Fifty years ago this May, people around our country turned on their televisions to the sight of children being viciously assaulted with fire hoses and snarling dogs by uniformed grown men, their faces twisted with hatred. The violence in Birmingham, Alabama, stirred a swelling of national conscience and raised questions demanding an answer: Do we really believe that “all men are created equal”? What would our country look like if we really did? What has to change to make that dream a reality?
Until recently, most books for children about the Civil Rights Movement focused on the great leaders. Now, authors and illustrators are using multiple lenses, choosing to illuminate the inner workings of a populist revolution in which many people, with differing beliefs, made difficult choices. Historical fiction and poetry delve empathetically into motivations, situations, and dilemmas. Enticing nonfiction presents a variety of primary sources representing multiple viewpoints, asking readers to compare and contrast versions of reality, draw their own inferences, find personal meaning, and examine the art of history-telling.
These books about the Civil Rights era contain universal themes: How do we recognize and address our own prejudices? How do we make social change happen? How do we find the strength to overcome adversity and do what we know to be right? How can one person change the world? Give these titles to students so that they may start to answer these questions for themselves.
Panning the Scene
Background, Overviews, Introductions
ARONSON, Marc. Race: A History Beyond Black and White. S & S/Atheneum. 2007. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-689-86554-1.
Gr 10 Up—This weighty tome breaks down the social construct of “race,” revealing how it developed, morphed, and impacted societies from the Ancient Greeks to today. Aronson mixes in graphically detailed atrocities alongside deeply personal examinations of his own prejudices and hypothetical modern-day scenarios to guide deeper understanding.
BARTOLETTI, Susan Campbell. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.Houghton Mifflin. 2010. Tr $19. ISBN 978-0-618-44033-7.
Gr 7 Up—In an unflinching chronology of the K.K.K., Bartoletti purposefully draws from and presents primary sources representing a range of perspectives, including that of violent white supremacists themselves, in the form of images, interview clips, and more. Guaranteed to provoke fruitful discussion. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
OSBORNE, Linda Barrett. Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Era. Abrams. 2012. RTE $24.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0020-0.
Gr 6-10—Osborne thoroughly supports her historical examination of segregation with well-chosen quotations, rare photographs, ephemera, and other visual information from the Library of Congress. This cleanly written history of the Jim Crow era is ideal for anyone studying the times, or simply interested in our shared past. A highly readable, substantive title.
PINKNEY, Andrea Davis. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. illus. by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-07016-4.
Gr 2-5–With the 1960 Greensboro Woolworth counter sit-in as a central example and food as a metaphor, Pinkney’s highly readable poetic phrases relate how ordinary people’s nonviolent actions eventually led to integration. Brian Pinkney’s buoyant color washes with vibrant ink drawings enhance the spirited tone of his wife’s words.
RAMSEY, Calvin A. Ruth and the Green Book. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Carolrhoda. 2010. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-5255-6.
Gr 1-4–A young African American girl uses the Green Book to find black-friendly businesses on her family’s 1950 car trip from Chicago to rural Alabama, easing the pain of her first encounters with Jim Crow. Cooper’s art, using a grainy, subdued palette that subtly evokes historical photographs, supports this understated but interesting slice of history.
SHANGE, Ntozake. We Troubled the Waters. illus. by Rod Brown. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-133735-2; ebook $11.99. ISBN 978-0-06-206563-6.
Gr 6 Up–Shange’s spare, dialect-strong poems are vivid, emotional snapshots of the Jim Crow South from a black perspective. They leave plenty of thought-provoking, unspoken ideas between the lines. Together with Brown’s photograph-inspired muralistic oil paintings, this powerful book invokes personal reactions to historical wrongs.
SHELTON, Paula Young. Child of the Civil Rights Movement. illus. by Raul Colón. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84314-3; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95414-6; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98281-1.
K-Gr 3–Colón’s richly textured pastels match Shelton’s inviting, friendly descriptions of being a small child among the loving inner circle of leading Civil Rights families. These vignettes from Andrew Young’s daughter simultaneously magnify and humanize the struggle.
