reading this year.

Picture Books:

Children’s Chapter Books:
Early Grades:

Middle Grades:

Books for Me:

Now we have 361 days to see if I can discipline myself towards being reliable with the more difficult things.