African American History Month occurs in February, but these books can be used to recognize the historical struggles and contributions of black Americans year round.

“All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis, 2014, ages 6-9.

Beautiful watercolor illustrations depict the day, under the hot Texas sun, that a little girl, and the other slaves on the cotton plantation learned of their freedom. Singing, prayer, and joyful shouts could be seen and heard in the fields and around the campfire into the night. The next day everyone awoke to a time that would be all different now. Endnotes from the author and illustrator explain their personal connection to the Juneteenth celebration of slaves’ freedom. Additional information describes important historical dates, a timeline of the Juneteenth celebration, additional online resources, and key terms.

“Freedom’s School” by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome, 2015, Disney, ages 6-9.

Emancipation means freedom, and Lizzie’s mama explains that freedom means working harder than ever before, working hard at learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. African Americans seeking education immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation faced taunting and physical threats as whites tried to keep the world from changing. “Freedom School” focuses on the challenges and joys faced by Lizzie, her brother, as their small community takes the first steps towards equal education for all.

“28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World” by Charles R. Smith Jr., Illustrated by Shane Evans, 2015, Roaring Brook Press, ages 9-12.

In an author’s note, Charles R. Smith described his love-hate relationship with Black History Month. He loves the fact that black culture is shared, but hates the innuendo that this culture is ignored the other months. “28 Days” is a book that can promote the contributions of 28 black people any time of the year. Smith purposefully culled a varied collection of individuals, including Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, but also lesser-known people such as, Crispus Attucks, one of the first met shot in the Revoluntionary War, and Madam C. J. Walker, the richest black woman in America. Award winning illustrator Shane W. Evans, Kansas City, Missouri resident, contributes stunning illustrations that boldly mix collage, oil, and digital techniques. This book is a beautiful tribute to 28 people who helped to make America what it is today.

“Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts”, by Nikki Grimes, Illustrated by Michele Wood, 2015, Orchard Books, ages 9-12.

Award-winning author Nikki Grimes imagines the conversations that would occur if Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony sat down to tea to discuss civil rights for African Americans and equal rights for women. This work of historical fiction brings to life the struggles both women faced and their efforts towards freedom and equality through dramatic monologues based on historical fact. Illustrator Michele Wood, also an award winner, uses oil and acrylic paints to create a visual setting for these presupposed conversations shared between the ladies as they face prejudice and injustice through a spirit of determination.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Dobler