Jim Haskins is a prolific writer with more than one hundred books to his credit. Many of his books highlight the achievements of African Americans and illuminate the history and culture of Africa itself. His range is broad, moving from simple picture books in the Count Your Way series (reviewed on page 4) that introduce kids to a culture through the numbers one through ten, to more sophisticated picture books such as African Beginnings (reviewed on this page), to entertaining ghost stories such as The Headless Haunt (1994, HarperCollins, $13.95), and biographies of great men and women-Thurgood Marshall, Spike Lee, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, to name a few.
Haskins is a master of narrative clarity and dramatic writing. In his book about Marshall, the first chapter is an excellent course in the US history of segregation. In Spike Lee (1997, Walker, Ages 12 up, $15.95.), according to our reviewer, Kathleen Karr, Haskins has written an in-your-face sort of book about an equally aggressive, in-your-face individual. In One More River to Cross (1992, Scholastic, Ages 8 to 12, $13.95 and $4.50), Haskins closes by saying "you can murder a man but not the ideas for which he stands."
Haskins does not shy away from controversial issues. His book, The Scottsboro Boys, recounts the trial of nine African-American men for the alleged rape of two white woman. It is a searing look at racial injustice. I am Rosa Parks (1997, Dial, Ages 7 to 10, $12.99) is an easier to read version of Haskins acclaimed book Rosa Parks: My Story. According to our reviewer Meredith Kiger, "this autobiographical story of a prominent woman in the struggle for civil rights should be in every school library. Rosa tells of her life growing up in the South and how it felt to be black in that culture. Following her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, the story covers the resulting boycott as well as other ensuing struggles for civil rights and those who lead the struggles."
Separate But Not Equal is one of Haskins' most recent titles. It describes the appalling history of black education and his hope for the future. One thing that we can feel confident of is that the future holds many more wonderful nonfiction books from Jim Haskins.
Contributor: Marilyn Courtot
African American Entrepreneurs
Black entrepreneus are better known than most other figures, and Haskins brings readers biographies about some of the better known names such as Madame C. J. Walker and Barry Gordy Johnson. Some enterprising individuals like Marie-Thèrése Metoyer struggled to make enough money to free family members from slavery. Elizabeth Keckley in the 1860's served as a dressmaker to Mary Tood Lincoln, yet died in poverty and obscurity. Pictures, drawings, excerpts from letters and documents are interspersed. The black and white illustrations are muddy, which may be due to the quality of the originals, although even those from modern times are not that great. That aside, there is a wealth of information and it is presented in a readable style. The book also has a chronology, notes, bibliography and index. An excellent resource for any school or public library, this book is part of the "Black Stars" series. 1998, Wiley, Ages 10 up, $19.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
African American Military Heroes
Many Americans may not realize that 5,000 free blacks joined the Continenetal army and fought in the Revolutionary War. When the United States was formed, however, blacks were no longer welcome in the military. It took the Emancipation proclamation and the need for men to serve in the Union army before a great number of black men were able to be part of the military. In World War I black troops worked mainly in support area and in World War II separate units for blacks were established. Finally in 1954, all of the services were integrated. Haskins reviews all of this history through the stories of those who served in the armed forces. Pictures, drawings, excerpts from letters and documents are interspersed. The black and white illustrations are muddy, which may be due to the quality of the originals, although even those from modern times are not that great. That aside, there is a wealth of information and it is presented in a readable style. The book also has a chronology, notes, bibliography and index. An excellent resource for any school or public library, this book is part of the "Black Stars" series. 1998, Wiley, Ages 10 up, $19.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
James Haskins and Kathleen Benson
Paintings by Floyd Cooper
