Black History Month begins tomorrow and the library has recently updated the bibliography, “Our Stories: The African-American Experience,” recommending many wonderful recently published titles. Here are just a few of the historical picture books that made the list.
Two titles are Caldecott Honor winners. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown. When his wife and children are sold to pay for their master’s debts, Henry can stand it no longer. With the help of a white doctor, he hides inside a wooden crate and mails himself to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. Travelling by train and boat he at last arrives to freedom.
The details painted on every character’s face are a powerful complement to the text. Henry’s joy in his family and the pain at their loss are beautifully conveyed. The picture of Henry upside down in his box is my favorite. One hand is splayed, reaching towards the reader as he struggles to hold himself up just a little, attempting to relieve some of the pressure on his head, neck and shoulders.
Coming on Home Soon tells the story of Ada Ruth whose mother has headed North during World War II to earn much needed money on the railroads. Leaving Ada Ruth on her grandmother’s farm, she promises she loves her “more than anything in the world…More than rain. More than snow,” but time passes with no letter and no idea if she is safe. Ada Ruth’s worry abates somewhat on the arrival of a stray kitten in need of love and care. Although her grandmother doesn’t want her to keep it at first, she soon realizes how important the kitten has become to them both as they wait. Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, the soft colors and dimly lit interiors create a warm, comforting environment for this small, worried family.