An introduction to African-American history for young readers.
In this debut, Davis thematically organizes stories of noteworthy figures in 12 chapters featuring titles such as “I Am Beautiful” and “I Believe in Myself.” The book uses these people’s stories, from Joseph Cinque’s and Harriet Tubman’s to Paul Robeson’s and Mae Jemison’s, as a way to encourage children to take pride in African-American identity, and it stresses the connections among the generations: “When I see my beautiful brown face in the mirror, I see brown people who did great things before me, brown people who are doing great things now, and brown people who will still be doing great things when I am no longer here.” Sepia-tinted pencil illustrations appear on nearly every page, providing vivid depictions of West African customs, the interior of a slave ship, the Hampton Institute, and all-black units fighting in World War II. Davis goes beyond famous names to inform readers about less-celebrated figures as well, listing dozens of inventions patented by African-Americans. The text’s upbeat tone leaves room to address challenges that readers face, including police brutality (“do whatever is necessary to stay alive…our chief concern is that you survive”), and explains complex issues such as white privilege and intersectionality in age-appropriate terms. The result is a narrative that’s both serious and upbeat, suited for children to read independently as well as for parents to read aloud. A handful of misspellings (“Benjamin Benneker”; “Barry Gordy”) are noticeable but don’t detract from the overall impact. Davis has chosen compelling, varied stories as examples of success and urges readers to use them as reasons for taking pride in one’s skin color. Readers will have no difficulty agreeing with sentiments such as, “I Am Victorious” and “I Have Moral Strength.”
An attractively illustrated, engaging book that skillfully balances pride in the past with awareness of 21st-century challenges.