In honor of Black History Month, here at the Butler Center, we’d like to highlight several 2020 publications that tell powerful, poignant and just plain fun stories about some of the many different African-American experiences. This list is by no means all that has been published in 2020. Instead, it is a sampling of several stories—from bedtime tales, to historical picture books, to family trauma, to the intersection of Black identity and sexuality.
King and the Dragon Flies
Written by Kacen Callender
Twelve-year-old Kingston James knows what everyone else does not: his older brother Khalid isn’t really dead—he’s turned into a dragonfly. King sees his brother in his dreams, but can’t tell anyone. Not his parents who are shut up in their grief, not his school mates who don’t know how to talk to him, not his best friend Sandy Sanders. Besides, King and Sandy aren’t friends, can’t be friends, because Sandy is gay. This is a stunning, hazy book set in small-town Louisiana, where one boy’s grief transports him into coming to terms with who he really is. Race, sexual identity, family trauma, and abuse all come together in a book that alternates between stark and hopeful. Kacen Callender writes on homophobia and toxic masculinity in the Black community, hard and tough topics, in a truly magical way. You can feel the heat rising off the page and hear the buzz of dragonfly wings in your ears. This is a must-read.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures
Written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Jabberwocky
The nighttime struggle is real in this effervescent and vibrant bedtime tale. Nikki Grimes enchants the reader with a curious and imaginative story of parent and child going through their bedtime routine. Grimes takes us through the cycle: denial of bedtime, acquiescing to bedtime with one’s favorite stuffed animal, the quest to find and banish all monsters, a before-bed story—and even a last-ditch glass of water! The difference between the typical bedtime routine and this story is Grimes’ imagination. The story is made even more enchanting with Elizabeth Zunon’s multicolored and surreal animals that gallop through the bedtime scenes. This is a lovely, warm book that elicits a smile and chuckle as you read it aloud.
Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World
Written by Cheryl Willis Hudson and illustrated by Erin K. Robinson
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
This book is published in partnership with curators from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and features iconic African American women from the 1700s to the present day. Each woman is depicted in a two-page illustrated spread, with birth and (if relevant) death information, as well as a choice quote, before several paragraphs of biographical data. Readers will surely recognize names of icons like Angela Davis, Simone Biles, and Harriet Tubman, but for younger folks, this may be the first time readers are exposed to women like Civil War army nurse Susie King Taylor or artist Elizabeth Catlett. This biography compilation is a beginner’s guide to the legacy of African American women in the United States and can serve as a stepping stone into more comprehensive information about individuals. This collection includes end-of-book resources to the profiled women, as well as guides to relevant artifacts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, notes from the author and illustrator, and overview of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Black Is a Rainbow Color
Written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Euka Holmes
Published by Roaring Brook Press
This picture book is a mediation about being Black in the United States; it is an anthem of people, culture, history, and legacy. A child reflects that while red, green, blue, yellow, orange, violet and indigo are rainbow colors, their color is black…and there’s no black in rainbows. But black is everywhere, from “a feather on white winter snow” (p. 3) to “braids in my best friend’s hair (p. 5) to the “robe on Thurgood’s back” (p. 10) to “dreams and raisins.” (p. 13) Central moments in history, politics, literature, and music are referenced through the text and illustrations of this joyful and exploratory picture book. The illustrations by Euka Holmes carry historical weight, and the detailed images can prompt readers to ask questions. The book’s back matter includes an author’s note and playlist, as well as historical context to events referenced in the text. Several works of poetry alluded to in the picture book’s text are included, and a bibliography. The author also includes a timeline of Black ethnonyms in America, with notes on their development.
Written by Nic Stone
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
What to do when spring break is canceled and you’re under house arrest by order of your dad? Go on an unsanctioned road trip with your grandma, of course! When Scoob’s G’ma pulls up to his front door in a new Winnebago and announces that he’s going to join her on an epic road trip, Scoob is thrilled. After getting in trouble at school, his spring break is canceled, and he’s basically grounded until further notice. But when G’ma hands him a copy of the Travelers’ Green Book and a treasure box full of memories, Scoob begins to wonder what being his grandmother’s co-pilot really means. Especially when she refuses to call his dad back to let him know where they are. And definitely when she tosses her cell phone at a rest stop. Nic Stone negotiates humor and family trauma against the segregationist history of the American South. Race is central to Scoob’s family story: Scoob is biracial, as is his father; Scoob’s G’ma is white. The road trip juxtaposes the trip G’ma took with Scoob’s grandpa with the present-day trip. While much has changed for the better, much has also stayed the same. This is a funny and poignant tale for younger readers.
By and By: Charles Albert Tindley the Father of Gospel Music
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Bryan Collier
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Non Fiction Picture Book
This exquisite picture book “sings out” the story of Charles Albert Tindley, who was born in 1851 in Maryland to an enslaved father and a free mother. Following the death of his mother, Tindley was hired out to work in the fields. There he heard the spirituals the enslaved workers sang, and it made him want to read the Gospel. Tindley taught himself to read from scraps of newspaper, later becoming a pastor who preached and sang the word of God. He eventually compiled many of his compositions into a hymnal and is considered the father of American gospel music. Carole Boston Weatherford introduces the story as a sermon inside a song, telling Tindley’s story in rhyming prose interspersed with lyrics from Tindley’s own compositions and African-American spirituals. Bryan Collier’s magnificent watercolor and collage images create both grounded and heavenly beauty on the page. Collier deliberately includes pieces of sheet music throughout the story’s pages, having it dance throughout the book. By and By’s additional resources include a list of songs used in the book, songs written by Tindley, as well as author and illustrator notes.