Rich Literature to Teach About the Civil Rights Movement

We recently finished teaching about the Civil Rights Movement to third graders at my school.  In a school with as much diversity as mine has, this unit proved to be quite powerful for our students.  I was amazed at the selection of great children’s literature that is available to support a unit about such an important time in our history.  I am going to share about some of my favorites…

Boycott BluesBoycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney (2008): There is so much that is great about this book. First, it’s written like a blues song.  Language like “low-down”, “Dog Tired”, “blue-as-blue evening”, and “struttin'” make it you can almost hear the song of the tired protesters crooning through the pages as you turn them.  Secondly, the color used in the illustrations is striking.  Each page features a different dynamic color swept behind steady, bold black lines.  Shades of green, yellow, blue, purple, and even red highlight the mood of the page, whether it be exhaustion, anger, or determination.  And, as I read this to my students, they caught on to something else in the illustrations that I had not noticed on my first reading.  Many of the pictures contain a sketch of the “Dog-Tired” narrator strutting his guitar.  My students are convinced he’s in every picture, although we could not find him in each one.  Maybe you will… Finally, I love the way Pinkney used the metaphor of a crow to portray everything the protestors were fighting against, a reference to the Jim Crow laws in effect during that time.  A great read!

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford (2004): This Freedom on the Menustory is told by a little African American girl, Connie, who is a witness to the Greensboro sit-ins.  Weatherford writes about the movement through the eyes of a little one who realizes that she is not too young to challenge segregation and help fight for what she knows is right.  I got goose bumps at the end of the book when Connie is finally able to sit at the counter in Woolworth’s and enjoy the best banana split she’d ever had, just like any white girl!   I love how this book is told from the perspective of a child in 1960 as she struggles to make sense of the discrimination she sees around her. The author’s note in the back of the book tells more about the events of the 1960’s sit-ins and would be great to read to students to give them context and a little background knowledge before reading the rest of the book.  Jerrome Lagarrigue painted the illustrations in this important 30-page picture book.

Taste of Colored WaterA Taste of Colored Water by Matt Faulkner (2008): This was my favorite book about the Civil Rights Movement to read to my students!  Lulu and Jelly are completely awed when a classmate tells them about a “water bubbler” in the big city that has “colored water”.  Anticipating flavors like cherry, lemon, orange and apple, the cousins become determined to find a way to the big city to taste the water in this fountain for themselves. As you can imagine, when they finally do make it to the city, the children find more going on than just colored water spurting from a water bubbler.  This book has so much character and voice and was a total delight to read out loud to my 3rd graders, especially as I watched them comprehend Lulu and Jelly’s misunderstanding of what colored water was.  The book beautifully illustrates the innocence of children and is a reminder to all readers that children learn prejudice from the people who teach them.  -Marika