February is Black History Month.
I have problems with Black History Month, and most months that celebrate one group of people over another. It’s not to say that I don’t understand the importance of celebrating a group of people’s past, but I feel that should happen at all times and not just in February.
And what does Black History Month mean to a book blogger? Does it mean I read books about people’s struggles only during this particular month? And do I only read books about history, or do I promote books simply because there may be a black character in the book?
Take, for example, In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson ($24.99, Roaring Brook Press, Raincoast Books). In Plain Sight is a wonderful book about a grandfather who looses every day items and asks his granddaughter to help find them. The illustrations are beautiful. My son and I always flipped back a page to see where Grandpa hid the paper clip, bendy straw or paintbrush. They weren’t as in plain sight as you were lead to believe. Sometimes we had to use the clues that Sophia leaves in order to find the missing item.
In Plain Sight is a beautiful book about family and love. Oh, and the characters are black.
How about Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel by Charise Mericle Harper ($21.99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast Books)? This chapter book tells the story about June, who receives a gift from her grandmother – a Wonder Wheel she has to spin each morning and do whatever adventure the wheel stops at. At the same time, new neighbours move across the street with a girl June’s age. From the start, June wants to become Mae’s friend.
My son really enjoyed this book. He kept asking me if I was sure it was over and if, perhaps, I missed a chapter at the end. I am sure we will be reading it again.
I, however, was frustrated with the book, and with June. Mae moves across the street and June stares at her, hoping she can be her friend, but never goes over and just introduces herself. Not even when Mae walks behind her, obviously nervous about her first day at a new school, does June just stop and talk to her. I told my son June made a mistake. If she wanted to be Mae’s friend, she needed to put herself out there, to make it happened.
And Mae. She is black.
Does that matter? I didn’t grow up in a family where skin colour meant anything other then the fact a person may look different then myself. So whether a character is black, Japanese or First Nations doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is that Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel is a lovely story about friendship, and finding someone who laughs at the same thing you do.
I, Too, Sing America, Three Centuries of African American Poetry by Catherine Clinton ($13.99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , Raincoast Books) likely fits into the Black History Month category as each poem is a look at “black” America’s past.
I confess that poetry isn’t my favourite form of writing, although there were many poems in this book that made me stop and think. Most were super powerful and so sad. How we treat people the way we do never fails to surprise me.
Each poem included information about the writer as well as details about the poem itself and an illustration.
Bury Me In A Free Land
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 to 1911)
Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain or lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.
I could not rest, if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.
I could not sleep, if I heard the tread
Off a coffle-gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise, like a curse, on the trembling air.
I could not rest, if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash;
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.
I’d shudder and start, if I heard the bay
Of a bloodhound seizing its human prey;
And I heard the captive plead in vain,
As they bound, afresh, his galling chain.
If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eyes would flash with mournful flame,
My death-pale cheeks grow red with shame.
I would sleep, deep friends, where bloated Might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.
I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of passers by;
All that my yearning spirit craves
Is – Bury me not in the land of slaves!
On Liberty and Slavery
George Moses Horton (1797 to 1883)
Alas! and am I born for this,
To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss,
Through hardship, toil and pain!
How long have I in bondage lain,
And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain –
Deprived of liberty.
Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
This side the silent grave –
To soothe the pain – to quell the grief
And anguish of a slave?
Come, Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
And drive away my fears.
Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
Now bid the vassal soar.
Feel free to check out this YouTube video of Morgan Freeman talking about Black History Month. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the entire interview, which makes me a bit nervous, but Freeman says what I feel. But he is Morgan Freeman, so he says it better:
Copies of these books were provided by Raincoast Books for honest reviews.