The African American Experience: Poetry for Children

The African American Experience blog photo

Introduce young readers to civil rights leaders, artists, performers, and other notable African American historical figures through verse.

 

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike.

 

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange

Celebrated poet and playwright Ntozake Shange captures the spirit of civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King–illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson. Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta Scott knew the unfairness of life in the segregated south. A yearning for equality began to grow. Together with Martin Luther King, Jr., she gave birth to a vision of change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey–with dreams of freedom for all.

 

Martin Rising : Requiem for a King by Pinkney, Andrea Davis

An illustrated tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. celebrates his commitment to non-violent protest in support of civil rights.

 

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford

Presents a collage-illustrated treasury of poems and spirituals inspired by the life and work of civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.

 

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree

 

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill

When Esquire magazine planned an issue to salute the American jazz scene in 1958, graphic designer Art Kane pitched a crazy idea: how about gathering a group of beloved jazz musicians and photographing them? He didn’t own a good camera, didn’t know if any musicians would show up, and insisted on setting up the shoot in front of a Harlem brownstone. Could he pull it off? In a captivating collection of poems, Roxane Orgill steps into the frame of Harlem 1958, bringing to life the musicians’ mischief and quirks, their memorable style, and the vivacious atmosphere of a Harlem block full of kids on a hot summer’s day. Francis Vallejo’s vibrant, detailed, and wonderfully expressive paintings do loving justice to the larger-than-life quality of jazz musicians of the era. Includes bios of several of the fifty-seven musicians, an author’s note, sources, a bibliography, and a foldout of Art Kane’s famous photograph.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

In this powerful biography of George Moses Horton, the first southern African-American man to be published, Don Tate tells an inspiring and moving story of talent and determination.

 

Rock of Ages : A Tribute to the Black Church by Tonya Bolden

A poem celebrating the role of church in the lives and history of African Americans, from the time of slavery through the struggle for civil rights to the well-established churches of today.

 

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Describes the feelings of a fictional character who witnessed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

 

Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange

In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there. These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theater. 

 

This is the dream by Diane ZuHone Shore

A poem of the American experience before, during, and after the civil rights movement.

 

A Poem for Peter: The story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney

A celebration of the extraordinary life of Ezra Jack Keats, creator of The Snowy Day

 

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance — including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era — by combining their work with her own original poetry. 

 

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patrici Hruby Powell

In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

 

Before She Was Harriet: the Story of Harriet Tubman by Lesa Cline-Ransome

A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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