Black History Month is a time for the entire nation to "recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story." (Check out Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Don Tate, for more about this.) Below is a just a sampling of the many incredible, recently published "American" stories for children and young adults by black authors and illustrators.
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe (Balzer + Bray, $18.99, ages 13-up)
Norris Kaplan is about to start his junior year at a new school in Austin, Texas, where his Haitian/Canadian mother recently got a job. Generally pessimistic and especially sour about moving to "the surface of the sun," Norris is determined to hate everything. Which he does. Until he meets Aarti Puri. "Dark skinned... with... artificially dyed dark red hair," Aarti is artistic, smart and probably not into him. But Norris makes a deal with cheerleader Madison when applying for a job at her family's restaurant: he'll cover shifts when she has practice and she'll help him win Aarti's interest.
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney (Imprint/Macmillan, $18.99, ages 14-up)
Seventeen-year-old Alice enters Wonderland through the Looking Glass, a "midtown Atlanta dive" bar tended by "a mousy girl" who takes "more naps than she [mixes] drinks." Once in Wonderland, Alice takes on the role of Dreamwalker: she finds and destroys Nightmares (physical manifestations of bad dreams that feed off of fear and anger) before they can cross into the human world. Lately, there have been more Nightmares than usual, and Alice learns it is because the Atlanta police shot an innocent black girl. This incident is enough to make Alice, who made "the mistake of being born black," hang up her daggers for good, but before she can officially quit, she must return to the "realm of dreams" one more time to save her mentor.
Blended by Sharon M. Draper (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12)
Isabella is an exceptional pianist, has two best friends, is obsessed with making glitter slime and has loving, supportive parents. Unfortunately, when Isabella was eight, her parents divorced. The adjustment was challenging, and now Izzy is 11, and things have gotten rougher. Her dad, who had been living in California, moved back to Ohio last year and the court has ordered that she spend alternating weeks with each parent. Her parents are fighting more than ever and the tension is unbearable, especially when both make plans to marry their new partners on the same day.
Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illus. by Shane W. Evans (Dial, $17.99, ages 4-8)
Author/children's literature scholar Breanna J. McDaniel's picture book debut creates exuberant elation from a phrase too long associated with "anger, sadness, frustration, and fear." Inspired by her niece, McDaniel worries "that this world is not a place where [she] can show her joy, her intelligence and the strength of her will without being seen as a social problem, all because she's black and a girl." Hands Up! is McDaniel's fundamental message that "black kids are just that--kids"--and all children "deserve to thrive."
Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows, illus. by Ebony Glenn (Holt, $17.99, ages 4-8)
In steady, simple verse, Michelle Meadows (Super Bugs) tells the story of Janet Collins, "the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera House." Opening with a beaming, young Janet, the text introduces the reader to the dancer: "This is the girl/ who danced in the breeze." Her family supported her desire to dance and her mother made costumes to pay for lessons. But "this is the time,/ way back in the day,/ when dance schools turned/ black students away." Janet persevered. She found private trainers and, when she was told she could not dance professionally, she danced anyway, learning from trailblazers like Carmelita Maracci, Lester Horton and Katherine Dunham. By the time she was hired by the Metropolitan, she was already a "versatile, award-winning performer."
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison (LB Kids, $8.99, ages 0-3)
"Dream big, little one./ There's so much/ you can do./ Just look at all/ the leaders who/ came before you." Like her Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, in Dream Big, Little One Vashti Harrison presents a series of black female role models, all depicted as smiling children, eyes gently closed. Dream Big introduces the not-quite-yet-a-reader to these leaders with one simple, informative sentence. The book begins, "Reach for the stars like Mae, Bessie, and Katherine....": Mae Jemison, on a swirling purple background, standing proudly in her astronaut orange, "went all the way to space"; Bessie Coleman, wearing aviator goggles, a plane flying behind her, "flew her airplane high"; Katherine Johnson, surrounded by math equations, "helped send man to the moon." Josephine Baker, Raven Wilkinson, Nichelle Nichols, Alma Woodsey Thomas... every woman gets a page all her own, dedicated to her achievements and her place in history. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness