Reading About Culture and History in the Libraries

Reading About Culture and History in the Libraries

This week during a read-aloud session, Lower School Librarian Lora Worden chose to read When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill to Nicole Robinson’s third grade classes. This book tells the story of Clive Campbell, later known as DJ Kool Herc, from his childhood in Jamaica to his youth in the Bronx, and how he invented a new way of spinning records, making the breaks—the musical interludes between verses—longer for dancing. The book also talks about the invention of breakdancing and how hip-hop music defined a culture.

In February, during Black History Month, Worden’s main book display is called “African American History is American History: Stories of resilience, joy, and hope.” She included books by celebrated authors such as former National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature, Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds, as well as newer writers and illustrators, such as Kwame Mbalia, Cozbi A. Cabrera, and Kaylani Juanita.

Worden said, “While students will, of course, learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, we also want them to learn that Dr. King did not work in isolation. There is a long history of activists who came before him, who worked alongside him, and who continue to make the world a more beautiful and just place today. Whether it's learning about marooned communities in the South (Freewater), people like Bayard Rustin (A Song for the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington) and George Gilmore (Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott), or reading a story about kids jumping rope and having fun on a sunny summer afternoon, we want students to enjoy stories that stretch beyond the single narrative of enslavement and civil rights. And while we do have a display up for Black History Month, and we have been talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Gathering, we also incorporate these stories into our displays, lessons, and recommendations all year long.”

In the Middle School, librarian Patrick Fuller is highlighting books about Black history centered around different food-related themes (always a draw for Middle-Schoolers!). For instance, during the first week of February, he chose breakfast as a theme and shared books about the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program. He will then focus on sit-ins and lunch, and during the final week, he will focus on dessert and sugar and the movement by some Black farmers to purchase old sugar plantations to build generational wealth.

Upper School Librarian Erika Jelinek said that the books she chose for her display this month also cover a wide range of genres, themes, and forms. “When talking about Black history, a lot of institutions tend to focus on the Civil Rights movement (specifically Martin Luther King Jr.) and slavery, and while some of the books I've selected of course connect to those themes, I think it's important to also highlight Black joy, Black excellence, and contemporary Black voices,” she shared. “That's why in my display you'll see landmark works of literary journalism like The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and National Book Award-winning nonfiction like Tiya Miles' All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake alongside fluffy rom-coms like Talia Hibert's Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute and nail-biters like Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, edited by the incredible Jordan Peele.

This month, and all year round, visit the OES libraries and check out the many books that explore a wide variety of works of historic and cultural significance.