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What to Read During Black History Month

February is Black History Month—the 28 days of the year when the United States publicly honors the triumphs and struggles of the Black community throughout American history. At the library, Black History Month means that it’s time to pick up a book by a Black author and read.

Engaging with literature from Black authors is especially important if you live in a predominantly white community like Frankenmuth. Reading Black literature (or any type of literature that offers a different perspective than your own) grows your knowledge, deepens your understanding, and opens you to the beauty, richness, and necessity of diversity.

The best time to begin engaging with Black literary voices is throughout childhood. If we want to raise a compassionate, empathetic, and inclusive next generation of leaders, we can start by reading and sharing stories that celebrate diversity and give equal representation to all body types, skin tones, cultures, and religions.

In a June 2020 Harper’s Bazaar article entitled “Why we need to engage with Black literature beyond racial politics” Frankie Reddin argues that it’s time for the world to dive into the full spectrum of Black experience. “Black experience cannot be defined by one moment or incident. If it is, it becomes detrimental to self-identity, mental health, and ultimately, progress and change. It is also not the experience of every Black person in the world…It's time to stop solely viewing blackness through the prism of racism and slavery. We must engage in the fullness of Black experience—and that includes joy.”

Beyond engaging with books that center around Black joy, we need the institutions that publish these books to value them in the same way they value stories of Black struggle.

L.L. McKinney, African American writer and poet, elaborates on the institutional forces that deny Black stories space in the publishing sector. “In the industry, stories about police brutality, the struggle, poverty, etc. have been dubbed ‘issue’ books, and it’s a not-so-secret secret that if your book doesn’t fall into this category, it won’t get any real push or marketing. Nearly all other Black books are treated as less important. They’re denied the time and resources needed to make them successful. They’re ignored by the industry, by librarians, by awards committees, by schools, and yes, even by certain readers.” This month, when you reach for a book by a Black author, try to select one that engages in the fullness of Black experience, and when February ends, keep reading these books well into March, April, May, and all year long.

As always, if you’re not sure where to begin or what to read, our librarians are eager to extend their recommendations.

Beth Emmons, Early Learning Specialist, curated a beautiful Black History Month display for our youngest readers just outside of the children’s wing. Feel free to check out any books from the display or consider borrowing the following picture books that Beth recommends: Saturday by Oge Mora, Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera, or the The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton. In teen and tween literature, Barb Barger recommends Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams, New Kid by Jerry Craft, P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, and From The Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. In adult fiction and nonfiction, the following books were recommended by Black booksellers across the country: Black Bottom Saints by Alice Randall, Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

For more recommendations of adult fiction and nonfiction books by Black authors, drop by the library to check out the Black History Month display from February 15-28, 2023. We hope you’ll join us in reading a variety of Black literary voices this month and each month that follows.

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