February is Black History Month and I really want to start this off with a picture book I absolutely adore: Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick D. Barnes, illustrated by James C. Gordon. This is a celebration of barbershop culture like nothing I’ve seen before, and absolutely blew me away! The illustrations & rhythm of the whole book were amazing, and it’s definitely meant to be read aloud. Barnes follows the young boy’s journey into the barbershop, where he becomes royalty, coming out of that shop with confidence in his step: “A fresh cut makes boys fly“.
I’m reminded of Barbershop Books (only in the U.S. right now, and I don’t know of anything like that in Canada, though there are also independent barbershops that have been inspired by Barbershop Books to encourage kids to read more, which is wonderful and also adorable), which I find a great initiative.
When I think of Black History Month recommended reads lists, what comes to mind are lists of books about:
- Slavery, and
- Civil Rights.
- I feel like that’s kind of the scope.
So I wanted to start us off first with children’s books that celebrate Black heritage by respecting Black people’s representation in books in all as full and diverse a range of possibilities as we see for white protagonists.
The first time I started thinking more about the scope of representation of Black protagonists in children’s books was when I first happened across an article in The Horn Book magazine that talked about how so many books targeted at Black kids were specifically on the topic of slavery & civil rights – which are important topics to talk about, given the continuing struggle against racism – and how it was fairly difficult to find books featuring Black protagonists just doing their thing and existing in a children’s book without the book overtly talking about racism. (I’m miffed that I can’t find the original article, but that was what I got out of it. ) So while some of these books are going to talk about race and slavery and civil rights, what I’m hoping for is that these books are also just going to be about the characters and what they’re doing in their lives.
So take a look below the cut for more!
Whatever I was expecting when I picked this book up, Francesca Sanna completely exceeded them. I’d like to add this as a read-a-like to Why? (Nikolai Popov) and The Terrible Things (Eve Bunting), which I wrote about earlier, in that the reader is not spared for even a moment some of the experiences of refugees and migrants, and all of the authors do a spectacular job of opening up conversation about these heavier topics.
I’ll just quote Sanna’s blurb on her inspiration for writing The Journey:
The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy. After meeting them I realized that behind their journey lay something very powerful. So I began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries. A few months later, in September 2014, when I started studying a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Lucerne, I knew I wanted to create a book about these true stories. Almost every day on the news we hear the terms “migrants” and “refugees” but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.
I hope you pick up this book and go on a journey of your own through the story, because both the text and the illustrations complement each other well, making for an experience you won’t soon forget. Find below the cut some more suggested reads from the junior section about immigrant experiences, and displacement.
I don’t think I’ve ever consumed an entire series as quickly as I did this one: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. (The Chronicles of Narnia are a very close second, because I inhaled those as well, though in light of a recent rereading, I would have to put the Incorrigibles at the top.*) To be perfectly honest, I only learned of it and picked it up because they’re illustrated by none other than Jon Klassen, but I’m so glad I did!
The series is a delightfully written mystery that will keep you making connections between all the little details Wood drops left and right at every turn, whether it be the mysterious howling on Ashton grounds or the oddly coincidental wolf theme popping up at the bequest of a certain…. A.? Wood keeps you guessing with every book at how things are connected: was it really just a chance ad in the papers that got Penelope Lumley working for the Ashtons? Were the Incorrigibles actually raised by wolves? And what’s with Old Timothy? Just whence does Penelope Lumley’s seemingly infinite pluck come?
I won’t go too much into detail because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Wood definitely keeps you on your toes and grabbing for the next installment. I personally quite enjoyed the asides, along with the fast pace and wit, but where I think Wood really excels is where this series has something to appeal to a variety of age groups. (The last book in the series, The Long-Lost Home, is set for release next June, and we’ve placed it on order, so beat the lines and put yourself on the waiting list now!)