Media Reviews: Books about Black History

Amy Hay
The Bell Rang

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

This beautifully illustrated picture book is a poem told through the eyes of a young girl. The simple poetry depicts each day of a week for a family that lives and works on a plantation as slaves. Each day after the bell rings, the adults go to the fields and Ben, her older brother, says goodbye to her. On Thursday, the family wakes up to find out that Ben is gone; he has run away. This is a bittersweet story about losing a brother/son and knowing that he is really not lost, but free. FOR AGES 5-10

Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Denene Millner, illustrated by Salini Perera

This historical fiction novel tells the story of Sarah Breedlove, the first person in her family to be born free in Louisiana. Her mother said she was going to do great things. Sarah lost her parents at a young age, but she never forgot her mother’s dreams for her. She went on to develop Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a product for black women that enabled them to grow healthy, beautiful hair. Sarah started her own business and became the richest woman entrepreneur of her time. FOR AGES 8-11 

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Defying Hitler: Jesse Owens’ Olympic Triumph by Nel Yomtov, illustrated by Eduardo Garcia

This book is a simple graphic novel fit for middle grade readers. It shares the facts about what Jesse Owens went through to get to the German Olympics in 1936 and tells how he was a great runner, a courageous man, and a hero to all those around him. This book will be enjoyable for many readers. FOR AGES 8-11 

The Long Ride by Marina Budhos

Jamila, Josie and Francesca are the only mixed-race girls in their neighborhood. They have always been best friends and stuck together through everything. But this year, things are different. The city is trying something new, and the girls are part of the “experiment” to integrate their neighborhood with an all-black school that is miles away. Francesca’s parents decide to send her to private school, which leaves Josie and Jamila on their own to try to fit in at this new school. At first, Jamila thinks it will be great because maybe now she will finally fit. However, she soon finds out this is not the case. Read this amazing historical fiction novel to find out more about these brave girls. FOR AGES 9-13

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Essie was born in Savannah in a home filled with comings and goings of men visiting her mother. She hates it there and when she is a young teenager, she takes the first opportunity to escape that life to work at a boarding house. When a prestigious black woman, Dorcas Vashon, comes to stay, Essie is intrigued to find out how she can become part of Dorcas’ world. Essie leaves Savannah with Dorcas and starts her life over as Victoria. Will she be transformed and become someone, or will she always be the daughter of her ill-reputed mother? FOR TEENS


African American History Online

This is a great research database that is available through the Columbus Metropolitan Library website. CML subscribes to the database, and it is available online to all cardholders. From the home page, go to the “Research” tab and choose “Homework Tools” from the dropdown menu. This database is the first one on the list. Students who are doing research for African American history can find many articles, maps, images, videos, timelines, primary sources and more. FOR AGES 10 AND OLDER

Amy Hay is a youth services librarian at the Gahanna branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.