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Children’s Books by Black Authors: A Reading List 

Children’s Books by Black Authors: A Reading List 
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Hammon was an enslaved poet whose interest in emancipation extended beyond his own life, to the next generation. This poem contemplates how precarious life may be, even for children, but offers hope in an afterlife as “Little children they may die,/Turn to their native dust,/Their souls shall leap beyond the skies,/And live among the just.”

The story of enslaved Black people rising up and flying home to Africa is a hallmark of African American folklore. While it is difficult to date folk tales founded on oral storytelling, this one has its roots in the 1803 escape of captive Igbo people on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Ga. Since then, this story has been told and retold in African American literature for both children and adults, including by Julius Lester in his 1969 collection “Black Folktales” and Virginia Hamilton in “The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales,” from 1985.

In March 1829, Freedom’s Journal, the first known African American newspaper, printed several essays by New York African Free School students, commenting on emancipation in New York State (in 1827, enslaved people born before 1799 were freed), arguing for emancipation elsewhere and lauding their own educational opportunities. The students writing here were, so far as we know, between 12 and 15 years old. In his essay Allen wrote: “What sound can be more delightful to the ear of a slave than the expression, ‘The Laws have made you free’? This is the happy case with us in the state of New York. Liberty is an invaluable blessing to us; and we often feel compassion for the thousands of our brethren in the South who are groaning under the chains of bondage, while we are enjoying the benefits of freedom, and one of the most important of these, I conceive to be education.” A letter to the editor confirms that the newspaper provided a gratis subscription to the New York African Free School, where it was available to these and other students who were the children of both free and enslaved Black parents.

Douglass was an educator, artist and antislavery activist. This short piece relays an anecdote about a young student bringing flowers to his teacher (the author) and stresses the importance of children’s appreciation for their educators. It appeared in the antislavery newspaper The Liberator and also carried the message that “gratitude is not confined to a fair complexion.”

This poem was included in one of the first known books of essays published by an African American woman, Plato’s “Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Poetry.” Not much is known about the author’s life, but she was a teenager herself when she wrote the collection. In this poem Plato encouraged girls to “try and get your learning young/And write it back to me.”



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