Winter Reading: Top Picks for Black History Month

By Kristin Boza 

The foundation for African American History Month, also known as Black History Month, was laid by Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland in 1915 when they started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. This organization sought to ensure that the stories of African Americans were taught and celebrated, as both men were frustrated by the lack of information about the societal contributions of African Americans. 

In the spirit of Woodson and Moorland, and all who came after them, Keith Lewis and his staff at Bookie’s and Arlene F. Gottardo and Jessica Black, children’s services librarians at the Chicago Public Library Beverly Branch, provided a list of their favorite and most important books for kids, teens, and adults to enjoy and learn from this month and throughout the year. 

For Adults 

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side” by Eve Ewing. “An important analysis and commentary about an important subject.” – Bookie’s 

“The Conjure Woman” by Charles Waddell Chesnutt. “Truly a collection of short stories tied together by an external narrative. The stories are written in southern African American dialect, bound together by the story of a white couple who purchases a vineyard in the post-bellum south.” – Bookie’s 

“Kindred” by Octavia Butler. “A favorite of my high school English students, this is a time travel story about a modern black woman who is repeatedly thrown back in time to the antebellum south.” -Bookie’s 

“Vessel” by Parneshia Jones. “A wonderful voice in Chicago poetry. Jones’ poems are reflective and observational, personal and hilarious and dark in equal measure.” – Bookie’s. (Jones is the guest for the Second Sunday Book Club, Feb. 10, 2 p.m., Open Outcry, 10924 S. Western.)  

“Revise the Psalm.” “An anthology of poetry, essays, and stories celebrating the works of Gwendolyn Brooks. There’s something in this collection for everyone.” – Bookie’s 

For Young Adults 

“Akata Witch” and “Akata Warrior” by Nnedi Okorafor. “A young adult fantasy series with a West African, albino protagonist who discovers that she is magical. These books are written by a local author who has also written ‘Black Panther’ comics for Marvel.” – Bookie’s 

“Hidden Human Computers – The Black Women of NASA” by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris, JD, PhD.  A look at the female mathematicians at NASA, and also the valuable back story of the history of human computers dating back to 1758. – Beverly Branch Library 

“How Dare the Sun Rise. Memoirs of a War Child” by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta. Sandra’s first person account of her survival of a massacre in the Republic of Congo and her family’s move to New York. – Beverly Branch Library. 

“First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson” by Simon Schwartz. A graphic novel about Matthew Henson, an Arctic explorer. – Beverly Branch Library 

For Kids 

“So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom” by Gary D. Schmidt. “Beautifully-written about a great woman, but the highlight is the illustrations by African American artist, Daniel Minter.” – Bookie’s 

“This is the Rope” by Jacqueline Woodson. A rope passed down through generations tells the story of a family’s journey north during the Great Migration. – Beverly Branch Library 

“Major Taylor Champion Cyclist” by Lesa Cline-Ransome. “The Major Taylor Trail is nearby, but not enough people know the story of ‘the world’s fastest man,’ a cyclist who excelled in the sport despite having to leave the country to race.” – Bookie’s 

“My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Christine King Farris. Students in 2nd to 4th grade will learn about Dr. King’s early life from his sister’s perspective. – Beverly Branch Library 

“The Book Itch” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. A story set in the 1930s about a bookstore owner who helped people stand up for what they believed in. – Beverly Branch Library 

“What Color is My World? The Lost History of African American Inventors” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld. A story told through the eyes of twins Herbie and Ella as they learn more about famous, yet lesser-known, African American inventors. – Beverly Branch Library