Tag Archives: American History

Martin’s Children

7 Jan

January 15 is the 86th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, the legendary Civil Rights Leader. The Hoboken Library and other BCCLS libraries have countless books on Dr. King and his legacy.  However, it is even more interesting to read the stories of the people who were inspired by Dr. King to foment change in our country, or even those who predated Dr. King by fighting Civil Rights’ battles before the protests and demonstrations of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In this list of books, I have assembled only a small sampling of books about people who actually put their lives on the line to bring about change.  Most of these books are aimed at slightly older readers, perhaps from fourth grade through teens, because the subject matter is often hard to explain to younger readers.  For these children, it is appropriate to focus on Dr. King and Rosa Parks, the most identifiable and most written about figures of the Civil Rights’ Movement.  However, slightly older readers can expand their reading to include people, often students of their own age, who showed incredible courage to bring about the necessary change to our country.

(Click the images for links to the catalog.)

The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil rights Movement, by Teri Kanefield.


“And the children shall lead.”  This is the story of a Virginia high school student who led a 1953 strike to get her ramshackle “separate but unequal” school brought up to viability.  When local groups would not back her on this crusade, she became a driving force, through non-violent protest, in getting schools integrated so that African American students would attend schools of equal quality to their white counterparts.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement, by Paula Young Shelton.


The daughter of activist/politician/UN Ambassador Andrew Young shares her memories of growing up in the Civil Rights movement.  She speaks specifically about experiencing Jim Crow laws as a child, when she could not enter restaurants and movie theatres patronized by white people.  She also recalls sitting underneath the family table as Dr. Martin Luther King and her parents planned non-violent action.  As a four year old child, Shelton was taken by her parents to the historical march in Selma, Alabama.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joseph Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson.


Two great men, both religious leaders of their own people, led parallel lives that led them to reach out to one another at a particular time in history.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel had experienced, first hand, discrimination against Jews in Europe and learned from his father’s wisdom to, “Walk like a prince not a peasant.  You are as good as anybody.”  In different words and different ways, Dr. King learned and conveyed the same lessons as they walked, side by side, in the march in Selma, Alabama.

We Shall Overcome, the Story of a Song, by Debbie Levy.


It started as a hymn sung in African American churches, but it became a mighty anthem and the song most associated with the Civil Rights movement.  The lyrics conjure the unity and determination of a movement: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome someday.”

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney.


The husband-and-wife team join their talents to tell the story of the lunch counter protests of 1960 became a part of history.  Through well-chosen words and food metaphors, Ms. Pinkney recounts the action of the seed group of four students who sat, politely, at a luncheonette counter in a “white’s only” area and asked to be served as equals.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, by Russell Freedman.


The premier writer of juvenile non-fiction tells the story of Ms. Anderson, a child of Philadelphia, who developed her amazing contralto voice in church choirs.  Discriminated against in the United States, she went to Europe and trained to be a concert artist but, when she returned to her own country, she was prevented from performing in many venues.  The most notable act of discrimination occurred in 1939 when Anderson was forbidden by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) from performing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.  Championed by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the concert was moved to the Lincoln Memorial where Marian Anderson’s voice reached 75,000 people on the National Mall and thousands more through radio transmission.

The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine, by Judith Bloom Fradin.


It took one woman to be an instrument of change.  This is the story of Daisy Bates who served as a mentor to the nine courageous young people who, under Federal guard, integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Despite death threats and personal harassment, Daisy and her group faced down a hostile community led by Governor Orval Faubus who blocked the doors of the high school to prevent the entrance of the Black students.

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levinson.


This is the story of the historic march on Birmingham told through the eyes and personal recollections of four people who participated.  Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker III, Annetta Streeter, and James Stewart represented different aspects of the Black community, yet they came together to take part in this protest.  There were approximately 4000 young people involved in the protest, and 2500 of them were jailed for their participation.  The book also highlights the life of Fred Shuttlesworth, a compatriot of Dr. King’s whose work is less well known.

The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko.


(This book will be published in 2015).  Until 1958, it was illegal for people of different races to marry in many states under miscegenation laws.  A Virginia couple who had married in Washington, D.C. and then returned to their Virginia home to raise their family, Richard and Mildred Loving were subsequently arrested for breaking the law prohibiting interracial marriage and became the test case in the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned these discriminatory laws and upheld their marriage as lawful.

The most amazing thing to me is that most of these books are far from ancient history.  Children can easily find older family members and members of their communities who can recall viewing the events of the 1960s on their small-screen television sets.  Meanwhile, it is important to understand the scope of the work that Dr. Martin Luther King and his compatriots carried out through books and films available through the library.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

Behind the Barbed Wire Fence

24 Sep

Some time this year, a new musical will open on Broadway called, “Allegiance.”  It is the story of actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) and the years his family spent interned in Japanese internment camps during World War II.

