Tag Archives: African American History

Literary Nonfiction texts

Biographies, autobiographies, journals, memoirs, articles or picture books about true events, and diaries written in the form of a fictional story are part of the genre, literary nonfiction. The text should include story elements such as rising action, reaching a goal or high point and falling action. Years ago, I remember the librarians were told to update their biography sections by weeding all the biographies with dialogue that the author created to make the story seem more interesting. Now, in Texas, one of the genres on the STAAR is “Literary Nonfiction,” and we are having to hunt for elementary texts to fill this genre that are very much like the old style of biographies that were written in the form of a story.
Karen Barbour knew Mr. Williams as one of her grandmother’s friends. She interviewed him about what his life was like growing up on a farm in Arcadia, Louisana and has written his story in first person narrative as if he were telling it. This book is a good selection for African American History month as well as Mr. Williams is African American. He was born in 1929 and died in 2000.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
The author includes a historical note about the real Chinese-African-Cuban girl from Cuba, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who at the age of ten-years-old, was the first female to play drums publicly in a band. Before, the drums had been an instrument only for boys. An author’s note explains the history behind this story.

The Book Itch Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This book is based on the life of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976). He opened the first African-American book store in Harlem in the late 1930’s. The action in the story takes place in the 1960’s. His story not told as a true biography is a good one to use as literary nonfiction since the story has elements of a fiction story. Michaux had the grit and drive to sell books from a cart until he had enough to open a book store. The bank told him that they would loan him money for a food service business, but not for a book store because black people didn’t read. Micheaux believed knowledge is power and made his dream come true. One of his visitors to the store was Muhammad Ali. Michaux made up lots of verses and rhymes similar to the ones Ali was known for creating but they were all about reading and the power of words. Another of his visitors was Malcolm X. In the story, Malcolm X was planned to speak, and Michaux was supposed to sit right beside him. He was late and was not there when Malcolm X was shot and killed. This is a very good historical fiction picture book and a great read aloud. An author’s note explains the nonfiction inspiration of the story.

In this true book, we see a great plot, rising action, climax, and falling action. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg in Canada, rescues a bear cub from a hunter who has killed it’s mother. As he tames the bear, he lovingly decides he can no longer safely care for her while he is in the military service in WWI. It’s written in picture book format and works great as a read aloud.

Here’s another true story with the elements of literary nonfiction. The details are not provided about exactly how it came about, but an accountant discovered gum that would make bubbles.

In this story about how a school was built in a remote village of Pakistan The procedures are mentioned in the form of paragraphs. The story does have a beginning, middle, and end and fits the characteristics of literary nonfiction.

Firebird by Misty Copeland


Dancer, Misty Copeland, the first African American prima ballerina, writes from a young dancer’s point of view. The character believes she will never fly as a dancer like Misty Copeland. The author uses metaphors such as “you are the sky and clouds and air” to show the girl’s feelings toward her idol. After the dancer expresses her lack of self-confidence, Misty’s character tells her she is just beginning saying, “let the sun shine on your face your beginning’s just begun.” She shares with the reader that she was once like the girl with only a dream. This is a wonderfully inspirational story about practice and goal setting that students could relate to as they struggle to meet their goals and dreams. Students who struggle with confidence and self-esteem could gain a new perspective from Misty Copeland’s story. The author includes a wonderful note of encouragement to the reader at the end of the book. The illustrations are fluid and superbly depict the flying ballerina. This book would be a wonderful addition to any library.

Schema: dancing, learning

Story Elements: Problem, feeling like she will never reach her goal

Solution: practice and never give up

Metaphors and similes are used throughout the story to show the feelings of the characters.

Mental Imaging: The reader can imagine how high the ballerina is leaping with the help of the illustrations.

New Shoes by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Schema: being discriminated against

In the story, the main character and her mother arrive at the shoe store before a white girl and her father. The store clerk helps the white family first, and the white girl is allowed to try on several pairs of shoes before making her purchase. Ella Mae’s mother has to trace Ella Mae’s feet on some paper provided at the store, and that is how her size is decided.

Text-to-Text Connection: Going Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack

In this historical fiction picture book, two young African-American girls find a way to help children like themselves to be able to try on shoes before buying them. The author’s note explains that in the south before the civil rights movement, black people were not allowed to try on hats, shoes, or clothes before buying them. The girls in the story collect used shoes, clean and polish them, and open their own store in their storage building to help families needing shoes for their children. The girls are excellent female role models.

Eric Velasquez, an African-American, provides very realistic paintings to convey the feelings of the characters.

