Black History Language & Literacy Books

In the United States, Black History Month is recognized and celebrated each February. The origin of this significant month is due to the efforts of Harvard scholar, Carter Woodson, and minister Jesse Moorland. In September of 1915, they started an organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), with the mission of promoting the accomplishments of Black Americans and others from the African Diaspora. In 1926, the group sponsored, Negro History Week, in the United States with the same purpose. It took another 50 years before a President recognized the importance of this specially appointed time to recognize the contributions of African Americans in the United States. In 1976, President General Ford implemented that well needed CHANGE to make Black History Month part of the American landscape. You can read more about that history here.

Aside from language, multiculturalism, and the arts, history is another area that I truly love. I love learning facts about people, places, and events. Black people are truly the foundation of so many things in the U.S. and abroad. We exist at the very cradle of civilization and have contributed immensely in the U.S. and throughout the African diaspora. There are countless individuals who have made lasting contributions to every facet of American life. It’s important to share facts about Black Excellence during February and all year long with children receiving speech/language therapy and your children at home. Doing so will expand their knowledge while providing more culturally responsive therapy. Yes, kids can be engaged while learning truths about American history with the numerous contributions of African Americans and those from the African Diaspora. After all, Black History is American History, and World History. Speech language pathologists, educators, and parents must provide an environment that is conducive to the success of Black children and adolescents.

This year, I am recommending a focus on non-fiction books to use meaningfully with children. They can practice a variety of speech-language skills. My top six selections are:

28 Days Moments in Black History That Changed the Word by Charles R. Smith Jr 

This is a great book that provides information about a variety of important people in Black history. Children have the opportunity to learn about individuals that they most likely have not learned about previously. For example, they can learn about Matthew Henson, one of two men who explored the North Pole. He traveled to Central America and on a later expedition reached the North Pole. He was given the name Maripahluk, by the indigenous Inuit Eskimos. Children can learn about Henry Johnson, who was part of an all black regiment of soldiers during World War I. He was a courageous man who received the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military honor. He was memorialized in Arlington National Cemetery with other American war heroes. They may also select to learn information about Bessie Coleman, a Black woman, who received her pilot’s license at the age of 29. She received her international license in France since she was not able to study in the U.S. due to discrimination. Do you know about Althea Gibson? She was the first Black woman to win a tennis championship title. She started playing tennis at age 14 and later won the international Wimbledon championship twice and the U.S. Open twice. Students can also learn about other significant moments in Black History such as the 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education decision that eliminated segregation in schools. There are many other important historical figures and moments in this non-fiction book.

Speech/Language Targets:

Language Memory- recall and restate three key facts

Syntax- produce oral sentences with simple, compound, and/or complex sentence structures

Kamala Harris, First Female Vice President by Rachel Rose

This book is ideal for early learners in kindergarten-third grade. The text is written with simple sentence structures that provide great comprehension practice for children with language disorders, learning disabilities, and autism. In this non-fiction text, students will increase their knowledge about Kamala Harris, the first woman to be elected to the prestigious job of the Vice President of the United States. Children will learn about her multicultural background as a daughter of two highly academic and accomplished parents from India and Jamaica. They will learn about Kamala Harris’ desire to help others and her careers as a lawyer, U.S. Senator, and her current role as Vice President.

Speech/Language Targets:

Vocabulary-students can verbally define tier 1 and tier 2 words

Language Memory- recall and restate three key facts

WH Questions- answer literal who, what, where, when, why questions

Mary McLeod Bethune, A Great Teacher by Patricia and Frederick McKissack

This literature selection is a part of a series of books by the husband and wife team, who have written approximately 100 books about the African American experience in the U.S. and around the world. They have won several awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award. This book is ideal for children in the third-fifth grade. Do you know about Mary McLeod Bethune? She is known for starting a school in Florida to educate girls. She was born in South Carolina to parents who were former slaves. The great news is that Mary was born free in 1875. This would provide her with new opportunities such as attending school. Her first school ended in the sixth grade. Then she went to a boarding school in North Carolina, named Scotia Seminary, at the young age of 12. After that, she attended Moody Bible College in Chicago. Next, she worked in Chicago and then moved to Georgia to teach. Mary was inspired to move to Daytona Beach, Florida when she heard that there was no school for Black girls in that area. She opened her school in 1904 with 5 students. Over the next year, the school grew to 100 students and 3 teachers. She was an ambitious woman who raised money from wealthy sponsors to buy land, build her school, and even a hospital. Her all-girls school later joined with Cookman, an all-boys school that later became known as Bethune-Cookman. It is currently a private historically Black university. Children will learn a lot of important information about the contributions of Mary McLeod Bethune.

Speech/Language Targets:

WH and How Questions- answer literal and inferential questions

Language Memory- recall and restate five key facts

Syntax- verbally communicate simple, compound, and complex sentence structures about the book

Booker T. Washington Leader and Educator by Patricia and Frederick McKissack

In this non-fiction book, elementary school students can learn about another historical African American, Booker T. Washington. Although he was born a slave in Virginia, he was able to overcome those challenges and make a positive impact on American society. As a young child, in 1861, the Civil War began. There was a divide between the Northern and Southern States. In 1865, soldiers visited the plantation where his family lived two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed all slaves. His family and many others did not immediately hear this important news. His family then moved to West Virginia to gain work. He had the opportunity to attend a Black school for children and learned to read. He also had to work in the coal mines and as a housekeeper. Later, Booker T. Washington heard about another Black school in Hampton, Virginia. He traveled 500 miles away to attend this school that was known as Hampton Institute at that time. He graduated from there in 1875. After graduation, he taught in West Virginia and in Hampton, VA. He later moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, and held his first class in a Tuskegee church in 1881 with thirty students. Then he hired Olivia Davidson to be another teacher and they later got married. She is known as the cofounder of Tuskegee. Students will learn additional interesting facts about the life of Booker T. Washington in this book.

Speech/Language Targets:

Language Memory- recall and restate five key facts

WH and How Questions- answer literal and inferential questions

Syntax- verbally communicate simple, compound, and complex sentence structures about the book

Marian Anderson, A Great Singer by Patricia and Frederick McKissack

Many children like the arts. However, they are most likely not aware of historical Black individuals that paved the way for modern day artists. In this literature selection, children in grades 3-5th can learn about the life and contributions of Marian Anderson, a famous singer. She started singing at the age of 6 and she also fell in love with the sound of the piano when she heard a Black lady playing this instrument.  Although her family was very poor, she had aspirations to become a professional singer. Unfortunately, at that time, many music schools did not teach Black children. She eventually found her first voice teacher, Mary Saunders Patterson, and then another teacher Giuseppe Boghetti. By the time she was 21, in 1918, she sang in a concert at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. She later sang with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Marian Anderson traveled and performed internationally. Her first concert abroad was in Germany in 1930 and she later performed in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Due to discrimination in the U.S., many performers had opportunities in Europe that were not so easily attained in the U.S. When she returned to the U.S., she sang in many states and performed at a concert in the famous Carnegie Hall in New York, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial for an audience of 75,00o people. Additionally, she was the first African American to sing a leading role with the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera Company. Marian Anderson was quite accomplished. She served as a delegate to the United Nations and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

Speech/Language Targets:

Vocabulary- define tier 1 and tier 2 words

Language Memory-recall and restate five key facts

WH and How Questions- answer literal and inferential questions

Hidden Figures, The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Many students have heard about the famous women that were instrumental in the space industry because of the 2016 Hidden Figures movie. I like that this book provides an overview of their contributions. This book is ideal for children in grades 3-5 and middle school students. They will learn about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden. They were bright and talented women who excelled in math, science, and engineering. The Black women are important because they worked for NASA and were instrumental in the development of advancements in the space industry. For example, Katherine Johnson is known as a brilliant mathematician whose calculations were essential to the success of numerous space missions including Apollo 11’s mission to the moon and back.

Speech/Language Targets

Summarization- verbally communicate key information about each Black woman

Vocabulary- orally define tier 1 and tier 2 words

Syntax- verbally communicate simple, compound, complex sentence structures about the book

Have you used these books in speech/language therapy previously? These non-fiction texts are ideal to use with children during individual or group language therapy with children with communication disorders, language disorders, learning disabilities, and autistic children. Review my previous blog posts with language & literacy content including recommendations of other great books for February and to celebrate Black History. If you desire read alouds celebrating Black History, check out Sankofa YouTube channel. I have a few on the Building Successful Lives YouTube channel too.

*****

Tamara Anderson, M.S., Ed.S., CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathologist

Education Specialist

Diversity & Equity Advocate

 

Share