Richly illustrated and rich in information, this picture book introduces the early kingdoms of Africa. Readers are transported thousands of years into the past where they learn of the Nubian culture, the kingdom of Kush and then move forward in time to the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Benin, and Zimbabwe. The emphasis is on the contributions these cultures made to art, science, literature and the downfall brought about by trade with Europe, colonization, and the loss of so many talented young people to the slave trade. 1998, Lothrop, Ages 7 up, $18.00. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Amazing Grace, the hauntingly beautiful and spiritually uplifting hymn was written, ironically, by a man whose logs, journals and other writings make up "one of the most detailed records of the slave trade that has ever existed." Jim Haskins' biography of the Englishman, John Newton (1725-1807), recounts the man's troubled youth, his experiences on slave ships as crewmember and captain, and the illness that ended his sailing at the age of 29. It describes how Newton became a minister, wrote a number of hymns-including Amazing Grace-in collaboration with the poet William Cowper, and many years later, became active in the movement to abolish slavery. Put this on your "Good Book, Bad Cover" shelf when you get it, for its unimaginative cover will otherwise attract few readers. 1992, Millbrook, Ages 10 up, $13.90. Reviewer: Beverly Kobrin
The general public knows little of the African-American struggle to enter the world of aviation. Early pioneers, including Eugene Bullard and Bessie Coleman, had to go to France to obtain their licenses because of racial discrimination in the United States. During WW II, Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, the only black general in the U.S. Army, headed a pilot training program called the "Tuskegee Experiment." It was the result of a directive issued by President Roosevelt to the War Department to establish a black flying unit. 1995, Scholastic, Ages 7 to 12, $14.95 and $4.50. Reviewer: Lelia Toledo
Black, Blue and Gray - African Americans in the Civil War
Members of the Hannibal Guards, a black military organization in Pittsburgh, sent a letter to the US military commander of Western Pennsylvania as the Civil War began. In a pertinent part it read, "...as we consider ourselves American citizens... although deprived of all our political rights, we are ... willing to assist in any honorable way or manner to sustain the present Administration... " This poignant quote is but one of many stirring commentaries contained in this well-paced, impressively researched history of African-Americans in the Civil War. Unlike most other children's books about this topic, this one reads like a comprehensive historical account. Its chronological approach to the Civil War and its aftermath includes a discussion of Reconstruction and the US Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, which enshrined the principle of separate facilities for blacks and whites as long as they were ostensibly "equal." In its treatment of subjects beyond but still inextricably linked to the Civil War, this book provides a superior treatment of this period in history. The author's narrative skills are also a significant factor in making this an excellent choice for young readers, teachers and librarians. 1998, Simon & Schuster, Inc., Ages 10 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Bruce Adelson
Count Your Way Through Africa
Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson
Illustrations by Beth Wright
Count your way from one to ten - in countries around the world. This series, including "Count Your Way..." through Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, and the Arab World, entices the number-curious and provides information on the geography, people and customs of the countries in question. These books will be useful additions to elementary social studies curricula as well. Introductory sections and pronunciation guides are included. 1996, Carolrhoda, Ages 6 to 9, $18.95 and $5.95. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
Count Your Way through China
Illustrations by Dennis Hockerman
This is a great introduction to China and the Chinese words and characters for the numbers one through ten. Each number has a two-page illustration with lovely borders and the appropriate number of objects. The objects are arranged in such a way that it is not obvious how many there are. This encourages readers to point to each one as they count-just to make sure the items match the number. The items have obviously been selected with care and the text is quite interesting. Number four shows legendary animals and tells Chinese myth about how the world came to be created. Number five depicts musical instruments and explains that Chinese music is based on five tones rather than on the eight tones of most Western music. It would have been nice to put the names of the countries on the map for number one, and I would like to know when the eight volumes on porcelain making were written. However, this is a wonderful little book. 1997, First Avenue Editions/Lerner, Ages 6 to 12, $14.21 and $5.95. Reviewer: Adele Mujal
Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad
Anecdotes, facts, and folklore combine to tell the story of the courageous efforts of the men and women who put their lives on the line to share freedom. Actual photographs of people, places, and posters bring history into focus. Well written for older children, the pages turn quickly as readers return to the frightening escapades of those fleeing bondage and those who tried to ease the pain by aiding and abetting. Excellent historical perspective that includes a final informative timeline. 1995, Scholastic, Ages 8 up, $3.50. Reviewer: Deborah Zink Roffino
