*This is the first of a two part blog-post.  Come back Thursday for more!

I always loved February in the classroom.  I felt like the entire month was full of ways could celebrate love in the most purest of ways, especially during Black History Month. The teaching opportunities and stories of empowerment, bravery, and accomplishment are so rich and what better way to tell these stories than through the latest children’s literature!

I asked my best book friend, Sarah, to help me cultivate some of these titles and I want to highlight them here in this post.  All have a 2015/2016 publication date and some are even un-released yet!  I hope you’ll be able to incorporate them throughout this month and the rest of your school year.  I’ve added some relevant Common Core standards to tie in with each book too, just for the ease of lesson planning!  Oh and catch me on Periscope, this Thursday (2/18) at 7CST or you can see it here if you missed it.

1. Poet, the Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate


George Moses Horton was born into slavery in 1789.  He taught himself to read and began authoring poems before he even knew how to write.  He would recite them to local students at UNC Chapel Hill, becoming the first African-American poet in the South.  He eventually became a professional poet with a published anthology, funded by a politically-liberal journalist in 1829.

This book is inspiring for children and adults alike with beautiful illustrations and a poignant biography of a remarkable man.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


2. Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Blidner

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The true story about a New Orleans street sweeper, Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Sprit of New Orleans, is a beautiful story of resiliency.  When Hurricane Katrina hits Cornelius’ home, he was faced with the overwhelming task of cleaning up the beloved city with the other volunteers.  This book is filled with the spirit of New Orleans and is accompanied by happy and bright illustrations even in the midst of disaster.  See the book trailer here!  (Book trailers are the best way to get kids excited about upcoming literature you plan on sharing in class)

This book would be a great compliment to Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown (2015) and a good tie in to your social studies lessons that may surround the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


3. I am Martin Luther King Jr. by Brad Meltzer


Gosh, I love Brad Meltzer.  He writes for both adults and children, and I’ve yet to read anything bad from him!  His “I Am” series are some of my most favorite to share with my students and the Martin Luther King Jr. one is the latest addition, just releasing in early January 2016!  This book is no difference from the rest of the series of heroes and follows MLK Jr’s life in an appropriate and engaging way for young readers.  My students love the graphic novel style of this series and I think you will too.

It’s a must-add to your other Martin Luther King Jr. titles for this month and would be a great tie-in to writing workshop research projects surround MLK’s message and how it is poignant and relevant even today.

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

4. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

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A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by a Caldecott Honored author… so, you know it’s going to be good!  “Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977.  Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats.” (Amazon)  She was famously quoted as saying:

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“Told in the first person from Hamer’s own perspective, this lyrical text in verse emphasizes the activist’s perseverance and courage, as she let her booming voice be heard.” (School Library Journal)  The illustrations are finished as multimedia collages and would also be a nice compliment to your writing workshop as your students research Americans involved in the Civil Rights Movement.  I would have them use Ekua Holmes as their illustrator mentor and imitate this art form in their own research projects.

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.


5. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul


Most of the titles that we accumulate in children’s literature for Black History Month, surround the topic of the Civil Rights Movement.  But it’s important to remember that we are studying all African-Americans who have made an impact on the betterment of our civilization.  And this story is a perfect example of that!

One Plastic Bag is a story set in Njau, Gambia, where people were littering an abundant amount of plastic bags.  They were accumulating on the side of the road and gathering water and attracting mosquitos, livestock were trying to eat them and choking, and they were strangling the local gardens.  Isatou Cessay was a woman determined to make a difference.  She began to crochet the bags into purses in order to recycle them.

This non-fictional story also comes with a timeline in the back and would be a great way to tie in to your study of timelines or even to revisit this book and the concept of recycling during the month of April, around Earth Day.  You could turn this into a PBL to encourage students to recycle something they see frequently littered into a reusable, functional piece.

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.


6. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


This story was originally written as a story for young adults in 2012, but the paperback was just released in early 2016, so I included it in my list!  Also the novel has been re-written in picture book form (above) for your young readers to enjoy too!

When author William Kamkwamba was 14 years old, his village was hit by a drought, everyone’s crops died.  William knew the answer to saving the crops was electricity, a luxury his village did not have, so he began to research how to bring this to his village.  William functioned a windmill out of recycled scraps (salvaged motor parts, a PVC pipe, his father’s broken bicycle, and anything else he could find) in order to harness the wind and generate electricity!  Talk about resourceful!  The windmill managed to light his family’s house, charge community cell phones for a small income, and pump irrigation water.

It would be fascinating to have your students compare the tales of William Kamkwamba and Isatou Cessay (previous book) in order to see how they compare and contrast in both of their perilous situations and hardships that they had to overcome.

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

7. Gaither Sister Series by Rita Williams-Garcia


This book series is the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. One Crazy Summer was published in 2011, with P.S Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama releasing in 2015.  One Crazy Summer won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.  This young adult series raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity, personal responsibility, race, gender, and identity.

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

8. Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince


This is the memoir of ballerina Michaela DePrince, “a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.  At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.”

This story is a great “overcoming the odds” tale and would be great for your middle grade readers.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


9. Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen


*This book was published in 2003, however, I thought it would be a compliment to the previous book for your K-2 set.

For your younger readers who may also be interested in ballet, Dancing in the Wings is a sweet story authored by actress/choreographer Debbie Allen.  This is a story about Sassy, a young dancer who is told her legs are too long and her feet are too big.  Although she never gives up her dream of becoming a dancer and ultimately her persistence and passion for dance pays off!

This book could be used in the early grades to infer how Sassy is feeling as she is being treated unfairly by others.  There is certainly a teaching point here for being kind to those who are different than ourselves.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

[Another sweet story that you could also use for your “ballerinas” in class would be Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock – being released in late February 2016]


10. Booked by Kwame Alexander


You probably know poet Kwame Alexander for his 2015 Newbery award winner and Coretta Scott King honor book, The Crossover.  But this April, he’s releasing the followup, titled Booked.  The story is about “twelve-year-old Nick who learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.”

This captivating novel is written in free verse and will certainly be one of this years hottest releases.  And it will be available just in time for National Poetry Month and will be a great edition to your classroom library/poetry unit.  A poet/author study of Kwame Alexander would also be a great activity during this time.  He recently penned a poem, available on Scholastic about his love of reading and books.

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


So that’s the round-up!  I’ll be back on Thursday with my favorite new release for later this year, and some powerful African-American girls who are making a difference in our classroom libraries and the world of children’s literature!  Stay tuned!


[All images seen in this post are Copyrighted by the author and illustrator.  All rights reserved.]