african american

DÍA: Great Kids' Books about African Americans

There's lots of buzz right now (as there should be) about the numbers reported by the Cooperative Children's Book Center: of 3,200 children's books they received in 2013, just 93 featured African-American characters. Noted children's author Walter Dean Myers responded in a moving essay in the New York Times, in which he described his own childhood and coming to find himself in books. His son Christopher Myers, a noted children's author and illustrator himself, wrote a companion piece in which he lamented the fact that when African-American children appear in books, too often they "are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery." 

Today, we have a list for you of some excellent children's books featuring African-American characters, all of which you can find at the Oakland Public Library. As you read, why not tweet about the books you're enjoying with the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks, especially on May 1, 2 and 3, and be a part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign? And if you have a kid birthday coming up (and who doesn't?), consider giving that lucky child one of the books on this list as part of the Birthday Party Pledge. (Purchased from your local independent bookstore, that is; library books are wonderful, but you have to give them back, which makes them generally lousy birthday gifts.)

For newly independent readers, there are several fresh, happy series featuring African-American children. Karen English, who's been producing the Nikki and Deja books for several years, has launched a series called the Carver Chronicles, which has a boy for a main character. In Dog Days, Gavin deals with a school bully and his aunt's yappy little dog. Ellray Jakes isn't new to the scene, but he's a welcome figure; Ellray Jakes and the Beanstalk is the most recent on our shelves, but watch for Ellray Jakes is Magic (or download the e-book right now). And from author Hilary McKay: Lulu's adventures rescuing animals have been entertaining readers for a couple years now, and the most recent is Lulu and the Dog from the Sea.

Oh, how I love these sweet books for sharing with little ones. Rain! by Linda Ashman is a happy romp on a rainy day--with a grumpy man. Lola Reads to Leo, by Anna McQuinn, is a lovely book about doing an important big sister job--watch for Leo Loves Baby Time to come soon. Author Daniel Beaty tells a story in poetry of a father and son separated, in the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me. I can't resist sparkling Lottie Paris, spunky brainchild of Angela Johnson, and it's not just because the "best place" referenced in Lottie Paris and the Best Place is.... oh, I can't spoil it for you.... okay, well, it's a place where I work. Finally, a shout-out to an Oakland author: Aya de Leon's Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity is a bouncy celebration of natural hair.

Biographies! Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood, by Carole Boston Weatherford, is a forthcoming nonfiction title about famous people in the Harlem Renaissance. If you like your history more recent, try When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop, by Laban Carrick Hill. A radiant, iconic dancer hits the stage and the page in Josephine: the dazzling life of Josephine Baker, by Patricia Hruby Powell. From Malcolm X's daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, a picture book about her father's childhood: Malcolm Little, the boy who grew up to be Malcolm X. And finally, because I kind of can't believe this one is happening, The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening, by Chris Raschka--search our catalog for it in about two weeks, because we've only just ordered it!

For older chapter book readers, I can't recommend highly enough the wonderful pair of books by Rita Williams-Garcia about three sisters growing up during the Black Power movement. The first, One Crazy Summer, is set here in Oakland; the sequel, P. S. Be Eleven, takes the sisters back to Brooklyn. Both will leave you delighted. A powerful story out of Hurricane Katrina, Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward is an eerie read, best for middle grade readers. Finally, one I haven't read yet, but all the kids are talking about it: Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. Track it down!

That's just a few--click over to Pinterest for a complete list of kids' books featuring African-American characters