Humanize Black Lives with Picture Books

Did you watch the KidLit4BlackLives Rally hosted by The Brown Bookshelf? If so, you would have heard Paula Chase talk about humanizing black people with children’s literature (1:12:50). Chase is an author and cofounder of The Brown Bookshelf. She asked viewers to amplify books that show the “entirety of the black experience, not just our pain” (1:12:56). Her website has resources to help us with this work. On the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives page, you’ll find links to books that celebrate black lives. You’ll also find recommended professional titles to help us improve our lessons and disrupt racism.

Below is a lesson idea based on the picture book Hair Love, written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. This story humanizes black lives by showing a loving, patient father who helps his daughter during a stressful time.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison

After reading the title and looking at the cover of Hair Love, what do you suppose the book is about? If you predicted that the book is about a black girl who loves her hair, you would be wrong. The story is deeper than that. The illustrations invite learners to read beyond the text and gather information about Zuri and her father. The clues tell us something is going on in the family. The father is tired and the house is a mess. Stressful times do not keep the father from helping his daughter style her hair. It’s not easy, but the daughter-father team perseveres. They watch videos to learn how to fix their mistakes. Zuri is happy and her father is proud of the final hairstyle. A surprise ending adds more depth to the story.

Lesson Idea Based on the AASL Standards Framework for Learners

Inquire/Think l.A.2 Learners display curiosity and initiative by recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning.

Ask learners the following questions while reading Hair Love:

  • Read the title and look at the illustration on the book cover. What can we expect to learn from this story?
  • What information can you gather from the picture on the front book flap?
  • Look at the illustration on the title page. How is the girl feeling about her hair? How do you know?
  • What can we learn about the girl by looking at the things in her bedroom (pages 1-2)? Her name is Zuri. The picture frame shows that Zuri has a mother and a father. She is an only child. The backpack tells readers she is old enough to go to school. Zuri is working on a card for someone she loves. 
  • What did we learn on page 8? Something big is going to happen.
  • What’s happening on pages 9-10? Use clues from the illustration, text, and your background knowledge to help you make an inference.
  • What is Zuri doing with the electronic device on page 12? How do you know?
  • What do you notice about the relationship between Zuri and her father (pages 13-20)? Point to clues in the text and illustrations to support your answer.
  • How would you describe Zuri’s father? What clues did you use from the story to help you with the description?
  • How does Zuri feel about her hair style (page 24)? How do you know?
  • What information can you gather about Zuri’s family by looking at the photos in this picture (page 25)?
  • Where do you suppose the mother was (pages 26-29)? What makes you think so?

Invite learners to think of a time when someone in their family was working really hard. What was happening? How did the work impact the people in their family? What did they do to help make things better?

Character Study

Practice asking questions and making inferences with learners by looking closely at the father. What do learners notice? What questions do they have? Ask learners to gather their thoughts with a worksheet I created for the book. The worksheet is on the Online Reading and Worksheets page of my blog, Library Lessons with Books.

What picture books will you amplify to humanize black people? Please share in the comment box below.

I am thankful for the school librarians, authors, illustrators, artists, television producers, podcasters, researchers, writers, and professors who have published work to help educate me about racism. For resources relevant to the school library, check out “School Libraries and Antiracism” by Jennifer Sturge on Knowledge Quest



Author: Maureen Schlosser

Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades and Social and Emotional Learning for Picture Book Readers published by ALA Editions
Skillshare Teacher:

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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