Great Books: Beyond Martin, Rosa, Harriet & Jackie

Compiled by Ife Lenard, Co-Director of The Meeting House at Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School


Addy Walker's family is planning a dangerous escape from slavery in the summer of 1864. But before they can make the escape, the worst happens--Master Stevens decides to sell some of his slaves, including Poppa and Addy's brother, Sam. Addy and Momma take the terrible risk of escaping by themselves, hoping that the family eventually will be together again in Philadelphia. Set during America's own struggle over slavery, the Civil War, Addy's story is one of great courage and love-- love of family and love of freedom.


Jake Makes a World follows the creative adventures of the young Jacob Lawrence as he finds inspiration in the vibrant colors and characters of his community in Harlem. From his mother's apartment, where he is surrounded by brightly colored walls with intricate patterns; to the streets full of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, sounds, rhythms, and smells; to the art studio where he goes each day after school to transform his everyday world on an epic scale, Jake takes readers on an enchanting journey through the bustling sights and sounds of his neighborhood.  Includes a reproduction of an actual Migration series panel by the renowned American artist Jacob Lawrence


This critically acclaimed picture book suitable for a wide range of readers chronicles the Great Migration—the diaspora of African Americans who headed to the North after WWI—through the iconic paintings and words of renowned artist Jacob Lawrence. The New York Times praised it as "a compassionate and sensitive portrayal of American history.”

After World War I, large numbers of African Americans began leaving their homes in the rural South in search of employment, and a better life, in the industrial cities of the North like Chicago and Pittsburgh.  Jacob Lawrence chronicled their journey of hope in his sixty-panel Migration Series, a flowing narrative sequence of paintings that can now be found divided between the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection.

In this profound picture book, Lawrence brings all those landmark paintings together and pairs them with poetic text that further explores the experience of those enduring this mass exodus. From dealing with poor working conditions and competition for living space to widespread prejudice and racism, this is the story of strength, courage, and hope of the more than six million African Americans who were trying to build better lives for themselves and their families. This book features an introduction from Lawrence—whose family was part of this great migration—about its personal significance as well as a poem by Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers.


Famed artist and author, Faith Ringgold recounts the dream adventure of eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who flies above her apartment-building rooftop (her 'tar beach') looking down on 1939 Harlem.  Tar Beach, which has won more than 30 awards -part autobiographical, part fictional- is an allegorical tale sparkles with symbolic and historical references central to African-American culture. The spectacular artwork resonates with color and texture. Children have experienced pure delight and joy in the universal dream of mastering one's world by flying over it.  “A practical and stunningly beautiful book."-- Horn Book



Faith Ringgold's fifteenth book for children with illustrations that again capture all the joy and passion of her previous stories, Henry Ossawa Tanner: His Boyhood Dreams Come True is a story of an African American boy who followed his dream and became one of America's most important painters, recognized and praised in both America and Europe. When he was just thirteen years old, Henry ran across a man painting in a Philadelphia park. Inspired to paint himself, Henry was given enough money to buy some brushes and pigments by his mother--and so his adventure began.   Henry Ossawa Tanner was no ordinary young man. He was born in 1859, just two years before the Civil War began. His middle name, Ossawa, was taken from the town of Osawatomie in Kansas, the site of an anti-slavery raid. The oldest of seven children, Henry graduated from one of the few secondary schools for Black people in Philadelphia before studying under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Later he went to France, where he had heard Black artists were accepted without prejudice. Indeed, not only were his paintings exhibited every year in the Paris Salon but in 1923, he was made a chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor, France's highest award for an artist.  


Famed author Faith Ringgold thrills children by bringing Cassie the main character from the picture book Tar Beach back in this 32-page lap book. As she takes us on a tour of her home, neighborhood, and school, dozens of new words are introduced with simple labels throughout. Young readers will love the simple story line and all the new words they’ll encounter. They’ll relish the beautifully designed spreads, each with its own quilt motif. The bright, boldly colored pages will attract even the youngest lookers, and the words will teach pre-reading skills to slightly older children. The size makes it perfect for story hours, and the price makes it perfect for every home.


Dreaming of long-ago Africa, she sees animals, shops in a marketplace, reads strange words from an old book, and returns to the village where her long-ago granddaddy welcomes her. Another winner of the Coretta Scott King Aware, phenomenal children’s author Eloise Greenfield’s lyrical telling and Byard’s marvelous pictures make this book close to
an ideal adventure for children, black or white.’—Publisher’s Weekly


In this Caldecott Medal winner and popular must-read that appears on library shelves for thousands of early childhood classrooms, this brilliant West African tale has stirred wonder and delight for younger learners as Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster.



Following the success of their much beloved picture books, Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please, Academy Award nominated director Spike Lee and his talented wife Tonya Lewis Lee offer up an inspirational picture book about activism and taking the big steps to set things right along with beautiful illustrations by the award-winning Sean Qualls. Using examples of people throughout history who have taken ‘giant steps’, this book urges kids to follow in their footsteps and not be hindered by fear or a sense that you are not good enough. Despite the challenges, even the smallest step can change the world. So, what's your next step going to be?


Acclaimed author Jabari Asim, of "A Taste Of Honey" and "Only The Strong” invites children to explore their toes in a beautiful way by playing "This Little Piggy”.


Anansi the Spider, a 1973 Caldecott Honor Book, is a long-standing classic that features Anasi - who is one of the great folk heroes of the world. He is a rogue, a mischief maker, and a wise, lovable creature who triumphs over larger foes. In this traditional Ashanti tale, Anansi sets out on a long, difficult journey. Threatened by Fish and Falcon, he is saved from terrible fates by his sons. But which of his sons should Anansi reward? Calling upon Nyame, the God of All Things, Anansi solves his predicament in a touching and highly resourceful fashion.  Illustrations are bold and rich in color with traditional African design motifs and authentic Ashanti language rhythms.  Start your journey fascinated by the clever Anasi, and continue with a series of books about the tales of this spectacular little spider.


Younger readers learn how no one pitched like Leroy "Satchel" Paige.  They hear how fans packed the stands to see how many batters he could strike out in one game. He dazzled them with his unique pitching style, and he even gave nicknames to some of his trademark pitches -- there was the "hesitation" -his magic slow ball, and the "bee ball" -named because it would always "be" where he wanted it to be.  Follow Satch's career through these beautiful illustrations as he begins playing in the semi-pros and goes on to become the first African American to pitch in a major League World Series, and the first Negro Leaguer to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.




As a Reading Rainbow Selection, the winner of George C. Stone Center for Children's Books' Recognition of Merit Award, and an ALA Notable Children's Book, Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems is a beloved book of poetry that wonderfully features sixteen ‘love poems’ spoken straight from the perspective of a child.  Splendid poems that tell of love and the simple joys of everyday life like riding on a train, listening to music, playing with a friend, skipping rope, or keeping Mama company till Daddy gets back.  Each poem elicits a new appreciation of the rich content of everyday life and is accompanied by both portrait and panorama drawings that deepen the insights of the poems.


Leroy “Satchel” Paige was that rare American icon who has never been captured in a biography worthy of him. Now, at last, here is the superbly researched, spellbindingly told story of athlete, showman, philosopher, and boundary breaker.  Award-winning author and journalist Larry Tye tracked down the truth about this majestic and enigmatic pitcher.  A stirring account of the child born to a poor Alabama washerwoman, Satchel earned his nickname from his enterprising work as a railroad porter and took up baseball on the streets and in reform school as a young man before becoming the superstar hurler of the Negro Leagues.  In unprecedented detail, pre-teens and teens love reading about how Paige, hurt and angry when Jackie Robinson beat him in breaking the Majors’ color barrier, emerged at the improbable age of forty-two to help propel the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. “Age is a case of mind over matter,” and “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” he said.  Rewriting history of baseball’s integration with Paige in the starring role and separating truth from legend, Satchel is a story as large as this larger-than-life man.


The Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award-winning classic is about a boy who decides to hit the road to find his father—from Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963, also a Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honoree.  It’s 1936, in Flint Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him.  He has an idea that his flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road to find this mystery man, nothing can stop him—not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.


All eyes are on seventeen-year-old Lonnie Jackson while he practices with his team for a city-wide basketball Tournament of Champions. His coach, Cal, knows Lonnie has what it takes to be a pro basketball player, but warns him about giving in to the pressure. Cal knows because he, too, once had the chance—but sold out.  During the tournament, the team battles for the championship as the last seconds of the game tick away and Lonnie and Cal must make key a decision. Are they willing to blow the chance of a lifetime?