History’s Unsung Heroes + A Three-Book Bundle Giveaway by Keila V. Dawson
Kids know about heroes. They are introduced to superheroes at a very young age, play with superhero toys, and imagine themselves saving the world. In school, students learn about history’s real life heroes. They read books that use the narrative structure of the hero’s journey. Plot is used to teach cause and effect. And they examine character traits are that influence social and emotional growth.
- Who are the Black heroes students typically learn about?
- What historical events, settings, or contexts do these characters appear?
- What obstacles do Black heroes face in the stories about them?
Well-known larger-than-life figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are usually included in the list of familiar Black heroes in school curriculums. Many teachers have likely studied these same figures when they were students, too. Topics such as slavery and the Civil Right Movement are the bookends that largely frame Black History lessons. And Black History Month is typically the time when these heroes and topics are studied. But Black History isn’t regulated to only big events. Things that happen day-to-day, year after year, and behind the scenes building up to those big events is history, too. Not that students shouldn’t learn about these notable heroes and their major contributions, but it’s important to make room for lesser known “hidden figures” throughout history who have also made important contributions to American history.
Because adults are gatekeepers of information presented to children, it is important that we mind the gap of our own knowledge and awareness. From the books featured here, students learn about Black history through stories centered on restricted mobility, the limitations imposed on Black lives, and the ingenuity of the characters who despite their circumstances took action.
And although individuals are often singled out as heroes, they don’t act alone. Social change results from social movements and involves many. Change happens over time and from the commitments by ordinary citizens who have done extraordinary things to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities. The three books featured here give truthful accounts of harsh history but are also powerful stories of resistance, resilience, and resourcefulness. And given civil rights issues are as relevant today as they were decades ago, it is important for children to learn how to tie current events to the past and study what has and hasn’t changed.
Elizabeth Jennings, a New York schoolteacher thrown off a streetcar in 1854, takes her case to court to win the first victory in the battle to end segregation on public transportation.
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito, illustrated by Laura Freeman, Little Bee Books, Nov. 6, 2018.
Georgia Gilmore risks her own livelihood organizing other cooks to fund-raise for gas and cars to help sustain the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Opening The Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book by Keila V. Dawson, illustrated by Alleanna Harris, Beaming Books, Jan. 26, 2021.
Victor Hugo Green wrote and published the Green Book travel guide during segregation opening the road for African Americans travelers when it wasn’t easy or safe. The guide was in print from 1936-1967.
Keila is donating this three-book bundle to any teacher or librarian working in a US school.
A former community organizer, educator, and advocate for children with special needs, Keila V. Dawson is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 2020) and the forthcoming NO WORLD TOO BIG:YOUNG PEOPLE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE also with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, spring 2023). She is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican Publishing 2015) and OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson was born and grew up in New Orleans, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or her website.