SHORE, Diana Z. & Jessica Alexander. This Is the Dream. illus. by James Ransome. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-055519-1; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-055520-7; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-06-055521-4.
K-Gr 3–Glowingly illustrated with a strong palette, this short “House That Jack Built”-metered picture book starts with imagery of segregation, proceeds to iconic nonviolent protests, and culminates with integrated, happy modern children. This excellent read-aloud celebrates the gains of the Civil Rights Movement with a heartfelt sense of patriotic pride. Younger children will need explanations throughout.
STOTTS, Stuart. We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World. foreword by Pete Seeger. illus. by Terrance Cummings. Clarion. 2010. RTE $18. ISBN 978-0-547-18210-0.
Gr 4 Up–The anthem of the Civil Rights Movement steadied and fortified the righteous. Here is a mini-ethnomusicological study of the song, from its origins through its role at many dangerous and important protests. Archival images, strong poster-art-inspired red/black/white artwork, and a CD accompany the story of the song’s journey.
WATKINS, Angela Farris. My Uncle Martin’s Words for America. illus. by Eric Velasquez. Abrams. 2011. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0022-4.
K-Gr 4–In the grand tradition of deifying King, this title works well as a lap-read companion to Doreen Rappaport’s Martin’s Big Words (Hyperion, 2001). Bold text emphasizes the simple concepts of King’s satyagraha philosophy while taking on a more complete, but age-appropriate, history of the movement. Bright oil-painted portraits backed by stars and stripes lend a patriotic tone.
Places & Events
BAUSUM, Ann. Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Hours. National Geographic. 2012. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0939-7; PLB $28.90. ISBN 978-1-4263-0940-3; ebook $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0945-8.
Gr 6 Up–When the Civil Rights Movement arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, the volatile mix of poverty, racial discrimination, and the black community’s own splintered loyalties came to a boil. This behind-the-scenes exposé sheds light on a specific place and time usually overshadowed by the subsequent assassination of King at the Lorraine Hotel.
BRIMNER, Larry Dane. Birmingham Sunday. Boyds Mill/Calkins Creek. 2010. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-613-0.
Gr 6 Up–Brimner homes in on the racially charged atmosphere of Birmingham in 1963 by hooking readers with details about the four victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. These 48 pages, packed with photographs and sidebars of related information, reveal the shocking extent to which raw violence and danger were prevalent.
CONKLING, Winifred. Sylvia & Aki. Tricycle. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-58246-337-7; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-1-58246-438-1.
Gr 4-6–Meet Sylvia and Aki, two real Southern Californian girls facing government-supported discrimination during World War II. Extrapolating from interviews, Conkling has crafted an alternating-narrator novel that compares and contrasts experiences by Americans of Mexican and Japanese heritage. This title reminds readers that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t just about inequities faced by African Americans.
DUDLEY, David. L. Caleb’s Wars. Clarion. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-23997-2; ebook $11.99. ISBN 978-0-547-53420-6.
Gr 7 Up–In this novel of World War II-era rural Georgia, Caleb, a 15-year-old African American, chafes at the ways his family and community take Jim Crow for granted, despite his brother’s service in the U.S. Army. Getting to know a German POW assigned to work with him intensifies Caleb’s determination to claim his dignity.
EVANS, Shane W. We March. illus. by author. Roaring Brook/A Neal Porter Bk. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-539-1; eook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-46681-084-6.
PreS-Gr 3–Evans’s expansive, richly colored, simplistic paintings depict a young African American family preparing for and attending the 1963 March on Washington. With carefully chosen, spare language, this simple book powerfully re-creates the event. Brief back matter provides much-needed context.
KITTINGER, Jo S. Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights. illus. by Steven Walker. Boyds Mill/Calkins Creek. 2010. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-722-9.
Gr 1-4–A fresh twist on the familiar tale of Rosa Parks’s defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, with straightforward, simple storytelling, focuses on the historical nature of the bus itself. Walker’s bright oil paintings balance the text and mood throughout. Endnotes offer additional information for the inevitable questions from a read-aloud audience.