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Sojourner Truth’s picture book biography tells of her remarkable life and her desire to make a difference for African Americans and women during the 1850’s.
Character Analysis: Sojourner has many traits that could be compared with Dr. Martin Luther King’s life as told in Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport.They were both determined to never give up. Both were ministers, and both were threatened because of their conviction to improve the life of those they sought to help.

In teaching with this wonderful book, I also taught the poem by Robert Frost, Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Both the books and the poem share the theme of never giving up.  The students could imagine both Sojourner Truth and Dr. King saying they had “promises to keep and many miles to go before I sleep.”

Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons


Beautiful illustrations support the text about a family of two African American parents and their three children that is set during the time when African Americans were freed and allowed to legally marry.  They explain the significance of the broom on their wall, a memento from their unofficial wedding ceremony years before. As the story unfolds, the reader learns about the laws during slavery and celebrates with the characters as they are officially married linking the past to their future.  Both the author and illustrator are African American making this an authentic choice for African American History Month in February.

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack; artwork by Leo & Diane Dillon

Schema: slavery

The author tells the story in third person in a poetic format.

Setting: West Africa, 1725

Author’s Purpose: to show the perspective of a family whose child has been taken by slave traders

Voice: The language the author uses creates a unique voice for Dinga

Personification: The four elements: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air are personified as they seek to mother and then find Musafa.

Summary: Tell the story in sequence from Musafa’s birth to his being found again in the Southern United States in Charleston, South Carolina.

Drawing Conclusions: Do you conclude that Dinga went mad or insane with the disappearance of Musafa or do you think the elements could have communicated Musafa’s whereabouts to him?

Hurricanes: Many hurricanes have hit the South Carolina coast. The author notes at the end of the book that there is a legend in Barbados that says the “hurricane is Mother Africa in search of her lost children.”

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Schema: Underground railroad, escaped slaves

Author’s purpose: to share African American history

Author’s Point of View: 3rd person omniscient as we see the story from more than one character’s point of view

Cause and Effect: Because Henry’s family was sold, the effect was that Henry went to the extreme of mailing himself to escape the sorrow of slavery.

Characterize Henry: hard working, good listener, loving, strong

Mental Images: Henry imagined the carts carrying away his family and all that he loved every night.

Drawing Conclusions: Henry knew that the mail was delivered everywhere. He thought he could stand being in a box for many hours. He drew the conclusion that he could mail himself north to escape slavery.

After Henry’s family is sold, he purposefully pours sulphuric acid on his hand so that he could stay home from work in order to get some help in mailing himself to the northern states to escape slavery in the southern United States.

 

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson

Schema: Underground railroad, slaves escaping from the southern U.S.

Metaphor: The quilt as a cover of darkness is compared to the night sky throughout the story as the slaves must hide during the day time and move at night.

Author’s POV: 1st person

Author’s Purpose: to share the history of African American slaves and the people who helped them

Voice: the story is told from an unnamed girls point of view in first person

Mental Images: imagine hiding under a bush in the hot summer and not being able to move much

The story is about a family running to the north for freedom.

 

 

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Schema: Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Text-to-text:  Freedom on the Menu: the Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford

Metaphor: The story uses an extended metaphor to compare the Civil Rights movement to a recipe throughout the story.  Author’sPurpose: to share a story about the civil rights movement and to teach us about African American history

Author’s POV: 3rd person

Cause and Effect: Because the demonstrators were nonviolent, the effect was that the national news only captured the violence of the angry white people which made Dr. King’s message even stronger.

Mental Images: Imagine having salt, ketchup, and coffee poured on your head and pepper thrown in your eyes and still sitting calmly

Organizational Strategies: the story is organized like a poem

This is the story of the four college men who began the Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, February 1, 1960. The author shares a story in language and illustrations that tell what happened with a positive point of view and a message of hope for the future. The metaphor of a recipe is used to mix the ingredients needed to end segregation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hired Hand by Robert D. San Souci


Schema: fairy tales, element of magic

Genre: traditional literature

Setting: Virginia

Predicting: Predict what young Sam will do when the man comes back with the request to make his wife young again

Character Motivation: What motivates young Sam to charge the man for what the hired hand did?  What motivates him to change at the end?

Compare and Contrast young Sam and old Sam:

Characterization of young Sam: He damaged the saw blades because he didn’t clean the logs first concluding that he is lazy; he cuts the boards unevenly concluding that he is careless; he refuses to sweep the shop concluding that he is again lazy and disrespectful toward his father; he is dishonest and arrogant as he “puts on airs” when he is in charge.

Characterization of old Sam: hardworking and kind

Internal consistency of young Sam’s character: What types of things would you see young Sam doing in the future?

Big Idea or Theme: Work hard and treat people well or trouble will find you.

What evidence supports the conclusion that young Sam learned a lesson?