About the Holiday
There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, promoted the holiday after Nellie’s death in 1968. To celebrate, people are encouraged to write a note of appreciation to their favorite author.
Thanks go to Workman Publishing and Big Honcho Media for sharing a copy of The ABCs of Black History with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
The ABCs of Black History
Written by Rio Cortez | Illustrated by Lauren Semmer
This stunning compendium of lyrical verses defies easy categorization as it bridges the genres of alphabet books, encyclopedias, history books, biographies, and more for young readers. The book opens with words from James Baldwin, in which he says “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history,” and within its pages children discover not only specific events and well-known people, but the emotions, philosophies, and traits that have carried and sustained African Americans.
This inspiring alphabetic journey begins with “A is for anthem, a banner of song / that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong. / We lift up our voices, lift them and sing. / From stages and street corners, let freedom ring.” From there kids come to B, which is for “beautiful…brave…bright…and bold.” It also describes “brotherhood” and “believing in grace.” At E children meet Explorers Matthew Henson and Mae Jemison as well as some of those who fought to make Education open to all, such as Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, and the Little Rock Nine.
G and the Great Migration follow Black Americans from farmland to cities to “Harlem – those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat.” “Imagine, invent, innovative” define letter I, where readers find Alvin Ailey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gwendolyn Brooks, Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and DJ Kool Herc.
The drive to move forward, to aspire, and succeed is eloquently traced from the past: “M is for march, for lifting our feet, / taking the movement, the cause to the street” to today: “Black lives matter. Every breath, every dream – / Every thought, each idea, each impossible scheme.” From sit-ins to their organizers, from African queens to today’s women leaders, from award-winning athletes to scientists to singers of soul, Black achievement is highlighted across the alphabet.
At U children and adults arrive at poignant verses that should prompt deeper discussions: “U is for United States – this story is tough. / The birth of a nation was deadly for us. / We the people? In the land of the free? / No one who was enslaved would agree.” A second and third verse take in the Civil War and the “unbroken, unshaken, unbound, / like Harriet Tubman, who went underground,” and the battle for freedom and rights that continued after the war’s end. But the pages end on a note of hope, revealing that U is also “for unfinished, this American tale. / With courage and strength, we will prevail!”
As this is National Author’s Day, I must mention that “W is for writers whose wisdom and words / bring to life worlds where our voices are heard. / Rappers adn poets and songwriters, too, / all those who spin from our point of view.” And how does this collection of events, holidays, personalities, hopes, and dreams end? At Z for zenith – “The top of that mountain King said we would reach” to which “we march on, / rising, rising, like the sun with the dawn.”
Back matter includes further elucidation of each letter of the alphabet and it’s accompanying concept. These are detailed entries that also lend themselves to further study. Resources also include websites to organizations and museums and suggestions for books and poetry to read.
Rio Cortez’s poetry soars on optimism, achievement, hope, and a palpable pride in Black history and the future. Musical and conversational, the verses flow off the tongue, creating an exciting and meaningful read-aloud experience for adults and children. The breadth of information that Cortez imparts is stirring, adding up to an impactful look at history and a rousing celebration of Black culture. Every page offers many, many opportunities for further learning, listening, viewing, and research.
Lauren Semmer’s vivid illustrations – opening with an uplifting group shot of young, happy, and hopeful black and brown faces that welcome their young peers – will enthrall readers with their action, energy, and colors. Portraits of famous figures and unsung heroes will inspire children to get involved in their communities and causes they believe in, while reaching for their dreams.
The ABCs of Black History is an exhilarating picture book for family reading times, a superb cross-curricular resource for homeschoolers and classrooms from elementary school to high school, and a must for all school and public library collections.
Ages 5 and up
Workman Publishing Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1523507498
Discover more about Rio Cortez and her books on her website.
To learn more about Lauren Semmer, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Author’s Day Activity
Black Leaders Coloring Pages
Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. You’ll find more coloring pages of Black leaders to print at Scribble Fun.
Maya Angelou | Louis Armstrong | Dr. Mae Jemison | Garrett Morgan | Barack H. Obama | Rosa Parks | Jackie Robinson
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Picture Book Review