I walked around my living room reading Rio Cortez’s new children’s book, “The ABCs of Black History,” aloud because, even though I had no young audience, this book demands it.
G is for GO! Toward cities we were bound.
For the Great Migration from country to town.
From farming the land to the factory floor,
We carried the Blues on our backs, not much more.
In just 52 pages, “The ABCs of Black History” (available at workman.com) takes us on a lyrical journey through the alphabet and Black history. The book covers a startling array of historical figures and events, weaving them with images of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. The historical and contemporary material is peppered with bits of philosophy that young kids will grasp over time and adults will appreciate now.
Cortez is a mom and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet with fellowships from the prestigious CantoMundo foundation, Poet’s House literary center and Cave Canem literary organization. And this children’s book is a satisfying marriage of accessible poetic devices that pack layers of meaning and concepts into short stanzas.
The ABC story begins with Anthem, an introduction to James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” It ends with Zenith, a tribute to the mountaintop Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about before his death. In these pages, beautifully illustrated by Lauren Semmer, readers will travel across continents and centuries, navigate triumph and heartbreak and celebrate creativity and joy.
The book ends with a robust encyclopedic resource that delves more deeply into the events, places and people mentioned in the poem – including Fannie Lou Hamer, the Little Rock Nine, James Baldwin and Sam Cooke – and the power of organizing then and now.