February is close to Clover’s heart. It’s a special month set aside to not only celebrate Valentine’s Day but to observe Black History, and “Celebrate our Connections,” one to another. No matter the color of our skin, we all share so much—close family ties, deep friendships, intense beliefs and emotions, the whole gamut of what makes us human.
This month’s books open our worlds and expand our horizons. We meet characters of color and learn about their experiences and contributions as they share their stories, from the past and present.
The Community Literacy Foundation, in partnership with Neighborhood Reads and with support from its sponsors, provides these books to 40 school and public libraries in Washington, Union, Pacific, St. Clair and surrounding communities. Learn more at CommunityLiteracyFoundation.org.
“Big” scored recently, earning the coveted Caldecott Award, an honor for its creator Vashti Harrison, who also illustrated this visually pleasing book with a strong message about learning to love ourselves, just the way we are. Harrison is the first Black woman to win the Caldecott.
The child at the center of this story is just an infant in her crib when we meet her, “… a girl with a big laugh and a big heart and very big dreams.” That’s a bunch of bigs for such a little one, bigs that become burdensome as she grows.
As a wee human, the girl did as she was told and earned praise from adults who’d quip, “What a big girl you are.” This was perfect until she got older and outsized her classmates in elementary school. Suddenly being big made her stand out, and caused the girl to draw into herself, her inferiority mushrooming when she’d compare herself to others. Ballet, which she’d always loved became a trial, her tutu, suddenly too-too much.
When an embarrassing incident occurs on the playground, the girl reaches a low point as others poke fun at her. “It made her feel small.” Thoughts about her size become the girls’ obsession, until finally one day, “She let it all out.”
This wise, wonderful read, with expressive, pastel illustrations, encourages us to think about how we see about ourselves—and consider how we treat others who might be struggling with their self-image.
“After the war was over, everyone was missing someone,” so begins “Do You Know Them,” an engrossing story by Shana Keller that focuses on Lettie, a Black girl trying to find her family after the Civil War. Though Lettie is fictional, the facts are not—Blacks, once enslaved, were free, but in the chaos of the war many loved one were separated.
Lettie spends years learning to read, thanks to her uncle. The girl does so because she has a plan. Once she is literate, Lettie can write and place an advertisement in the newspaper asking if anyone has knowledge of her family’s whereabouts.
Placing ads was commonplace in the post-war years, often leading to families being united. But print advertisements cost money, a lot in those days when the country was in the throes of reconstruction. To further complicate matters, many Blacks couldn’t read so the advertisements were read aloud in church.
Knowing her parents, brothers and sisters had to be found, the hopeful child made learning to read a priority, and began saving pennies each day by doing tasks for others, sweeping floors and the like. These savings paid off in a big way for Lettie who was courageous and determined.
Lettie’s journey to find her family, and text from some of the actual advertisements, combine to tell this touching tale so brilliantly illustrated by Laura Freeman.
Sage is 12, a life-changing time for the girl, who lives in Brooklyn, her existence touched by fire in an area that becomes known as The Matchbook. Sage’s neighborhood is burning, the derelict structures so close to each other that often one fire leads to another. Billowing smoke, flames, and screaming sirens become the norm for Sage, her mother, and area residents in “Remember Us” by the incomparable Jacqueline Woodson.
An all-consuming passion for basketball provides an escape for Sage, who plays pick-up games with the boys, and her new special friend Freddy, who moves to the neighborhood. Sage admires Freddy, and wishes she had a big, extended family like he does.
Freddy and Sage play lots of ball, and are joined by other guys, all of whom welcome Sage to the court because she has excellent hoop skills. While being accepted by the boys makes her feel good about herself, Sage struggles with her relationship with girls, wondering how she measures up and fits in—and she continues to miss her father, a fireman who passed away fighting a fire.
As Woodson beautifully relates Sage’s intimate story, the girl’s intense feelings and misgivings about herself become achingly real, drawing empathy from readers. Author Notes at the end of the book explain more about The Matchbox in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in the 1970s and 80s.
Written by Chris Stuckenschneider. Copyright 2024, Community Literacy Foundation.