Black History Month

February’s focus on civic holidays and national heroes is enhanced when teachers showcase the work of the many African-Americans who have enriched our nation.  Introduce students to trail-blazers Benjamin Banneker, Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Marian Anderson, and Jacob Lawrence.  Contemporary figures Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and the United States’ first African-American president, Barack Obama are also outstanding choices.


Dear Benjamin Bannker
Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney Sandpiper, 1998.  (K-3)  


A Voice of Her Own:  A Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet. Kathryn Lasky.  Illustrated by Paul Lee.  Candlewick, 2005. (4-6)


When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom
Carole Boston Weatherford. Hyperion, 2006. (K-4)


Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride
Andrea Pinkney. 
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Hyperiond, 2009. (K-3)


George Washington Carver

Tonya Bolden.
Harry Abrams, 2008. (3-6)


Story Painter:
The Life of Jacob Lawrence

John Duggleby. Chronicle Books, 1998. (4-6)



Each month on the Core Virtues website, we feature the life of a hero or heroine – men and women who have tirelessly pursued excellence in their lives and helped improve the lives of others. We tie each month’s biography to the virtue of the month or to a theme suggested by the particular time of the year.


Loyalty, Love of Country, Honesty and Justice

In February, when we celebrate Presidents’ Day, the Core Virtues program showcases a variety of American heroes and heroines.  George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the presidents whose births we celebrate this month, are key figures in this pantheon. Others, like Molly Pitcher and Jane Adams rivet student attention on what is best in our nation.  If you missed any of the Martin Luther King biographies in January, this is a good time to round out that reading.  


Don’t forget – many more suggestions are found in the book, Core Virtues.

George WashingtonA Picture Book of George WashingtonDavid Adler. 
Illustrated by John and Alexandra Wallner.  Holiday House, 1990. (K-3)

A simple and clear introduction to “the indispensable man,” his youth, commander of American forces in the Revolutionary War and the first President.

washingtonWashington at Valley Forge.  Russell Freedman.
Holiday House, 2008 (4-8)

Loyalty to and love of country is often tested under the direst of circumstances, and George Washington was up to the task.  Russell Freedman pens this compelling, amply illustrated account of the brutal winter at Valley Forge (1777).  Deprived of food, supplies, and even clothing, the revolutionary army endured enormous privation but was led by the tireless and resourceful George Washington.  His efforts to rebuild supply lines, lift morale, maintain discipline and reward his men’s faithfulness to ideals were a lasting and cherished legacy.

molly pitcherThey Called Her Molly Pitcher.   Anne Rockwell. 
Illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler. Dragonfly Books, 2006.  (3-5)

She was the only female sergeant in the American Revolutionary army. This is a vivid account of how Mary Hays, the feisty wife of a revolutionary soldier, accompanied her husband to Valley Forge, helping troops endure the bitter winter there, then stayed on with the soldiers through the blistering summer on the battlefield. She brought water to the wounded and heat-stricken (and acquired her nickname “Molly Pitcher”). She secured her own place in history when she took charge of the cannon when her husband was wounded in the middle of battle. George Washington made her a sergeant for her efforts. A story of faithfulness to husband, country, and ideals, as well as incredible courage.


Abraham LincolnHonest Abe’s Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. 
Doreen Rappaport. 
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  Hyperion Books, 2008 (2-4)

A poetic and beautifully illustrated presentation of Lincoln’s life and accomplishments. Rappaport weaves Lincoln’s own words into her text, which follows him from lanky backwoods boy to leader of the nation locked in a deadly civil war to end slavery. Compellingly told, an outstanding introduction to the work of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address closes the book.


Jane adamsJane Addams:  Pioneer Social Worker. Charnan Simon. 
Children’s Press, 1998.  (3-6)

An amply illustrated presentation of the civic heroine, Jane Addams, who was devoted to helping those in need.  This third to sixth grade treatment introduces young readers to the remarkable woman who founded Chicago’s Hull House, aiding immigrants and other laborers through education, day care for their children, self-help clubs and even an introduction to American art and culture.  

championJane Addams: Champion of Democracy.  Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin.  Clarion, 2006.  (5-6)

This young adult biography introduces students to the tireless and resourceful civic heroine, Jane Addams (1860-1935), whose life was devoted to helping others realize the American promises of opportunity and possibility.  She is primarily remembered for her work to aid immigrants with the establishment of Hull House in Chicago.  She also advocated for women’s suffrage and then civil rights (helping to found the NAACP), and worked for international peace in the early twentieth century, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935.