Free to Read: Historical Fiction and Nonfiction in honor of Black History Month

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Daryl Michael Scott

Obviously it’s important to honor the contributions people of color have made to American history throughout the year, but in February we’re highlighting some historical fiction centered around a significant and painful era in our nation’s history, the years of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. These books can help us remember our past so we can see how far we’ve come. They’re also compelling reads.

Chains by Laurie Halse AndersonSugar Changed the World by Marc AronsonStealing Freedom by Elisa CarboneCopper Sun by Sharon DraperStolen into Freedom by Judy and Dennis FradinNightjohn by Gary Paulsen

  • Anderson, Laurie Halse. Chains.
    When their owner dies at the start of the Revolution, Isabel and her younger sister are sold to Loyalists in New York, where Isabel is offered the chance to spy for the Patriots.
  • Anderson, Laurie Halse. Forge.
    Sequel to Chains.
  • Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.
    After escaping a death sentence in the summer of 1775, Octavian and his tutor find shelter but no safe harbor in British-occupied Boston and, persuaded by Lord Dunmore’s proclamation offering freedom to slaves who join his counterrevolutionary Royal Ethiopian Regiment, Octavian and his friends soon find themselves engaged in naval raids on the Virginia coastline as the Revolutionary War breaks out in full force.
  • Aronson, Marc. Sugar changed the world: a story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom, and science. 
    Sugar has left a bloody trail through human history. Cane–not cotton or tobacco–drove the bloody Atlantic slave trade and took the lives of countless Africans who toiled on vast sugar plantations under cruel overseers. And yet the very popularity of sugar gave abolitionists in England the one tool that could finally end the slave trade. This book traces the history of sugar from its origins in New Guinea around 7000 B.C. to its use in the 21st century to produce ethanol.
  • Avi. Something Upstairs.
    After moving to Providence, Rhode Island, Kenny discovers that his new house is haunted by the spirit of a black slave boy who asks Kenny to return with him to the early nineteenth century and prevent his murder by slave traders.
  • Carbone, Elisa. Stealing Freedom.
    A novel based on the events in the life of a young slave girl from Maryland who endures all kinds of mistreatment and cruelty, including being separated from her family, but who eventually escapes to freedom in Canada.
  • Draper, Sharon. Copper Sun.
    Two fifteen-year-old girls–one a slave and the other an indentured servant–escape their Carolina plantation and try to make their way to Fort Moses, Florida, a Spanish colony that gives sanctuary to slaves.
  • Fradin, Judith and Dennis. Stolen into Slavery: the True Story of Solomon Northrup.
    The true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York, who was kidnapped in 1841 and spent 12 years as a slave on deadly Louisiana coastal plantations.
  • Paulsen, Gary. Nightjohn.
    Twelve-year-old Sarny’s brutal life as a slave becomes even more dangerous when a newly arrived slave offers to teach her how to read. Sarny, a female slave at the Waller plantation, first sees Nightjohn when he is brought there with a rope around his neck, his body covered in scars. He had escaped north to freedom, but he came back–came back to teach reading. Knowing that the penalty for reading is dismemberment Nightjohn still retumed to slavery to teach others how to read. And twelve-year-old Sarny is willing to take the risk to learn
  • Rinaldi, Ann. Wolf by the Ears.
    Harriet Hemings, rumored to be the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, one of his black slaves, struggles with the problems facing her–to escape from the velvet cage that is Monticello, or to stay, and thus remain a slave.

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