The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer


The ABCs of Black History 
by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer
Review Copy from Workman Publishing
Not only is The ABCs of Black History a superbly rhyming, marvelously illustrated introduction to Black history, it is a celebration that tells a story - an affirming call to action that goes well beyond its primer format. Each of the twenty-six entries, both text and illustrations, is rich with information, enhanced by back matter and "More to Explore" suggested reading. Starting with A for anthem, "a banner of song," freedom and hope are central themes that weave their way through the alphabet, along with power. Cortez, a poet, writes, "P is for power. It's part of our core. Sometimes it is quiet, sometimes it must ROAR like a Panther - isn't that right, Huey P.? Power for people like you and me." 

Cortez and Semmer include an impressive array of figures, especially with "L is for love" where portraits fill the page, from Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis to Marsha Johnson, Mildred Loving and Rose and Ashley, enslaved mother and daughter from the mid-1800s. When, at the age of nine, Ashley was sold, Rose gave her daughter a sack that held scraps of a dress, pecans and a braid of her mother's hair. They never saw each other again, but the sack has survived the centuries. Scientists, athletes, artists, writers, performer, politicians, entrepreneurs, educators fill the pages, inspiring readers to learn more.

I'll close with the page that I keep returning to, one that, with clarity and dignity speaks to readers in a way I have not seen in a book like this before:

U is for United States - this story is tough. The birth of a nation was deadly for us. We the people?  In the land of the free? No one who was enslaved would agree. 

U is for unbroken, unshaken, unbound, like Harriet Tubman, who went underground, took back her freedom and freed hundreds more, then was a spy in the great Civil War.

But when the states were united again, the fight for our freedom and lives didn't end. So U is for unfinished, this American tale. With courage and strength, we will prevail.

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