Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources: Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

There are several broad topics in elementary, middle, and high school that may lead to student research. When those happen, I’m a supporter of students being able to select an aspect of the topic they research. That choice can be one element that can increase student engagement.

If the Civil Rights Movement is one of those areas where students do self-selected research, Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, along with accompanying primary sources, could be an engaging set of resources for students to explore. The story highlights Elgin Baylor, one of the early Black NBA players. It also connects with the Civil Rights Movement in both Baylor’s actions as well as others.

Connecting Above the Rim to Events in the Civil Rights Movement

Above the Rim

Above the Rim

This story has been sitting on my shelf for several months. I wish I had shared it here sooner. I think it was my experiences on the 2019 Caldecott Committee that had me mesmerized by the illustrations. Video of Baylor playing may be the only visual that surpasses Morrison’s illustrations. When I dug into the accompanying text from Bryant I found the role primary sources could play with this beautiful and important story.

Bryant and Morrison’s story is packed with events from the Civil Rights Movement. Baylor’s early basketball career is interwoven with these moments. Rosa Parks’s arrest, school desegregation, and the Dockum Drug Store sit-in are all mentioned. Then, mid-story and early in Baylor’s professional career, he takes his own stand by sitting for a game where he, as a Black NBA player, was not given the same accommodations as his teammates. That action ultimately set a precedent for all NBA teams and players.

Students may be unaware of Baylor’s protest. This may be one topic within the Civil Rights Movement that a student wishes to explore. Others mentioned above and within the picture book may also be jumping off points for students. The chronology of Baylor’s story may be the bridge to explore a moment in history.

Connecting Baylor’s Life to the Civil Rights Movement through Primary Sources

Evening Star, January 19, 1959

Evening Star, January 19, 1959

For others, it may be Baylor himself that they want to explore. Primary sources from Baylor’s protest may help them take that next step in their research. As the picture book mentions, newspapers noticed and reported on Baylor. Students can search for newspaper articles in a database or use the sampling of articles in the curated set of primary sources I’ve put together to accompany this picture book.

Newspaper articles give a glimpse into the event but also show how it unfolded over time including reactions from local government officials and teammates. This is the perfect opportunity for a student to use Harvard Project Zero’s Circle of Viewpoints strategy to reflect on how people would react to Baylor’s choice to sit out the game. While not a part of most research steps, utilizing a strategy like this can broaden the perspectives considered in a student’s research, lead to deeper questions, and better understand the full impact of an event.

Evening Star, February 17, 1958

Evening Star, February 17, 1958

A student may need to better understand Baylor as a player to fully appreciate his action and how it was viewed. Also in the curated set of primary sources are articles showing Baylor’s prowess on the court as a member of the Lakers and in college at Seattle University. Some students may choose to have a dual focus in their research. They may explore Baylor’s status in the game of basketball in addition to his choices for civil rights.

Those learnings extend to people and events today. Students may naturally compare Baylor’s actions to other athletes voicing their desire for equal treatment for Black Americans. This is another opportunity to broaden the research and reaction to that research while engaging students in learning about lesser-known individuals from history.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

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