In this episode we discuss some great books for celebrating Black History Month, but we also discuss some important books for parents to read to equip themselves for having important conversations about race.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. This is the last week of February, and this has been Black History Month. I have waited to do a podcast about Black History Month, just because I’ve been doing some great research that I’m happy to share with you today. You may have seen several lists of great books to read for Black History Month with your kids. There are so many really wonderful picture books out there that are really great to share and to help our kids understand the experience from a perspective of an African-American. We don’t want to forget the history. We don’t want to rewrite history. We don’t want to repeat history. And so we need to teach our kids about slavery and about the Civil Rights Movement, even the issues that are hitting our nation, even now that we are trying to wrestle with and work through. So I do think we need to talk about these things, but I am going to put a few books in the show notes, but I’m not going to read from them and go into great detail with them because I want to focus on a little bit different take on Black History Month. And so first I want to mention a few books that I think are good for talking about the history.
And so there’s, Henry’s Freedom Box, a true story from the underground railroad by Ellen Levine.
Then we have Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter. And this one talks about Peg Leg Joe. There’s a song about “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” which is referring to the Big Dipper and helping the slaves who are escaping in the underground railroad to know which way to go.
A couple other books. I just want to mention, of course we have the different ones about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. There’s several biographies written about them. I’ve mentioned some and you can find several that are just really good.
In addition to those, I love poetry from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, because for some that was the first time that African-Americans were for many of them able to receive a college education and where we came into the Jazz Era and really began to embrace this truly American form of music that came from the African roots and was made a powerful tool in the hands of someone who still grieved for their grandfathers and grandmothers who were slaves and who were trying to find their place in this culture. The poetry of that era is so powerful. Jazz music has so much in it as well, but there’s this one book called This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt. This one tells the story of several of these jazz artists like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, it’s written for preschoolers. And it actually is written in a rhythmic way where you can sing it to “This Old Man” and help the kids then remember the stories that way. But that’s one that I think would be really fun to share with your kids.
And there’s one more story that I think is really important. This is a modernized version of the story it’s called The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, and it’s adapted by Anne Cameron from his autobiography, from his story. So this is a shortened and modernized version of the story, but it still holds true to his experience. And I think this would be a good one to read with upper elementary to middle school aged children. It’s a little bit older.
Another one that might be interesting to read, and this one goes away from the purely historical accounts of slavery and the civil rights and all of that, although it does definitely deal with that, is called Teammates by Peter Golenbock. This is a story about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in major league baseball from 1947 and his experience and all that he went through and the struggles he had as one of the players on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. It deals with the history. It has photos and illustrations throughout, and then covers the fateful game when Peewee Reese, the Dodgers shortstop, embraced Robinson as one of his teammates on the field. And these kinds of stories are powerful for our kids to see, and to understand that the hatred that was in our nation and is still in some places in our nation is evil. It is not what we do as believers. It is not what we’re called to do. We’re called to love. And we’re called to treat everyone as someone created uniquely by our heavenly father. Each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I think we have to have these conversations. We have to talk to our children, but just as God took the Israelites out of Egypt, as they walked through the desert in those 40 years, yes, it was partly a punishment because they weren’t ready to follow God and believe him. They were not thinking as God’s people as a Holy nation called by God. They were still thinking like slaves. And I say that because here they are, every time something gets tough. They’re like, at least we had food. When we were slaves in Egypt, at least we were provided for you. And so they kept wanting to return to that life of slavery. God had to use that 40 years in the wilderness to help change the minds and hearts of the people. And that generation that had been enslaved died off. And the new generation that was being raised up was being raised as a Holy nation, who followed God and obeyed God. And he was really calling them to that.
Well, we have that same battle in our own lives. As we become believers, we are tempted to go back into the life of slavery, to sin. We are tempted by the call and the pool of sin in our lives and are tempted to have a slave mentality that we don’t have the strength to endure the evil of this world or to overcome it. And especially if we’re dealing with addiction or a pit sin that constantly harasses us, I’ve seen it so many times. They just want to give up and return to that life of slavery and some do. And so we are always battling a slave mentality in our spiritual lives. And as we’re talking about black history month, and as I’m teaching children, I don’t want to instill in any child as slave mentality. I don’t want everything to be focused on the slavery of the past.
I want to focus on where God is taking us now as a nation, as a person, as an individual. Where is God taking us now? And so as we talk about Black History Month. Yes, we need to learn from the past. We don’t need to rewrite history. We need to learn from the mistakes, so we don’t make them again. I’m not saying that, but we need to also embrace some wonderful books that are out there that show the positive contributions many African-Americans made just to culture in general, and to our lives in general. Let’s not leave that out. When we’re talking about black history month let’s instead celebrate the contributions of those. And so we need to celebrate the people who have contributed to our culture. I want us to make sure we don’t miss out on that with Black History Month. So that’s why I like Teammates because it’s dealing with Jackie Robinson who contributed to major league baseball and broke many barriers there.
That’s why we celebrate Mr. Rogers and what he did to cross those barriers with his show and what he demonstrated by the now famous clip, where he has his feet in the pool. And he invites the postman who’s African-American to put his feet in the pool as well. And of course, that just broke all the rules that many people had of not sharing water with other races. We want to celebrate those who broke those rules and celebrate those who tried to bridge the gaps between people. So I want us, as we talk about Black History Month to do the same thing. Let’s celebrate together the contributions of some wonderful African-American people in history.
And so one book I want to share with you is called What Color Is My World: The Lost History of African-American Inventors. And this was by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld illustrated by Ben Boos and A. G. Ford. And this book has several biographies of different inventors who contributed American culture throughout history. The first story in the book is about Fred Jones. And you may not have ever heard of Fred Jones, but he wound up as an orphan and was educated in the Catholic church schools. And, but he invented the refrigerated truck. And if you think about how important the refrigerated truck is to our culture today, it, his contribution needs to be celebrated. We need to learn to remember him and be thankful for what he accomplished without him. We wouldn’t even have our modern day Costco and supermarket. So we couldn’t transport perishable food from one state to another doctor, Percy Julian. He’s the one who’s synthesized cortisone to help with people’s pain.
Another look I want to share with you is called George Washington Carver for Kids: His Life and Discoveries with 21 Activities. And this one is by Peggy Thompson. Any book about George Washington, Carver is amazing. His story is amazing. I’ve always loved teaching about him and reading about his life. He was amazing and amazing inventor farmer and leader, and he was born into slavery during the civil war and then was okay, educated and graduated from Iowa agricultural college. And he helped so many people with his inventions and what he learned and his research in farming. This particular book is for nine year olds and up, it’s not a picture book. It’s more educational for having some fun with science and learning his story. There is the picture book, A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David Adler and Dan Brown. And this one is also available if you want a picture book for younger kids.
One more I want to share with you is, of course, we have to mention the women who have influenced engineering and NASA with their math skills. And one of those stories is called Human Computer: Mary Jackson Engineer written by Andi Diehn and illustrated by Katie Mazeika. This is a picture book biography. There are five books in that series. These women didn’t just fight for the civil rights of African-Americans, but they also had to deal with sexism and crossing barriers where men didn’t think women should be in NASA and in engineering and computers and the whole STEM arena. Any of us can do whatever God has called us to do, you know, who he has called us to be. If we just have the bravery and the perseverance and determination, we can be obedient to him and see how he is going to use us. So those are the books for children that I want to just mention and list out. And I want us to not just focus on the negative history, but let’s focus on the positive history.
I have to add one more because this is one of my all time favorite essays. It is by Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.” I love her attitude. I think we can all learn from her attitude. She was a young girl in the 1920s who didn’t really even understand what it meant to be black at first, because she didn’t even realize she was black. She was just a girl who was living her life in her community. And then when she went to college, all of a sudden, she says, “I remember the very day I became [colored]black.” Because when she got to college, she realized she was different and people treated her differently because of your skin color.
Now I wanted to spend just a few minutes talking about some books for us, because I think as parents, we really have to educate ourselves and be prepared to answer questions our kids may have. And first of all, being familiar with history, ourselves, really looking at what is being taught in our schools and in our community, the whole critical race theory and what it’s actually teaching, what Black Lives Matter really stands for.
And those kinds of issues. We’ve got to educate ourselves and not just embrace what sounds good on the surface. I don’t usually get really controversial in my podcast. I try really hard not to get too controversial because we all have our different opinions and understandings, but I am very concerned by some of the things I see happening in our culture today. And I’m trying very hard to truly see what is behind a lot of the teaching and what is actually being taught and what the actual beliefs are. And when I do that with critical race theory, and I do that with Black Lives Matter, I’m very disturbed by what I see. I have too many unanswered questions with Black Lives Matter. They don’t give a clear answer to how they’re going to do what they’re talking about, how they plan to achieve the very unstructured goals that they list on their website.
Things like that. That really bothered me. It bothers me that many white people are carrying a guilt that they don’t deserve. We are considered racist just because we’re white. Many of us were not raised that way. If anything, we erred too much on the other side of not seeing color. Now we’re being told that is wrong. And I understand that, that we need to understand where a person comes from and the struggles they’ve had. And that goes, that really doesn’t have to do just with color. We’ve all had different experiences in different trials and different struggles. And there are many white people who have climbed out of poverty, terrible situations of abuse and all kinds of things. So we all have a story and we all have our issues. And we need to begin to look at individuals as individuals and care about people. And I know that we can’t always do that.
I know that people are grouped into groups and into different factions, as it turns out sometimes. And we have to approach those things with wisdom.
One book I have just really enjoyed reading and looking into is one called Reading While Black: African-American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope written by Esau McCaulley. And this book has just been so interesting. I haven’t finished reading the whole book. That’s why I’ve waited so long to do this podcast because I wanted to read the whole book and I’m still in the process. But what I have read has been interesting and fascinating and hopeful. And so I recommend this book. I think it’s a great book that we should read just to gain, understanding, to gain some insight.
This whole journey into trying to understand the theology and the teachings that are in the black church happened because I ordered a picture book that was written by an African-American woman, and I read the story and I was actually disturbed by it because the theology was just way off. It didn’t make any sense. But one of the things within the story that I did see that I had never thought about was the whole idea of slavery in the Bible and how it would be interpreted and viewed from an African-American perspective. I’ve always felt slavery was wrong. I understand the teachings in the Bible are more concerned with how we react to our situation, whether slave or free than it is about condemning slavery. And that’s always bothered me. It’s bothered other people, but that’s because that’s not what Jesus was trying to focus on. That was not what Paul was focusing on in his writings because at the foot of the cross, we’re all equal. There is no slave or free or Greek or Gentile or Jew. We’re all at the foot of the cross on equal ground. Whether we find ourselves in a situation with a bad boss, or we are a slave, or we’re free, we have a responsibility to bless those who persecute us, to love those who are around us, to love those who we supervise in our job, in the marketplace, and to be, you know, responsible persons in our culture and to be loving and contributing to our society. And so that’s the focus of what we do is as a Christian in our culture. Well, to read the picture book that I read was the first time I realized this writer was actually saying they were taking the story of where the Israelites are taken into slavery because they have worshiped idols. And they drew a parallel with that saying that many black communities in Africa and in the Caribbean had started worshiping idols and had gone away from the true God. And, therefore, God allowed them to be taken into slavery. And I was just really blown away by that because I had never heard that parallel drawn before. And I wasn’t even sure, I’m still not sure, I agree with that. I just feel like, I mean, God did allow evil people to do evil things during that time. And I don’t know if that was why, if God was calling the African communities to repentance and back to following him, I don’t know. I’m not the person who can judge that, but that was something I had never even thought before.
And then this book Reading While Black helped me to understand even more of how, from an African-American perspective, the stories in the Bible come alive in a slightly different way. And also we see that he talks about the abuses of scripture during slavery and how slave owners justified owning slaves, which just I find appalling. But I also realize that I am a 21st century citizen, and I’m interpreting scripture with a 21st century mindset. They were raised with a different mindset, even though it was wrong. I can’t completely condemn people who had those wrong views because that’s what they were taught. We have to overcome wrong teaching. That’s why we have to have the wisdom of God. That’s why we have to live as Christians, as citizens of heaven, as people who are only here as exiles on this earth, because we really are citizens of heaven.
And we have to interpret life from that perspective, we have to live a biblical culture or a Christian, truly Christian culture, and not just live an earthly manmade culture. That is not easy. It requires that we constantly seek discernment and seek God’s wisdom and seek his perspective, his understanding, and his heart. And I feel like this book helps me to do that. As I read this book, I began to see things from a different perspective. And he says in the book too, that we need to understand other cultures’ perspectives of the scripture and how the different stories hit them and how the different stories teach them. There’s a slightly different understanding sometimes to scripture. And we abuse scripture when we only look at it from a selfish perspective, from a self-centered, ethnocentric perspective. The abuses we see of scripture today all go along with the American dream and the idea that the New Age idea of the Universe will give us what we believe. Those things are being put into the biblical teaching, and it’s causing a terrible heresy to be taught within our culture today. And so that’s another controversial issue that I just feel so strongly about. And when I do my seminars, I teach a lot about trying to protect our children and protect ourselves from falling into the trap of the New Age teachings that are creeping into the Christian Church. And so this is also a part of this whole thing is we have got to get back to scripture, reading it with the eyes of a follower of Christ, not reading it from the eyes of a white American or a black American or an Asian American, but reading it with the heart of Christ and the mind of Christ and understanding what God was trying to teach us and how we are to live as a result of that.
Another one to consider reading, I’ve heard Miles MacPherson speak. He talks about many of the principles in his book The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation. And this is by Miles MacPherson and Drew Brees. Miles Macpherson is a pastor in San Diego who has led workshops dealing with race and bringing in what he calls the third option of love and acceptance and understanding that we’re all created in God’s image. And so this is another book, what little bit of it I have read and what I’ve heard him speak about from this book, is a really important book for us to read.
And so those two books I want to recommend. My hope is, my goal is, with this podcast to just help us as parents to know that there are ways we can educate ourselves and not just feel confused and thrown about by everybody’s differing opinions and bring wisdom back into the picture. I feel like sometimes that’s been thrown away in the name of political correctness in this podcast. I’m trying to call us to research, to think, to pray, to seek God’s wisdom and to make wise choices when we’re talking to our kids about these difficult subjects, but we’ve got to approach these things with wisdom, whatever the conversation is.
I will put a lot of links in the show notes this time. I hope that these things will challenge you and bless you, and that you can find comfort in God’s word, find the truth in God’s wisdom, and that we can help teach our kids to be loving people who love people.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life and with the adults in your life. We have a lot of conversations that need to take place in our culture today.
Other Links and Resources:
Devotional for today’s episode: “A Christian’s Response to Racism and Injustice” by Joel Muddamalle for Proverbs 31 Ministries
Race in America with Dr. Alveda King (watch for free on Christian Cinema right now)
“Black Lives Matter Is a Marxist Movement” with Will Whitt and Dr. Carol M. Swain
“What I Can Teach You about Racism” by Dr. Carol M. Swain
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!