Now, my family was a special brand of black folks, heavy into encouraging my siblings and I to appreciate our roots and be proud of our history. We were that family that went to the Kwanzaa festival every year and dressed in terrible fake Kente clothe for the black history month pageant at the Presbyterian church (it’s what we could get in Richmond, don’t hate). So it makes sense that the children’s books my parents picked for my brother and sister and I would reflect their pseudo-Afrocentric values, and looking back on it, they chose pretty damn well. Peep the literary list below and let me know if you remember any of these African American Classics in Children’s Lit:
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears – The ultimate game of ‘my momma’s sister’s cousin’s baby daddy’s uncle’s mechanic’s father told me…” that was ever played in the animal kingdom. And a baby owl died as a result. Also, the cover has to have best instance of illustrated side-eye I’ve ever seen. #ColdWorld #Goodbook
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – I feel sweaty just remembering having read this book. But it was good, and served as a solemn reminder of the life my grandmother left behind in Mississippi. Definitely eye opening for a kid living in the ‘burbs during the 1990s.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – The classic tale of warring sisters, this book told the story of my life. I thought I was the sweet, innocent Manyara, but my sister will tell you I was more like the wicked Nyasha. Still freaked me out that the prince was a garden snake, though. Maybe Nyasha was better off not marrying him anyway.
Amazing Grace – The root of my modern ‘I’m a black woman and can do anything’-ness stems in part from this book. Grace doesnt give two damns what you think, she’s gonna be Peter Pan, REGARDLESS of her gender or race. She plays no games, she’s brave and daring, and she gets the part in the end. Play on, playette.
A Story, A Story – This book was my first exposure to Ananzi stories. Ananzi the spider man was clever, tricky and knew how to get what he wanted (stories) from the sky god Nyame. An African MacGuyver, if you will, except way more nimble.
Abiyoyo – The only things I remember about this book are that Abiyoyo looked like a bolt of lightening and that me and my brother and sister would sing out ‘Abi-yo-yooooooooooooooo’ in the deepest voice possible around the house. Just brings back good memories of mischief makin’ :)
Goggles! – Ezra Jack Keats perfectly captures the joyous rapture of finding a pair of glasses. In Richmond, before dudes in Coogi sweaters were wearing gold-rimmed Gucci glasses, and waaaaaay before your favorite rapper was wearing sunglasses in the club, Peter was stunting hard in his goggles. Haters gon’ hate, indeed.
**Honorable Mention – Virginia Hamilton’s books (Sweet Whispers Brother Rush, The People Could Fly, The House of Dies Drear). That woman was a children’s literature workhorse and I couldn’t fit all her memorable works in this one post, so I decided to shout her out.
So, peeps, what early books shaped your life experience? Any that stick out to you in particular? Share in the comments section!