african, author spotlight, black lives, community

Author Spotlight – Oge Mora

Oge Mora may remind you of the work of Ezra Jack Keats with her collage illustration style, which is a beautiful comparison. Keats was revolutionary in pushing for the inclusion of Black children in picture books even though he was a white man. His work has influenced multiple generations of picture book author-illustrators, Mora included. Mora grew up in Columbus, Ohio but now resides in Providence, Rhode Island, after attending the Rhode Island School of Design. RISD has been an incubator for some of the best people working in children’s literature today. They must certainly be doing something right at that school. As you look over these titles, you’ll quickly see that Mora’s interests lie in making books about people coming together and growing.

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african, author spotlight, black history, black lives

Author Spotlight – Leah Henderson

Leah Henderson has always loved to travel. Her family made many trips when she was a child, which continued into adulthood. Home was Andover, Massachusetts, where she also cultivated a love of reading. When Leah couldn’t physically go somewhere, books could take her there. As she grew, the young woman noticed how little some books she read resembled the world she knew and herself. There were so many people that got overlooked in the media that Leah decided to write about them. Today she lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches in the graduate writing program at Spalding University. Leah also has spent many years mentoring & volunteering in Mali, where her family has their roots. In her books, the author consistently highlights what it is to be a Black person worldwide over many periods.

Daddy Speaks Love (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Written by Leah Henderson
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

For ages: 4-8
The ripples caused in the wake of the murder of George Floyd are still being felt today. There was a palpable and justified anger at the time has, which has cooled slightly but still simmers. The problem of the murder of Black people at the hands of police hasn’t stopped, and the fight certainly needs to continue. Leah Henderson was inspired by the words of Gianna, George’s daughter, who was only six at the time of his murder. We have an unnamed Black child talking about their father and their joy in spending time with him. The lyrical text focuses on the refrain of “Daddy speaks love.” The book holds a sense of momentum that builds to a beautiful spread of a child beneath a mural of the late Floyd with the words declaring “Black Lives Matter” and that we will change this world for the better. Relevant, beautiful words should not be hidden from children by white folks who fear the truth. 

A Day for Rememberin’ (Harry N. Abrams)
Written by Leah Henderson
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

For ages: 6-9
Telling the origins of today’s Memorial Day, we go back to when Black Americans celebrated Decoration Day. A community of formerly enslaved people in 1865 faces a future with opportunities they never dreamed would be possible. Eli wants to go to work with his dad, but he’s still a child, and they tell him school is what he needs to do. One day, he gets to skip school, go with his father, and help as the adults prepare a special event to memorialize Black soldiers killed in the American Civil War. There’s a lot of work to do, and then a parade with songs, sermons, and flowers laid on simple graves. The legendary late Floyd Cooper illustrated this book, a perfect pairing between her and Henderson—another reminder of how fantastic his painted illustrations were.

One Shadow on the Wall (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Written by Leah Henderson

For ages: 8-12
This middle-grade novel tells the story of Mor, an 11-year-old Senegalese child. The child’s father had died, leaving Mor and his two younger sisters as orphans. Mor’s father comes to him in a dream encouraging him to do everything he can to keep the family together. There are dangers in this place, including a gang of men intent on doing harm & taking what they want. Eventually, Mor learns his best friend has joined this gang and wonders if he should too. They don’t seem to ever go without. Henderson presents Senegal with so much life and detail that it makes you feel like you are there. So often, African countries are ignored in Western children’s literature that it’s a refreshing surprise to read about one. This is slower than some middle-grade readers might be used to. Still, its message of determination and loving one’s family is a universal sentiment everyone can connect with.

african, social studies, social-emotional

Book List: Africa

Anansi and the Golden Pot (DK Children)
Written by Taiye Selasi
Illustrated by Tinuke Fagborun

For ages: 3-5
This remarkable retelling of an Anansi story centers on a little boy named after the fabled spider trickster. Anansi, the boy, travels with his family on a plane to Ghana, where the family’s relatives live. While staying at his nana’s seaside home, Anansi meets the actual spider, who gives him a golden pot. This magical pot will fill itself with whatever the boy desires most. However, there’s a catch; he must share the pot with the people he loves the most. This is a fantastic introduction to the stories of Anansi, one of the most well-known African folklore characters. I went in expecting just another simple retelling but placing this in the present day does a lot to freshen up some retold tales.

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Book List: Refugee Stories

It’s calculated that at least 26.4 million people worldwide are classified as refugees, but the number of people displaced as a whole is closer to 83 million right now. If you live in North America or Europe, your life has been touched by these people seeking a safe place to live their lives. To not have the refugee experience represented in your school or classroom library is to do a disservice to the children coming in and out of your classroom. Adults often have the most difficult time getting outside of their comfort zone, and we see it so often with the most pressing human rights issues of our day. Children who are refugees and the children of refugees have a right to be seen in the literature they and their peers are reading. I hope you find some great selections here that you can add to your stacks.

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