February is Black History Month, but the stories in these books resonate every month of the year. Now especially, black heroes need to be remembered and celebrated.

Betty Before X

By Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson; Farrar Straus Giroux; 248 pages; $16.99

“Freedom is a strong seed,” said Langston Hughes.

The seed for freedom in the stirring tale of Betty Before X was planted in the mid-1940s in young Betty Shabazz, who noticed African-Americans in her congregation standing up for their rights despite widespread racism.

Betty and her best friend, Suesetta, begin volunteering as girls for the Housewives’ League in order to help better black businesses. As her confidence grows (she feels a bit forgotten by her mother), Betty overcomes her personal challenges of self-acceptance and belonging.

Beautifully penned, Shabazz’s inspiring story for middle-grade readers is really the story of her mother before she met Malcolm X, her father. It should help young girls and boys know that standing up for what they believe in is noble and can start at any age.

Streetcar to Justice

By Amy Hill Hearth; HarperCollins; 143 pages; $19.99

“How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York” is Amy Hill Hearth’s subtitle for Streetcar to Justice, a comprehensive true story about a girl forced to give up a seat on a streetcar in 1854. One hundred years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, Elizabeth Jennings was injured as she was thrown off a streetcar by a conductor and a policeman.

Her story wasn’t over then, and her family and the African-American community helped take her case to court (interestingly, her lawyer was future President Chester A. Arthur). Jennings’ case was won, and she’s still remembered as being an integral part of the desegregation of New York City’s public transportation.

A fascinating biography for any kids ages 8 to 12 (that would even intrigue kids of high school age), Streetcar to Justice includes photographs and lots of archival material from the mid-1800s. This little-known fight for equality will hopefully garner more attention, especially now.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson

By Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; Balzar + Bray; 34 pages; $17.99

A lot of people don’t know that before Jackie Robinson was a baseball player who broke through barriers, he was a soldier during World War II.

During his days in the Army, Robinson experienced segregation. One day he refused to move to the back of a military bus, and the military police took him to trial. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s important true story of Robinson’s court-martial showcases a determined young man who knew right from wrong and stood proudly for his beliefs. He was actually one of the first black Americans to challenge a segregation law in court and win.

Young readers will enjoy the picture book’s precise writing and learn that Robinson wasn’t allowed to join the Fort Riley, Kan., baseball team because of his skin color. That’s certainly one team that made a huge mistake!

R. Gregory Christie’s acrylic paintings have a flowy, exaggerated look to them, helping the tale be intriguing and action-packed. A timeline at the end follows Robinson’s life from 1919 to 1997, after he had died, when Major League Baseball retired No. 42.

Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad

By Ann Petry; Amistad; 257 pages; $16.99

Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad named a National Book Award finalist and an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book — is Ann Petry’s superb biography of legendary “Moses,” Harriet Tubman, and it is dramatic, exciting and spellbinding.

Tubman’s vivacity and determination in delivering hundreds of slaves to freedom pops off the page and reads like fiction. The foreword from Jason Reynolds says Petry’s book “is a historic grail for young people, especially young women all across the world today ... who aren’t afraid of listening to their dreams.”

Kids ages 8 to 12 will be thrilled to learn that a hero like Tubman was once a little girl who cared, had dreams and fears like them, and was determined to reach further rather than settling for her supposed fate. That’s what separates heroes from the rest of us and is needed more and in our young people.

Harriet Tubman is a genius book.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

By Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling; illustrated by Laura Freeman; HarperCollins; 40 pages; $17.99

The picture book version of Hidden Figures is as vivid and exciting as the novel. With realistic vintage-inspired artwork and enticing writing, the story of the four young African-American female math whizzes who helped send a man into space in the 1960s is coolly amazing.

With best-selling author Margot Lee Shetterly at the helm, this true tale for kids ages 4 to 8 proves that valuable and heroic work is done every day by women of all colors.

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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