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Poetry Books That Celebrate
African American History and Culture

Poet­ry and the spo­ken word have promi­nent places in African Amer­i­can cul­ture, due at least in part to a strong oral tra­di­tion that has been passed down through gen­er­a­tions. Con­sid­er includ­ing poems from the books below in your read-alouds this month, and the year ahead, as a way to high­light the con­tri­bu­tions of African Amer­i­cans to our nation’s his­to­ry and cul­ture. These pic­ture books offer options for intro­duc­ing your audi­ences (of any age) to the works of some out­stand­ing African Amer­i­can writ­ers and illustrators.

Brothers & Sisters Family Poems  

Broth­ers and Sis­ters: Fam­i­ly Poems
Writ­ten by Eloise Greenfield
Illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Harper­Collins Children’s Books, 2009

This book cel­e­brates the uni­ver­sal joys and chal­lenges of being a part of a fam­i­ly, includ­ing thoughts on rec­on­cil­ing griev­ances, get­ting along with old­er, younger, or step sib­lings, and being a twin. Just about every­one who has a broth­er or sis­ter can prob­a­bly find some­thing that res­onates with them among the poems in this book.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy  

Thir­teen Ways of Look­ing at a Black Boy
Writ­ten by Tony Medina
Illus­trat­ed by 13 dif­fer­ent artists
Pen­ny Can­dy Books, 2018

Tony Med­i­na wrote the poems in this book in tan­ka form, a kind of Japan­ese poem that starts out like haiku (three lines with five, sev­en, and five syl­la­bles respec­tive­ly) but then adds two more lines with sev­en syl­la­bles each. Kids will find many of the poems relat­able, with top­ics such as miss­ing the bus (“Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues”) and want­i­ng to be a rap star (“Givin’ Back to the Community”).

Pass It On  

Pass It On: African Amer­i­can Poet­ry for Children
Select­ed by Wade Hudson
Illus­trat­ed by Floyd Cooper
Scholas­tic Inc., 1993

This col­lec­tion includes beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed works by pro­lif­ic poets such as Langston Hugh­es, Gwen­dolyn Brooks, Nik­ki Gio­van­ni, Eloise Green­field, and Nik­ki Grimes. A theme of deter­mi­na­tion emerges from a num­ber of the selec­tions includ­ing: “I Can,” “Mid­way,” “The Dream Keep­er,” and “Lis­ten Children.”

Poems in the Attic

 

Poems in the Attic
Writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Illus­trat­ed by Eliz­a­beth Zunon

For this book, Grimes drew on her own expe­ri­ence mov­ing fre­quent­ly as a child and rely­ing on writ­ing to help her cope. The book is a fic­tion­al account of a child who grew up with par­ents serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary. Her poems in this pic­ture book remind us that although we can’t often choose our cir­cum­stances we can choose how we respond to them.

Seeing into Tomorrow  

See­ing into Tomor­row: Haiku by Richard Wright
Biog­ra­phy and illus­tra­tions by Nina Crews
Mill­brook Press, 2018

Select­ed from the thou­sands of haiku that Richard Wright wrote in his last years, these poems have uni­ver­sal appeal. Each is paired with a pho­to col­lage that helps read­ers visu­al­ize Wright’s mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in the rur­al South.

Words with Wings  

Words with Wings: 
A Trea­sury of African-Amer­i­can Poet­ry and Art
Select­ed by Belin­da Rochelle
Harper­Collins Pub­lish­ers, 2001

This stel­lar col­lec­tion con­tains twen­ty poems by well-known poets, each paired with a bold, endur­ing work by a visu­al artist. The poet­ry and art inspire the imag­i­na­tion as they cap­ture a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences shared by all peo­ple and allow the read­er to look at the world through the eyes of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent artists. Poems by a num­ber of children’s authors are fea­tured in this book as well as ones by authors such as Maya Angelou and Alice Walker.

 

One Response to Poetry Books That Celebrate
African American History and Culture

  1. SUZANNE R COSTNER February 23, 2019 at 2:58 pm #

    I love See­ing into Tomor­row. I fell in love with it the first time I read it.

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