The author wanted to create a work for Black History Month that would go beyond the familiar names and faces bruited every year. His thoughts on this phenomenon that he gave in an interview are worth quoting, because they are so true!
“I remember sitting in my sixth grade class at Marian Anderson Elementary in Compton, California, when February rolled around and my teacher, Mr. Johnson, hung up the faces of Black History Month around the room. Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. surrounded us until early March. Each picture had information about the person depicted on the back of the image, and the pictures hadn’t changed since first grade. With no new countenances added each year, it was as if once black Americans had achieved equal rights in the law books, our history was complete.
How could that be? Weren’t there others who accomplished great things, past and present? That question became the focus of 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World.”
He begins in 1776, during the birth of America, and ends in the present with America’s first black president. He includes an extra day at the end – not only for “leap year” Februarys, but to show that “great things can happen on any day to anyone” and to suggest that Black History is not limited to 28 days!
It will no doubt be a relief to teachers as well as students to find such nice material (presented in free verse) on people other than “the usual suspects.” While he does feature Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson, he also has stories about such notable but perhaps lesser-known African Americans as Crispus Attucks, Daniel Hale Williams, Henry Johnson and Matthew Henson.
The form of the author’s verse changes according to the message he wants to convey. The spread on Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe features lines that go back and forth like a tennis match. The verse devoted to Malcolm X reflects the way his words were meant to educate, and to convey a broader message to his followers.
I particularly like the author’s concluding sentiments for Day 29:
“What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day
you make history?
Today is the day,
today is to be.”
Illustrator Shane W. Evans, a three-time NAACP Image Award nominee, just keeps getting better and better. His collage and oil pictures employ a vivid palette with the dominant colors reflecting the story being told. For example, he uses blues and silver for the two-page spread on the first male and female astronauts, and the bright colors of Africa for his spread on Nelson Mandela.
Evaluation: One can only hope that this book’s appeal will not be confined to February.
Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, 2015