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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World. Written by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast Books. 2015. $21.99 all ages

"Day 11

June 15, 1921

Bessie Coleman
receives her pilot's
license in France
since no American
flight schools accepted
women or blacks."

What an important and celebratory book Charles R. Smith Jr. has penned in honor of Black History Month. In his introductory note, he tells his audience that he has always had concern -'a love-hate relationship' - for sharing black culture only one month of the year. He explains what he wanted to do in this new book:

"I wanted to bring Black History Month alive. I wanted to go beyond the familiar names and faces I saw every year without new additions. I wanted to show the variety of accomplishments black people have achieved, not just in the long ago past, but in recent times and present day as well. Ultimately, I wanted to provide a wealth of information for teachers and students alike all in one book."

When his editor, Neal Porter, asked him to consider a book that was focused on the 28 days in the month of February, Mr. Smith set about finding stories. He made the decision to start in 1770 with Crispus Attucks , and then move forward to the present, and President Barack Obama.

"... A slave,
a sailor,
a patriot was he,
Crispus Attucks struck
the first blow for liberty.

First to defy,
first to die,
Crispus Attucks sacrificed
for the flag we hold high."

Following the poem, there is a short, detailed paragraph concerning Crispus' life and his place in black history. With each turn of the page, the author and illustrator provide text and context for those chosen to tell the rest of the stories. Some of the subjects chosen are lesser known than the more famous men and women many of us have come to know. I was inspired to learn their roles in the many events showcased here and to learn of their sacrifices, despite being often faced with hatred and cruelty. There was so much I did not know!

I did know about Bessie Coleman and Madam C.J. Walker; I had read exceptional picture book biographies about them (Fly High, Borden, Simon & Schuster, 2001, and Borrowed Names, Atkins, Henry Holt, Macmillan, 2010). The research is clearly exceptional. What a terrific way to get children and adults talking about bravery, strength, endurance, loyalty, self-confidence, and personal dreams and goals.

Shane Evans creates brilliant artwork to accompany each poem, using collage and oils. The colors are bold and the images powerful, totally in keeping with the power of the poems shared.

The final poem, Day 29, is for today and every day!

"What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day
you make history?

Will your thoughts evolve science,
will your skill earn gold,
will your life story be
one worth being told?"


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