The detainment of American citizens based on the country of origin and their race is a dark chapter in our nation’s history.  Fueled by anti-Japanese sentiments after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nearly 120,000 Americans were sent to camps across the west and in the south purely because they were Japanese.  The conditions in the camps were bad.  Men in the camps were asked to swear loyalty oaths and those that didn’t, the “No-No boys,” were either imprisoned or repatriated to Japan, a country some of them had never even visited.  Many young men, to prove their loyalty to the United States, enlisted in the Army as part of the 100th/442nd.  This unit of the military was the most highly decorated unit in military history

On January 2, 1945, almost seventy years ago, the Supreme Court decided that loyal American citizens could not be imprisoned and, by 1946, the camps were closed.  However, the Japanese-Americans imprisoned during that time lost their dignity and their property.  Only one governor, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, stood against the Federal government and gave state citizenship to the prisoners in his state.  To quote Governor Carr, “If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.”

In the following list, I have included both fact and fiction; adult, young adult, and children’s books.  We learn best by remembering the mistakes that were made in the past.  The following books are an important step in teaching children about this little acknowledged chapter in American history:

Voices from the Camp: Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II, by Larry Dane Brimner.












Author Brimner details personal testimony of Japanese American survivors of the World War II forced evacuation. The book discusses the actual “relocation” of Japanese Americans, daily life in the camps, and how people were treated upon their return to their former homes.  It also discusses the burden of shame that survivors of the camps carry. (Grades 7 to 12)

Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II, by Michael Cooper.












Examines the history of the Japanese people in the United States including the mass relocation and the recruitment of Japanese men to the 100th/442nd, the most decorated unit in the U.S. military. (Grades 6 to 12)

The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel.











When a young woman in Denver becomes pregnant by a soldier, her father sends her into an arranged marriage to a farmer in Southern Colorado.  Taken from her home and urban lifestyle, the woman is at loose ends until she befriends two young Japanese women in the nearby Amache camp.  This friendship accidentally leads to the escape of German prisoners of war and the prosecution of the Japanese women.  Based on a true story, this is an excellent book club selection.  It was also made into a 2005 Hallmark movie starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich.  (Grades 9+)

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies, by Sandra Dallas.












When 12 year old Tomi and her family are “relocated” from Southern California to a camp on the Colorado plains, their lives go through upheaval.  Tomi is an optimistic girl and not only makes an adjustment, but helps other people in the camp to adjust, as well.  However, Tomi’s father had been imprisoned without cause and when he finally returns to his family, he is no longer a patriotic American, and his disillusionment spreads to his daughter.  Only after Tomi writes a prize winning essay on Why I Am an American do father and daughter make their peace with the treatment they experienced.  (Grades 4 to 8)

Tallgrass, by Sandra Dallas.











When a young girl is murdered on a Colorado farm, the residents of the nearby Japanese internment camps are suspected.  A local girl observes the presence of prejudice in her community, even as her father displays his ethics by fighting bigotry.  (Grade 9+)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.












This popular book club selection takes place in Seattle just before the war.  A young Chinese boy who is a jazz aficionado, befriends a Japanese girl and a Black musician.  The two children experience racial discrimination as they are drawn to each other.  (Adult)

Silver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment, by Kimi Cunningham Grant.











A young girl in Pennsylvania denies her Japanese heritage until she learns the story of her grandmother’s relocation to the Heart Mountain Camp in Wyoming.  (Adult)

Dash, by Kirby Larson.












When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino must give her beloved dog, Dash, to a neighbor.  During her imprisonment, it is the ongoing letters about Dash that keep Mitsi connected to the outside world.  (Grades 3 to 7)

Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki.










A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball as a survival strategy when he is in the relocation camps.  After the war, when he has returned home, playing baseball for his school helps him to survive prejudice.  (Grades 1 to 5)

I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment, by Jerry Stanley.












A highly personal portrait of Shi Namua, one of the nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent who were evacuated to internment camps.  This book places discriminatory racial laws and segregated California schools in the perspective of wartime jingoism. (Grades 3 and up).

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.










This is a beautifully rendered newer edition of a classic autobiography for younger readers.  Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old when her family was sent to Manzanar along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans.  The author describes camp life, an attempt by reluctant prisoners to establish a “normal” day to day life by creating schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, having “sock hops,” cheerleading squads, and all of the trappings of American life outside of the camps.  (Grades 7 and up)

To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu, by George Takei.


Image via Amazon

Before he became an actor and became well-known for the part of Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, Takei was a young California boy who, with his family, was deported to an internment camp in the Arkansas swamps, and later transferred to another camp in California.  Takei, who has always been a political activist, also discusses his early work on California strawberry farms which helped him to understand issues of migrant labor.  For “Trekkies” or “trekkers,” the book touches on well-known conflicts between Takei and actor William Shatner. (Adult)

Several of the books mentioned in this list are fine selections for book discussion groups.  While many (young) Americans are not even aware of this chapter of American history, it is an important lesson in life on the home front during World War II.

-Written by Lois Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

%d bloggers like this: