Today is the annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10, hosted by Cathy Mere from Reflect and Refine, Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge. This is my third year participating in this event, which provides me with a chance to expand my nonfiction TBR list. Last year I created a list of ten picture books I hoped Isabelle would embrace as she got older. Since she’s much more into narratives these days (She’s three!), I decided to create another list of ten picture books I hope she’ll embrace as she becomes more interested in nonfiction books.
For the past two years, I created lists of picture books I hoped my daughter would embrace as she got older. As I prepared for this month’s event, I wanted to choose a new theme for my list. Since it’s February, I curated a list of nonfiction texts teachers can use for Black History Month. BUT, these books shouldn’t just be relegated to February! They’re the kind of books you should add to the mentor text collection in your classroom library. (Click here to read Teaching Tolerance’s Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Black History.)
I believe in the mission of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. All students deserve to read mirror books, in which they can see themselves, and window books, in which they can learn about others. This means we must have books that represent a variety of religious backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations on classroom bookshelves during all months of the year.
28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans (Roaring Book Press, 2015)
Publisher’s Summary: Each day features a different influential figure in African-American history, from Crispus Attucks, the first man shot in the Boston Massacre, sparking the Revolutionary War, to Madame C. J. Walker, who after years of adversity became the wealthiest black woman in the country, as well as one of the wealthiest black Americans, to Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president.
With powerful illustrations by Shane Evans, this is a completely unique look at the importance and influence of African Americans in the history of this country.
Mentor Text Possibilities: How do you take a large topic and teach someone about it in a meaningful way? We ask students to narrow their focus. We teach them to select main and subordinate ideas using tools like boxes and bullets to facilitate this work. In 28 Days, Smith took a large topic (i.e., African-American history) and made it accessible by focusing on important people. He set up 28 Days in chronological order and combined prose and poetry to highlight extraordinary events and people who are part of African-American history. Studying the way Smith took an enormous topic and focused on specific moments in time is worthy of close study alongside students.
Every day of the 28 days (Plus there’s a bonus poem on Day 29, which is relevant when using this book during a leap year.) is structured in a unique way. The book includes a eulogy (for Madam C.J. Walker), a Supreme Court decision (for Brown v. Board of Education), an acrostic poem (for Malcolm X), an oath of office (for Thurgood Marshall), and a reverse countdown (for Guy Bluford and Mae Jemison). There is a structure worthy of close study with all students.
Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper (Amistad, 2013)
Publisher’s Summary: Coretta Scott King Award-winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper deliver the compelling story behind the building of the White House, a powerful part of history rarely taught. The home of our president was built by many hands, several of them slaves’, who undertook this amazing achievement long before there were machines to do those same jobs. With an insightful author’s note and a list of selected resources, this book supports the Common Core State Standards.
Stirring and emotional, Cooper’s stunning illustrations bring to life the faces of those who endured hard, brutal work when the profit of their labor was paid to the master, not the slave. The fact that many were able to purchase their freedom after earning money from learning a trade speaks to the strength of those individuals. They created this iconic emblem of America, brick by brick.
Mentor Text Possibilities: When it comes to content-area writing, we can encourage students to tell little-known stories. This book’s topic (i.e., slaves building the white house) is one of those parts of history we don’t learn in textbooks, but is worthy of being told. We can expand students’ topic choices when we show them books like Brick by Brick .
There are other things I admire about this text, which can be used when working with students. First, the word choice is exceptional. It’s precise, which makes every ounce of this text come alive in a reader’s mind. In addition, end rhyme, repetition, and list-like writing abound throughout this book.
Harlem Renaissance Party by Faith Ringgold (Amistad, 2015)
Publisher’s Summary: Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold takes readers on an unforgettable journey through the Harlem Renaissance when Lonnie and his uncle Bates go back to Harlem in the 1920s. Along the way, they meet famous writers, musicians, artists, and athletes, from Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois to Josephine Baker and Zora Neale Hurston and many more, who created this incredible period. And after an exciting day of walking with giants, Lonnie fully understands why the Harlem Renaissance is so important.
Faith Ringgold’s bold and vibrant illustrations capture the song and dance of the Harlem Renaissance while her story will captivate young readers, teaching them all about this significant time in our history. A glossary and further reading list are included in the back of the book, making this perfect for Common Core.
Mentor Text Possibilities: Like 28 Days, Harlem Renaissance Party tackles a large subject in an unique way. Lonnie and his Uncle Bates journey back to Seventh Avenue in Harlem to meet the greats of the Harlem Renaissance. Ringgold introduces readers to the greats from this time period by employing rich setting details, character descriptions, and dialogue. Any child who is attempting to write about a topic like the Harlem Renaissance, would benefit from a close study of Ringgold’s book. This book can inspire students to introduce their readers to important people and placesfrom a time period in a different way.