LEVINE, Kristin. The Lions of Little Rock. Putnam. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25644-8; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-1-424-2435-3; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-1-101-55044-1.
Gr 5-8–This novel depicts 1958 Little Rock, roiling in racial tension in the wake of the Little Rock Nine. Desperately shy Marley befriends a new classmate at her still-segregated white middle school. When it’s discovered that her new friend is actually a black girl passing for white, the two must decide how important their friendship is. Audio version available from Listening Library.
LEVINSON, Cynthia Y. We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Peachtree. 2012. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-56145-627-7.
Gr 7 Up–Fifty years ago, thousands of children purposefully set out to get themselves arrested and abused by marching in defiance of the most militant government-supported segregationists. This photo-essay interweaves the stories and memories of four disparate participants with contextual photographs and information, reveling in the marchers’ can-do spirit and sense of power. Audio version available from Listening Library.
LONG, Mark & Jim Demonakos. The Silence of Our Friends: The Civil Rights Struggle Was Never Black and White. illus by Nate Powell. First Second. 2012. pap. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-618-3.
Gr 9 Up–Fiercely segregated 1968 Houston is the backdrop for this hard-hitting graphic novel memoir. It follows a confused white suburban kid and his photojournalist father when a black activist and his family enter their lives. The black-and-white palette contributes to a gritty, film noir tone as the authors openly depict people’s ugliness, uncertainty, selfishness, and cowardice.
MAGOON, Kekla. The Rock and the River. S & S/Aladdin. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-7582-3; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-7803-9; ebook $6.99. ISBN 978-1-4391-5335-2.
Gr 7 Up–Sam, a 13-year-old African American Chicagoan in the summer of 1968, is torn between the pacifist path promoted by his reverend father and the more militant actions of the Black Panther party favored by his older brother. A sequel, Fire in the Streets (S & S, 2012), goes into greater detail about the day-to-day lives of the Black Panthers. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
NELSON, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. illus. by Philippe Lardy. Houghton Harcourt. 2005. RTE $17. ISBN 978-0-618-39752-5; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-547-07636-2; ebook $7.99. ISBN 978-0-547-77317-9.
Gr 9 Up–Nelson’s powerful crown of sonnets eulogizes the black 14-year-old brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955, applying changing perspective, allusions to famous poets, vivid imagery, and metaphor. The sophisticated poetry, expounded upon in the back matter, is accompanied by simple, symbolic artwork, creating a cohesively charged and moving experience.
PARTRIDGE, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. Viking. 2009. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01189-6; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-1-101-15097-9.
Gr 6 Up–From Bloody Sunday to the March on Montgomery, this nonfiction book presents the events of the summer of 1965 in Selma, Alabama, in a photo-journalistic story arc, complete with real-life teenage “characters” found through extensive interviews. Well-chosen, striking photographs contextualize the chronological retelling, supporting the real-life drama. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
SCATTERGOOD, Augusta. Glory Be. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-33180-7.
Gr 4-7–In 1964 when her small Mississippi town closes Glory’s beloved swimming pool to avoid integration, the naive white 11-year-old takes a stand. Glory’s story, focusing primarily on members of the white community, compares and contrasts the small actions and inactions of different characters.
TOUGAS, Shelley. Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration. (Captured History Series). Compass Point. 2012. PLB $33.99. ISBN 978-0-7565-4440-9; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-0-7565-4512-3.
Gr 4-8–The focus here is the shocking photograph of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford being viciously jeered by a white peer as she and her fellow black students integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Tougas explains the context of the photograph and how the iconic image affected history.
WILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. One Crazy Summer. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-076088-5; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-076088-5; ebook $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-196667-5.
Gr 5-9–Spending the summer of 1968 at a Black Panther summer camp is not what the three African American sisters of this novel intend when they visit their estranged mother in Oakland, California, but what they learn about racial identity and pride changes their lives forever. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
BRIMNER, Larry Dane. Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-766-3.
