I posted a few months ago about how Buddy Boy, my African American four year old son has already asked me if black is bad. He heard his teachers complaining about how hard it was to clean up black paint after a craft project and understood that to mean all black is bad, including his skin and ethnicity. After that conversation I started making a serious effort to reinforce positive, joyful, appreciative messages of the beauty and value of blackness in all it’s forms; skin color, ethnicity, African American literature, history, art & music, natural elements, poetry, etc. That focus has pretty much taken over this blog I guess. I am enjoying it and continue to find new things to explore and share. I am particularly looking for children’s books by and about people of color. I have to say I think these books are a wonderful addition to every child’s library. White children will benefit from the positive portrayals just as black and brown ones will; after all whites are also harmed by the oppression of racism as it is passed down in our culture. Without black art and literature in our daily lives we are all that much poorer and more ignorant of the richness of our world. If children grow up thinking that books with brown-skinned characters are just for black kids or Black History Month projects they are losing a big part of their own humanity and our common heritage.
Today I want to tell you about a board book called Joy by Joyce Carol Thomas, with pictures by Pamela Johnson. (Jump at the Sun, 2001). This little volume is a delightful song of thanksgiving for the joy a mother feels over her son.
“You are my joy
In every season
Summer, fall, winter, spring
You touch my heartstrings
You are my joy”
The poem goes on to give examples of mother and son enjoying each season. We see them together enjoying the porch swing in summer, rolling in the leaves in fall, playing with snowmen and icicles in winter, and pointing at rainbows and flowers in spring. These activities are so similar to what my youngest boys and I have relished together in the last four years it is as if the book was written for us. I imagine many other families (yours?) will feel the same. The illustrations are warm and happy. There is nothing particularly “African American” about this book except that the family shown is brown-skinned. It could be any mother and child of any race. The mother and son gaze at each other’s beautiful brown faces with such adoration and delight it makes you feel their smiles all the way inside. What a precious gift to share with the children who hold your heart! I think this book will take its place on the favorite shelf in our house.
I am really excited to share with you this next book. The illustrations in Black All Around are done by my blog buddy Don Tate. I have wanted to own one of his books for a while now, and this one is delightful! It is written by Patricia Hubbell (Lee & Low books, 2003) and is a tribute to all that is black and beautiful. It opens with a little girl looking out her window at the night and thinking of all that is beautiful and black:
The wonderful color black is there!
Sleek and jazzy,
Warm and cozy.
Black all around…”
The rest of the book is a poem cataloging beautiful and fascinating things such as:
“The headlines in the daily news.
Patent leather party shoes.
Clarinets and piano keys.
The fuzzy stripes on bumblebees.
A polished stone.
A licorice twist.
Tall trunks of trees in the morning mist.”
The rhythm of the text flows like a song or a chant. I can see children getting into the groove and adding their own contributions of what they see around them that is valuable and intriguing and black. This book can be a spark that lights a fire of satisfaction and celebration. The pictures go perfectly with the music of the text. Bright orange, purple, blue and red compliment and accentuate the glorious black elements that are highlighted. The faces are expressive and vibrant. Swirls of color and movement wrap the characters in delight. This book is just a pleasure to read. Partner up with a child you know and run with it!