The Headless Haunt and Other African American Ghost Stories
Collected and Retold by James Haskins
Pictures by Ben Otero
Twenty plus spine-tingling ghost tales based on African-American folklore have been gathered by this noted author. He tells the readers how to protect themselves from spirits, or for the really brave, how to conjure them. Haskins provides source notes and historical background. 1994, HarperCollins, Ages 8 to 12, $14.00, $13.89, and $3.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
I Am Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins
Pictures by Wil Clay
This autobiographical story of a prominent woman in the struggle for civil rights should be in every school library. Nicely written in first person, it tells the story of Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white customer in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early l960's. Rosa tells of her life growing up in the South and how it felt to be Black in that culture. Following her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, the story recounts the resulting boycott as well as the ensuing struggles for civil rights and the stories of those who lead the battles. Lifelike illustrations add to the balanced portrayal of those turbulent years. One caveat, the date of Rosa's sit-in is omitted and referred to only as "long ago" which may leave some young people thinking that these important events are just history rather than viewing them as part of an ongoing struggle. 1997, Dial, Ages 7 to 10, $12.99. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger
Moaning Bones, African-American Ghost Stories
Illustrated by Felicia Marshall
Almost everyone enjoys hearing a good ghost story. In this collection of 17 spooky tales, you will meet a variety of eerie creatures such as the Ghost Calf, Old Hy-Ty, the Ghost in the Backseat, and Old Moccasin's ghost, to name but a few. In these traditional folk tales, retold in read-aloud style, you'll visit a haunted steamship, a majestic plantation farmhouse, and the Lake of the Dead. These stories are all short and easy reads, with nice black and white illustrations. Don't worry-they're more fun than scary, and suitable for younger children. 1998, Lothrop Lee & Shepard/Morrow Junior Books, Ages 7 up, $15.00. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
One More River To Cross: The Stories of Twelve Black Americans
Meet a few of the thousands of African Americans who have made major contributions to American life. They range from Crispus Attucks, the first American to die in the cause of independence to Ronald McNair, the first black astronaut, who also died pursuing his dream. 1994 (orig. 1992), Scholastic, Ages 12 up, $13.95 and $4.50. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Power to the People: The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party
A comprehensive history of the rise, development and decline of the politically and socially influential Black Panther Party is presented in this objective non-fiction book. It does not gloss over the more violent, problematic aspects of the era and organization. The eleven chapters include information on the founder, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the role of women like Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins, and party splits. Black and white photos, an index, chronology, bibliography and notes are included. 1997, Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Gisela Jernigan
Spike Lee: By Any Means Necessary
Spike Lee is an interesting, innovative black filmmaker. As this biography takes pains to point out, Lee is not, however, an easy person. Haskins takes the reader through Lee's middle-class African-American childhood in Brooklyn, his college years, and his attempts and success at making movies. Stressed are the difficulties of cobbling together the millions of dollars needed to produce and direct a film, as well as Lee's efforts at opening the industry to black talent. All of Lee's provocative films to date are described. This is an in-your-face sort-of book about an equally aggressive, in-your-face individual. 1997, Walker, Ages 12 up, $15.95 and $16.85. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Separate But Not Equal: The Dream and the Struggle
This well researched nonfiction book for young adults traces efforts to end segregation, with an emphasis on the struggle to improve the education of African Americans. Beginning with pre-Civil War times, when most slaves were forbidden by law to read or write, continuing through Reconstruction, when former slaves, helped by the Freedman's Bureau, eagerly sought literacy, and concluding with the present reality that many inner city schools are still "separate but not equal," the author does a thorough job of presenting an important, complex social reality. Black and white drawings and photos, further reading lists, a chronology and an index are included. 1998, Scholastic, Ages 11 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Gisela Jernigan
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