February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on the United States’ continued fight for racial justice and to celebrate Black Americans’ cultural contributions and achievements.
And what better way to mark the occasion than by picking up a book?
From children’s picture books to adult literature, there are countless such that offer readers a chance to explore complicated facets of American history and learn about the increasingly diverse world around them.
The Daily News asked several local bookstores and librarians for their top Black History Month reading recommendations. Here’s what they suggested (and where you can find a copy):
‘Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race’ by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli and Isabel Roxas
This book makes the perfect starting place for teaching children about race, according to Alyson Cox, owner of independent book store Word on the Street in Marlborough.
Photos:Word on the Street — a new bookshop — opens in Marlborough
“As the author points out, ‘Children notice a lot — including skin color, race, and even injustice and racism,’” Cox said. “It seems to me that we can inspire good citizens by meeting kids where they’re at, talking about their experiences, and exploring ways to be accepting and kind, which is exactly what this book does.”
Available in board book or hardcover picture book (for $8.09 and $13.49, respectively) at Word on the Street, 109 Main St., Marlborough.
‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot
The central question in this fascinating nonfiction, according to Leah Yerre, owner of Aesop’s Fable bookstore in Holliston: “How can a woman who is partially responsible for one of the most significant advances in medicine be totally unknown and totally uncompensated for her contribution?”
“Written in an easy to read, journalistic style, the story of Henrietta and her family will pull you in immediately,” Yerre said. “A little bit of science, a little bit of history, a commentary on social and racial justice, this true account about the origin of HeLa cells is both eye opening and shocking.”
Available for $16 at Aesop’s Fable, 400 Washington St. Suite 200, Holliston.
‘The Reluctant Royals’ (series) by Alyssa Cole
“I feel strongly that it’s just as important to read about Black lives as it is to read anti-racism texts, and this is a series of modern fairytales with complex, truly delightful characters who win your heart even as they continue to surprise and charm you,” explained Miki Wolfe, director of Natick’s Morse Institute Library.
With three full-length novels and two novellas, the contemporary romance series has stories to suit a variety of readers, Wolfe said.
Series available through the Minuteman Library Network.
‘Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America’ by Ibram X. Kendi
“This is a book everyone should read to understand the origins and motives behind racist sentiments,” Yerre said. Don’t be too intimidated by its size — it’s a comprehensive but fast-paced read, she added.
Kendi also teamed up with fellow author Jason Reynolds to create editions appropriate for teens (“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You”) and early middle grade readers (“Stamped (for Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You”).
Related:What kids of all ages should be reading for Black History Month (and all year)
“We love recommending a combination of these books to families so that everyone can read along together — reading and discussing books at home is a great way to spark meaningful discussions about hard topics,” Yerre said.
“Stamped from the Beginning” is available for $19.99 at Aesop’s Fable (teen and kid editions available for $18.99 and $15.99, respectively).
‘Class Act’ by Jerry Craft
According to Wolfe, this YA book addresses “race, socioeconomic issues, and the social perils of adolescence.”
“The comic medium allows for a richly nuanced discussion of microaggressions and friendships, and highlights the ability of friends to commit to ‘doing the work’ when their institutions fail them,” Wolfe said. “There are so many solid talking points that readers both young and old can use to spark discussions among their own social circles.”
Available through the Minuteman Library Network.
‘Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans’ by Kadir Nelson
“This work on nonfiction is told in short, conversational chapters narrating Black Americans’ history from the American Revolution through the Civil Rights Movement,” Cox summarized. “The accompanying illustrations are stunning.”
Available for $9.99 at Word on the Street.
‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett
“’The Vanishing Half’ is a wonderfully layered multi-generational family saga about escaping your past and choosing an identity for yourself that is not based solely on what people see when they look at you,” Yerre explained.
“Primarily told from the eyes of identical twin sisters, we watch as their lives take very different turns all based on their racial identity,” she added. “Riveting and emotional, this is a novel you won’t want to put down.”
Available for $27 at Aesop’s Fable.
‘Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South’ by Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin Kelly
This “powerful and brutally honest story” chronicles artist Winfred Rembert’s coming-of-age in the Jim Crow South, according to Wolfe.
“It’s gorgeous and haunting and utterly compelling, and the narrative interspersed with Rembert’s stunning works of art will simply grab the reader and not let go,” she said.
Available through the Minuteman Library Network.
‘One Crazy Summer’ by Rita Williams-Garcia
This critically acclaimed historical fiction novel follows three sisters visiting Oakland, California, during the summer of 1968, amid the civil rights movement.
“It’s obviously keenly written, but I’d add compelling and wonderfully poetic,” Cox said. “It’s not a poetry book, but the prose is so graceful! The characters are unforgettable and the story is in turns heartbreaking and funny.”
Available for $7.19 at Word on the Street.
Abby Patkin is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Abby on Twitter @AMPatkin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.