There’s a four page glossary that provides readers with more information on everything in the book. Things like the Charleston and the Fox-Trot are defined. Information about people like Zora Neale Hurston and Paul Robeson are also found in the glossary. Places like the Harlem Opera House, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Shomburg Library are also explained. A glossary like the one in the back of Ringgold’s book can be another way for young writers to showcase their knowledge about the time period about which they’re writing.
I Have a Dream by Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. with paintings by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012)
Publisher’s Summary: From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King: “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us—those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.”
On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, Martin Luther King gave one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in our nation’s history. His words, paired with Caldecott Honor winner Kadir Nelson’s magnificent paintings, make for a picture book certain to be treasured by children and adults alike. The themes of equality and freedom for all are not only relevant today, 50 years later, but also provide young readers with an important introduction to our nation’s past. Included with the book is an audio CD of the speech.
Mentor Text Possibilities: Are your students writing a speech? Have them study King’s speech. Are you teaching a lesson on memoir? Teach a lesson on refrains using this speech as a mentor text.
For more ideas, read my original review of I Have a Dream, which I wrote in January 2013.
My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner and James Ransome (Harper, 2015)
Publisher’s Summary: Here is the remarkable true story of how former slave Isabella Baumfree transformed herself into the preacher and orator Sojourner Truth, as told by acclaimed author Ann Turner and award-winning illustrator James Ransome. An iconic figure of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements, Sojourner Truth famously spoke out for equal rights roughly one hundred years before the civil rights movement.
This beautifully illustrated and impeccably researched picture book biography underwent expert review by two historians of the period. My Name Is Truth includes a detailed historical note, an archival photo, and a list of suggested supplemental reading materials. Written in the fiery and eloquent voice of Sojourner Truth herself, this moving story will captivate readers just as Sojourner’s passionate words enthralled her listeners.
Mentor Text Possibilities: This book is a biography that feels like an autobiography since it’s written in the first person, but not by Sojourner Truth. (Rather, it’s written by Ann Turner.) It can surely be used alongside other biographies in order to talk with students about the characteristics of the genre. My Name is Truth allows readers to hear the subject’s voice. This can help us teach students how to weave primary source documents (e.g., speeches, diary entries) into their writing to make it feel as though the writing is coming alive with the profiled person’s voice.
The author’s note in My Name is Truth is one of the longer ones I’ve seen. It provides an excellent history about Sojourner Truth’s life. If you’re teaching students to craft author’s notes, this is one worth studying.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass and E.B. Lewis (Candlewick Press, 2015)
Publisher’s Summary: Something different was happening in Huntsville. For the citizens of that city, creativity, courage, and cooperation were the keys to working together to integrate their city and schools in peace. In an engaging celebration of this lesser-known chapter in American and African-American history, author Hester Bass and illustrator E. B. Lewis show children how racial discrimination, bullying, and unfairness can be faced successfully with perseverance and ingenuity.
Mentor Text Possibilities: I loved the way Seeds of Freedom was written. There is so much we can teach young writers to emulate by studying this book. There’s content-specific vocabulary, varied sentence lengths, an excellent author’s note, headings (in the form of dates), precise words, and lots of punctuation that creates voice.
The story of the peaceful integration of Huntsville isn’t one that’s heard very often. In fact, the way the city was integrated was quite remarkable. Like Brick by Brick, using Seeds of Freedom is another book we can show students about the power of sharing a little-known story about a time period.
Dana reviewed this book in-depth yesterday. Click here to view her recommendations about how to use Seeds of Freedom as a mentor text.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton and Don Tate (Eerdmans, 2015)
Publisher’s Summary: John Roy Lynch spent most of his childhood as a slave in Mississippi, but all of that changed with the Emancipation Proclamation. Suddenly people like John Roy could have paying jobs and attend school. While many people in the South were unhappy with the social change, John Roy thrived in the new era. He was appointed to serve as justice of the peace and was eventually elected into the United States Congress.
This biography, with its informative backmatter and splendid illustrations, gives readers an in-depth look at the Reconstruction period through the life of one of the fi rst African-American congressmen.
Mentor Text Possibilities: Like Seeds of Freedom, this book is also crafted with strong voice, which makes it worthy of studying. Sometimes the voice is created with variations in the print (e.g., italics). While many sentences tend to be longer, there are some places with short sentences which cause readers to pause. Often punctuation is used to create voice. For instance, Barton often uses dashes, instead of commas, emphasize, interrupt, or change thoughts in the middle of sentences. Barton also used dashes to create longer or more dramatic pauses in sentences. This picture book is 50 pages long, which means there are LOTS of things you can study alongside students in order to figure out what makes this text work well.
The back matter in this book is plentiful. It includes a two-page timeline of John Roy Lunch’s life and the state and national events that took place during his lifetime. Also included are an author’s note, illustrator’s note, historical note, maps, and a bibliography for further reading. If your students are writing biographies, or doing any kind of informational writing which might benefit from back matter, study The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting and Don Tate (Charlesbridge, 2013)
Publisher’s Summary: The strength and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. permeates this picture book about the funeral of Dr. King in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968. Quiet, yet affecting, THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN is a unique tribute to the life of a man known world-wide for his outstanding efforts as a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Eve Bunting focuses on the funeral procession of Dr. King, beginning with the two men who found the cart to carry him through the streets of Atlanta. After painting it green, two mules named Belle and Ada are hitched to the cart where Dr. King’s coffin is placed. Tens of thousands of mourners gather as the cart makes its way to Ebenezer Baptist Church, and then past the Georgia state capitol to Morehouse College. All the while, crowds of people pay their respects by singing songs of hope.
Mentor Text Possibilities: Eve Bunting’s writing always gives me goosebumps. Sometimes the chills. The Cart That Carried Martin gave me goosebumps and chills because it is so good. The book leaves you with a heavy heart. And, like so many of Bunting’s books, makes you feel something so deep, it’s almost indescribable. Like all of Bunting’s books, this one is laden with excellent craft moves we can teach students to make as when they’re writing.
This book is not your typical book about Dr. King. Instead it’s a book about the cart that carried his coffin on the day of his funeral. It serves as an example of how a writer chose to write about an artifact that had so much meaning at the time.
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans (Roaring Brook Press, 2011)
Publisher’s Summary: A family silently crawls along the ground. They run barefoot through unlit woods, sleep beneath bushes, take shelter in a kind stranger’s home. Where are they heading? They are heading for freedom by way of the Underground Railroad.
Mentor Text Possibilities: Sometimes less is more. That is the case with Evans’ Underground, which has short amounts of text and captivating illustrations. We can teach students, by using Underground as a mentor, the importance of selecting just the right words and the impact short sentences and fragments can have on a text.
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So (Chronicle, 2013)
Publisher’s Summary: In moving verse, Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis gives new voice to seventeen heroes of civil rights. Exquisitely illustrated by five extraordinary artists, this commanding collection of poems invites the reader to hear in each verse the thunder that lies in every voice, no matter how small. Featuring civil rights luminaries Coretta Scott King, Harvey Milk, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Sylvia Mendez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mamie Carthan Till, Helen Zia, Josh Gibson, Dennis James Banks, Mitsuye Endo, Ellison Onizuka, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Yunus, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
Mentor Text Possibilities: The tone of this book “somber and inspirational” (Retrieved from Kirkus Reviews on 2/9/15.), which makes it an ideal mentor text for any child tackling a complex topic like the civil rights movement. Writers can emulate J. Patrick Lewis’s voice as they craft poems of their own about historical figures or events.
I reviewed this book in 2012. Click here to discover more ways to use it and to take a look inside.
Several publishing houses are giving away one copy of each book listed above. Many thanks to Candlewick Press, Charlesbridge, Chronicle Books, Eerdmans, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Random House for donating a copy for TWT readers. For a chance to win this copy of one of the titles above, please leave a comment about this post by Thursday, February 26th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, February 27th. NOTES: I will draw the winners’ names and assign the books at random unless you state, in your comment, which books you’re most interested in using in your classroom and why. Preference will be given to those (whose names are chosen) who mention specific titles in their comments. Some publishers only ship books to people in the United States, while others will ship worldwide. Please leave your geographic location, if you do NOT live in the United States and/or have a U.S. mailing address, when you leave a comment. Listing the name of the book does not guarantee you’ll win a copy of it if your name is one of the ten chosen since multiple people might request the same book(s).
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – NFPB10FOR10. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed (2/27/15). Thank you to everyone who left a comment about these books.
I used a random number generator this morning to select the giveaway recipients. Here’s who will be receiving books:
- 28 Days: newteach929
- Brick by Brick: Erin
- Harlem Renaissance Party: Mary Ann Reilly
- I Have a Dream: mbcottle
- My Name is Truth: Mary Simmons
- Seeds of Freedom: Monica Browne
- The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch: donna114
- The Cart That Carried Martin: Kristen Picone
- Underground: Natasha Domina
- When Thunder Comes: Katie Morrison
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.