It’s easy to think of history as being about big events — wars, elections, laws — that took place a long time ago. Sometimes history doesn’t seem to be very personal.
But that’s not right. History is about people. Humans create history. They start wars — or end them. People also change history. They look around and ask, “Why is the world the way it is?” And then they go out and make the world a better place.
February is Black History Month. On this page, you’ll find books about five people. They saw things wrong in the world and spoke out against them. They made beautiful music that they wanted to share with everyone. They dreamed of going to school. Booker T. Washington, Sarah Breedlove Walker, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Ella Fitzgerald.
They are people. They are history.
By Jabari Asim; illustrated by Bryan Collier. Age 6 and older. $16.99
This is a beautiful book that may surprise kids who groan about going to school. Booker T. Washington was born a slave and when he was freed, he wanted more than anything to learn to read. As a slave, he would see white children go to school and wish he could be there. When he was old enough, Washington traveled 500 miles by foot to go to college. But his dream would not end there. Washington would go on not just to read books but to write them, and not just to go to college but to start one of his own.
By Kathryn Lasky; illustrated by Nneka Bennett. Age 8 and older. $6.99
It was hard to be a black person in the United States in the 1870s. It was even harder to be a black girl. Sarah Breedlove Walker, a daughter to former slaves, knew that. As a child, she worked full time doing laundry. Because of years of poor nutrition, her hair was falling out by the time she was in her 20s. But she went on to become a successful businesswoman, selling health and beauty products to black women. She used the money to help others. Even though she died when she was just 51 years old, Walker’s company continued for many years.
By Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams; illustrated by A.G. Ford. Age 7 and older. $15.99
This book tells the story of what happened to Desmond Tutu growing up in South Africa, where white and black people were kept separated by a system called apartheid (pronounced a-par-tide). Young Desmond had just gotten a new bike and he was very proud of it, but as he rode it through the streets of his town, some white boys taunted him, calling him a very mean word. With the help of an understanding grown-up, he learned an important lesson that would help him go on to win the Nobel Peace prize.
Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Age 6 and older. $17.99.
This beautiful book uses poetry to tell the story of Nelson Mandela. As a boy of just 9, Mandela’s father died and he was sent to school in another part of South Africa. Like Desmond Tutu, Mandela saw that black people in South Africa were treated differently because of the color of their skin. As a young man, Mandela spoke out about how wrong that was. And for speaking out, he was put in prison, where he stayed for 27 years. But today, because of Mandel’s actions there is no more apartheid in South Africa.
By Roxane Orgill. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Age 8 and older. $17.99.
As a young girl growing up in New York City, Ella Fitzgerald loved music and loved to dance. Some didn’t consider her a pretty child, with a too-big mouth and too-small eyes. That changed when she danced, as all eyes turned to her. But her mom died when Ella was just 14, and she no longer felt like dancing. Then she discovered that she was an even better singer. Scared and shy since her mother’s death, Ella found the courage to enter singing competition. And because of her talent, people of all backgrounds came to know that Ella Fitzgerald was a star.