Reporter shares reading recommendations for Black History Month

April Helms
MyTownNEO

There is no shortage of books about  notable Black individuals, and books penned by Black authors. Here is a selection of the books I have read and recommend for Black History Month -- or any time of year. 

Children

"Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal"

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, and R. Gregory Christie 

Relates the story of Bass Reeves, a deputy marshal in the days of the “Wild West.” He was born a slave, but as a deputy marshal, he was known for making more than 3,000 arrests in his three decades of service.  

"We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball"

by Kadir Nelson

Nelson puts together a winner with this beautifully illustrated book on the Negro League. Told through a sort of "everyman" baseball player, the reader is introduced to the major players and people who made the league possible.

"Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum"

by Robert Andrew Parker

An easy-to-follow book on Art Tatum, a gifted piano player who was born with severe vision problems. It starts from his childhood and goes to young adulthood, where he is beginning to make a name for himself. 

"Rosa"

by Nikki Giovanni, and illustrator Bryan Collier

A wonderfully told, beautifully illustrated story. Great for grade school-aged children who want to learn about Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of a bus launched the bus boycotts.

"Heroes of the Negro Leagues"

by Jack Morelli and illustrator Mark Chiarello

In the 1990s, watercolor artist Mark Chiarelli made a series of baseball cards dedicated to the players who played in the Negro Leagues. The images of these cards have been compiled into a book, along with brief profiles of the players.

For Young Adults

"The Hate U Give"

by Angie Thomas 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter  witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil, who was unarmed, at the hands of a police officer. While this is fiction, the story could have been taken from far too many headlines.

"Brown Girl Dreaming"

by Jacqueline Woodson 

Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her childhood in free verse, from her life as a toddler in Ohio and a young child growing up in Greenville, S. C., and later in her years split between Greenville and Brooklyn, the latter city which would eventually become her home. 

"Black and White: The Confrontation of Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene 'Bull' Connor"

by Larry Dane Brimner

Looks at Birmingham, Ala., during the Civil Rights movement, and the antagonistic relationship between the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, a contemporary and friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a powerful advocate for Civil Rights, and Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, who was determined to keep segregation and Jim Crow in place.

"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope"

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

William Kamkwamba of Malawi manages to create a windmill to generate electric power for his family, using scrap material in the local trash yard, despite having little formal education and with his country in the grips of a famine.

"The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation"

by M.T. Anderson

This is actually a two-part historical fiction series. The first novel introduces the reader to Octavian and his mother, who are a part of an experiment. In this second novel, Octavian and his tutor Dr. Trefusis have escaped to Boston when the Revolutionary War breaks out.

For Adults

"Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'"

by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Al.  to interview 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis (or, as he preferred, Kossola). He was a survivor from the Clotilda, the last known slaver ship known to make the trip in 1859 from the Americas to coastal Africa and back.

"From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America"

by Elizabeth Hinton

In the United States today, one in every 31 adults is under some form of penal control, including one in 11 African American men.  Hinton's book answers why do jails in the United States hold such a disproportionate percentage of people of color, particularly young black and Latino men.

"Black Klansman"

by Ron Stallworth

Police Detective Ron Stallworth, a Black man who worked for the Colorado Springs police department, tells how he managed to infiltrate the Klu Klu Klan. It's an engaging story, I found it hard to put this autobiography down.

"Taking on Diversity: How We Can Move from Anxiety to Respect"

by Rupert W. Nacoste 

Whenever someone asks for a recommendation on a book that highlights diversity issues and how to address them, this is always the first book I suggest. This book not only brings up several issues regarding our diverse nation that I never considered before, but offers solutions on bridging the gaps that exist. I look forward to reading his new book, “To Live Woke,” which is on my short-list of books to read.

"The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-lynching Crusader"

by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, with editors Mia Bay and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

This volume covers the entire scope of Wells’s remarkable journalistic career, especially her articles exposing the horrors of lynching. Not an easy book to read, but it does contain an unvarnished look at our history.

"'Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?' A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity"

by Beverly Daniel Tatum

This is another book I always recommend to those interested in addressing diversity issues. With a gentle touch, Tatum talks about white privilege, how many things taken for granted by whites are a big issue for anyone not white.

"The Color Purple"

by Alice Walker

Set in the deep American South between the wars, “The Color Purple” relates the story of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation who manages to overcome these obstacles and find her own place.

"Things Fall Apart"

by Chinua Achebe

The story centers on Okonkwo, a well-regarded leader in his fictional village in Nigeria who  is exiled after he accidentally shoots and kills the son of a recently deceased elder. During his time in exile, in his mother's home village, Okonkwo's village sees major changes from the influx of white colonists eager to take over the land to plant rubber trees.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

by Rebecca Skloot

n 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer sought medical treatment at John Hopkins Hospital, where she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died, but during the treatments, some of the cancerous cells were removed from Lacks and placed in a petri dish for study. The cells from Lacks' cancerous cells became the first line of "immortal cells." Because of HeLa, what scientists called the cell line, the field of medicine and science were revolutionized. However, the family knew nothing about this until the early 1970s. 

There are a many books that can be read for Black History Month, or at any time of the year. Here, reporter April Helms shares her recommendations.

There is no shortage of books about  notable Black individuals, and books penned by Black authors. Here is a selection of the books I have read and recommend for Black History Month -- or any time of year. 

"God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation"

by Joseph Sebarenzi, and Laura Mullane, contributor

In this memoir, Joseph Sebarenzi relates how his parents, seven siblings, and countless other family members were among 800,000 Tutsi brutally murdered over the course of ninety days in 1994 by extremist Rwandan Hutu. 

"Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation"

by Deborah Davis

Theodore Roosevelt, the new president of the United States, invited Booker T. Washington to dinner with his family. What should have been an innocuous invitation for a business dinner turned into a scandal that impacted both men. 

"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration"

by Isabel Wilkerson 

Wilkerson chronicles the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life, through the eyes of three who made that journey. A wonderful book on a part of history told through the voices of everyday people. I'm looking forward to reading "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents," her newest book.

"Long Walk to Freedom"

by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela's (Madiba) autobiography covers his early days in rural South Africa to his taking the reins of a nation newly freed from apartheid. "Wow" best sums up my thoughts after finishing this long but very moving, very captivating autobiography.

"Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America"

by Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi's well-researched book on history we seldom if ever hear about cannot be ignored. He does a commendable job connecting the dots in the history of racial relations, dots which often get ignored or glossed over.