In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Maudrie M. Walton Elementary librarian Lydia White discusses books for students to learn about Black history. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Kristen Barton: Hello everyone, this is Kristen Barton at the Fort Worth Report and I am here today with librarian Lydia White at Walton Elementary School. We’re going to chat about some books to learn more about Black History Month. To get started, just tell me why it’s important to you that the students read about Black history during Black History Month.
Lydia White: There is a saying that says, if you do not know history, it repeats itself. You learn from things you learned from history. We’ve learned a lot all the way from the Mayflower coming over to the United States, and becoming the United States. Along the way, a lot has happened. Some things are good things. Some things are not so good things. It doesn’t matter. History is important. And, for me, history should always be correct.
It’s important to me that the students are reading, period. The key thing for students is that they read books they enjoy. But we also read for another reason, and that’s for information. And that’s where Black history comes in.
It’s important that all students, if they are interested, that they know about Black history, that they know that there are some events that happened along the way that caused our people to be where they are today. There were a lot of things that went on before the Civil Rights era, during slavery, and many things went on in the United States. Whether it was ugly or not, the stories should be told.
Barton: You have some titles here, some recommendations that parents or even the kids can read. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about them?
White: I chose a variety of books. A lot of the books that I choose that are fiction have to do with kindness. They have to do with who you are and being the best person that you can be, sort of uplifting for the children to read.
- “All Because You Matter” by Brian Collier and Tami Charles, this is a good book for all children to read, because you know what? People matter. All things matter. That’s one of my favorites. Boys like to read this one, I think because it’s a boy on the front.
- I pulled the Jacqueline Woodson title because she is just a good author. And this book is called “The Day You Began.” And it just talks about how you could just begin as a person, how you find yourself. I pulled another one of hers — this is a middle school book of hers, “Feathers.” Another one of hers is “The Other Side.” That’s a popular book. It simply tells the story of the friendship of a little Caucasian girl and an African American girl.
- “The Skin I’m In” is by Sharon Flake. This is on the sixth grade Fort Worth ISD list. It’s about a dark-skinned girl and how she becomes comfortable being dark. When I was the librarian at Forest Oak Middle School from 2002 to 2014, this was a book I pushed. A lot of the girls really love to read it.
Barton: That’s such a time for young girls to be learning so much about themselves.
White: It is. My sister once said you could not pay her a million dollars to be a teenager again. And so I always kept that in mind while being a middle school librarian.
- “Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop” is a book about the sanitation strike of 1968. It is the reason why Martin Luther King Jr. visited the city of Memphis, where he subsequently lost his life and it just tells the story from a little girl’s point of view. With children, you have to meet them where they are. There has to be some delicacy when you talk about the Civil Rights movement, when you talk about slavery.
- “When I Colored in the World” is by Ahmadreza Ahmadi. I chose this one and as you can see, there are no African American people. I’m going to read you a portion of this. It says “darkness, I rubbed out the word darkness. I wrote the word light with my yellow crayon with my yellow crayon, I made lights come on all over the world. I gave the world yellow.” This book just uses the word colored but it just tells the story of how you can take words like dark and turn it into light. Words like war and use the word peace instead of war. So I use that because you know what, the battle still continues. That battle still continues.
- This book I got last year, “The Most Perfect You” by Jazmyn Simon. Simon is a former Walton Elementary student. She reached out to us after she wrote this book and asked to set up a short interview with our principal and then she sent us copies of her book. It’s simply about a little girl who comes into her own.
- This is another one, “The Seeds of Friendship” by Michael Forman. It tells the story of a little African American boy who moves from the Bronx to somewhere else and his plight of getting to know the people who are not like him.
These are all books about Black history, because there was a time when African Americans felt inferior. How do you build people up? Through inspiration, you build them up by setting an example and giving an example of what they can do with themselves, who they can be.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.