Gr 6 Up–A fascinating photo-journalistic, two-person biography about the obstinate men who led black and white factions against each other in 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, not only showcases the important role played by the oft-overshadowed Rev. Fred L. Shuttleworth, but also reveals how extremist factions overrode the more moderate voices of other Birmingham residents.
HOOSE, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa Bks. 2009. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-374-31322-7; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-312-66105-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-429-94821-0.
Gr 6 Up–Hoose’s slice of little-known history introduces readers to Claudette Colvin, the teenager who did exactly what Rosa Parks became so famous for nine months later. However, Colvin was marginalized by the very same famous adults (the NAACP, Dr. King, etc.) readers have been taught to revere. Guaranteed to spark a “That’s not fair!” response.
JEFFREY, Gary. Medgar Evers and the NAACP. illus. by Nick Spender. (A Graphic History of the Civil Rights Movement).Gareth Stevens. 2012. PLB $23.95. ISBN 978-1-4339-7495-3; pap. $8.15. ISBN 978-1-4339-7496-0; ebook $23.95. ISBN 978-1-4339-7498-4.
Gr 3-7–The richly colored, pamphlet-size graphic novels in this series are excellent fodder for reluctant readers. This old-fashioned dramatic comic-book retelling of the 1963 assassination of Mississippi Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers attributes a hero’s due to the man’s pride and perseverance. A brief textual preface and afterword frame the action.
NELSON, Vaunda Micheaux. No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Lerner/Carolrhoda LAB. 2012. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-6169-5; ebook $12.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-8727-5.
Gr 7 Up–The fascinating proprietor of Harlem’s National Memorial African Bookstore touched the lives of thousands of black Americans. This unique quasi-journalistic approach is comprised of faux memories from people Michaux affected, peppered with historical ephemera and Christie’s simple line ink drawings. Begs analysis of what makes a life well lived.
PINKNEY, Andrea Davis. Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. illus. by Brian Pinkney.Hyperion/Disney. 2012. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-4257-7.
Gr 4 Up–In this compilation intended for sequential reading, Andrea Pinkney’s comfortable storytelling style showcases the intelligence, perseverance, and leadership of 10 black men from Benjamin Banneker through Barack Obama. A poem and a full-page lively facial portrait preface each fascinating biography; Brian Pinkney’s smaller, paint-washed scenes are also inset throughout.
STOKES, John A. with Lois Wolfe & Herman Viola. Students on Strike: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Brown, and Me.National Geographic. 2008. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0153-7; PLB $23.90. ISBN 978-1-4263-0154-4.
Gr 5-9–In 1951, Stokes and other black students in Farmville, Virginia, organized against the city to request a high school building as nice as the one the white students attended. Reading Stokes’s chatty style is like hanging out with a guy who’s reminiscing about the accidentally remarkable things he did when he was young.
TEITELBAUM, Michael & Lewis Helfand. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Let Freedom Ring. illus. by Sankha Banerjee. (Campfire Graphic Novels Series). Campfire. Jan. 2013. pap. $12.99. ISBN 978-93-80028-69-9
Gr 4-6–Drawn reproductions of iconic news photographs alternate with text boxes and imagined private moments as the biographers portray age-appropriate aspects of this very public figure’s life. A straightforward graphic-novel biography, each page rich with color, detail, and nicely balanced design.
Rhona Campbell is a teacher-librarian at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.
On the Web
American Experience. Eyes on the Prize. America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985. www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/story/index.html. PBS Online/WGBH. (Accessed 11/25/12).
Gr 6 Up—The webpages accompanying this 14-hour documentary of the Civil Rights Movement are organized chronologically by topic and feature many primary sources, including audio/video clips, photographs, maps, and more. Text heavy, this is best for middle or high school students.
Civil Rights Digital Library. crdl.usg.edu. Digital Library of Georgia. (Accessed 11/25/12).
Gr 9 Up—Covering vast territory with an advanced search interface, this is the go-to site for locating online digitally archived materials about the movement from reputable collections. Teachers and high school researchers will appreciate using this to find supplemental information.
BCRI Resource Center Gallery. rg.bcri.org/gallery. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. (Accessed 11/25/12).
Gr 4-8—With an attractive design and plenty of simply organized, flashy, well-produced videos, this interactive gallery of video clips and audio makes a great introduction to the era, particularly to the events in Birmingham. Includes an overview, oral histories, a time line, and other resources.
Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement. By Ann Bausum. 2 cassettes or 2 CDs. 1:30 hrs. Recorded Books. 2008. cassette: ISBN 978-1-4281-8683-5, CD: ISBN 978-1-4281-8688-0. $25.75.
Gr 5-9–Bausum’s powerful book (National Geographic, 2005) about the experiences of John Lewis and Jim Zwerg during the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s is narrated by Cecelia Riddett, whose impassioned reading emphasizes the brutal facts of how these men risked their lives to take on the racist practices of interstate bus travel.
Let Freedom Ring: Moments from the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965.DVD. 47 min. (53 min. bonus material). Prod. by NBC News. Dist. by Films Media Group. 2004, 2009 release. ISBN 978-1-60825-994-6. $169.95.
Gr 9 Up–The events of the first decade of the Civil Rights Movement are recounted, such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the integration of Little Rock High School, the 1960 Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and Freedom Summer. News correspondent Lester Holt introduces each topic, and the segments include excerpts from NBC News reports and documentaries as well as the recollections of protesters, civil rights leaders, journalists, and historians.
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World. DVD. 18 min. Weston Woods. 2008. ISBN 978-0-545-10645-0. $59.95; CD with hardcover book. ISBN 978-0-545-10689-4: $29.95.
Gr 2-7–Christine King Farris recalls her brother, Martin Luther King, Jr., in this evocative picture book (Scholastic, 2008) focusing on the 1963 March on Washington where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lynn Whitfield reads the story with great emotion, bringing viewers to the National Mall to witness this historic event, while London Ladd’s realistic illustrations and historical photographs are scanned.
The Other Side. DVD. 8 min. Weston Woods. 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-44754-6. $59.95; CD, ISBN 978-0-545-44759-1: $12.95; CD with hardcover book, ISBN 978-0-545-44811-6: $29.95.
K-Gr 4–Clover, an African-American girl, lives on one side of the fence and Annie, a white girl, lives on the other side. Set during segregation, this story shows how the children are drawn to test those artificial boundaries that separate and classify. Jacqueline Woodson’s deceptively simple, yet powerfully evocative story is supported by E. B. Lewis’s wonderful watercolor illustrations.
The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. 4 DVDs. approx. 4 hrs. California Newsreel. 2002. $24.95.
Gr 9 Up–After the end of the Civil War, many Southern states refused to grant freed slaves equality with whites. This outstanding production, spanning the years from 1865 to 1954, shows how legal segregation shaped the social, political, and legal history of the period. Historical figures and everyday citizens relate the story of their struggles.
Rosa. DVD. 14 min. with tchr’s. guide. Weston Woods. 2007. ISBN 978-0-545-04257-4. $59.95; CD with hardcover book, ISBN 978-0-545-04261-1: $29.95.
Gr 2-5–Rosa Parks’s legacy lives on in Nikki Giovanni’s beautiful Caldecott Honor picture book (Holt, 2005). The crisp text is read by the author while Bryan Collier’s collage illustrations are scanned, as well as a few of his illustrations from Doreen Rappaport’s Martin’s Big Words (Hyperion, 2001; Weston Woods) and archival photographs.
White Water.DVD. 9 min. with tchr’s. guide. Nutmeg Media. 2012. ISBN 1-933938-88-9. $49.95.
K-Gr 3–In White Water, based on Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein’s picture book of the same name, a young African American boy notices segregation’s inequities. He’s especially struck by the drinking fountains—one for Whites and another for Coloreds. Tony Fragale narrates the first-person story as the boy devises a plan to find out what “white water” tastes like. Inspired by actual events, this work brings home the reality of segregation.