5 Books About Black History that I Read in Junior High

Over the past week, our country has been shaken by the death of George Floyd. The streets have been flooded with protesters and social media has been flooded with black squares.

These current events caused me think back on what shaped my understanding of our country’s racial history. As a tween and young teen, I faithfully kept a journal of books I read, so I pulled that journal out and took note of the books I read about slavery, the underground railroad, reconstruction, integration, inter-racial friendship, etc.

If you’re a young person wondering how to navigate and respond to current events, start with your Bible and prayer. But after that, if you want to understand the historical context, these books might help.

Parents and older siblings can also use stories like these as conversation starters or supplements to homeschool history curriculums.

Here are five titles by black authors that I read as a young teenager.

Breakthrough to the Big Leagues:  The Story of Jackie Robinson

Breakthrough to the Big Leagues, by Jackie Robinson

Continue reading “5 Books About Black History that I Read in Junior High”

Abigail: There is a God

On October 26, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a group of students in Philadelphia and gave a speech that became known as “The Street Sweeper Speech.” He encouraged the young people to tackle their life’s work with gusto.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. —What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?

In Lois T. Henderson’s novel Abigail, the young heroine takes MLK’s message a step further. Faced with an inescapable betrothal to drunken Nabal, Abigail resolves to be a good wife but not with the goal of earning respect for herself. Instead she tells herself,

“I will be a good wife that all the earth will know there is a God in Israel.”


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Book Review: Lydia

LydiaThis is my third Lois T. Henderson book, and I think it’s safe to say that she’s become one of my favorite Biblical fiction authors. (You can read my previous reviews of her books Ruth and Pricilla & Aquila.)

Our church has been studying Acts, and we reached the portion containing Lydia’s story just as I was finishing this book. It’s always neat to listen to teaching on a Biblical portion and compare it to an author’s imagined tale.

What gripped me most in this book was the scene where Lydia is converted to Christianity. It’s been a while since a salvation scene made me cry, but this one definitely did. The author managed to paint a word picture of the sheer beauty and joy of a soul opening to Christ.

Lydia was aware of no one and nothing but her own need for this gift which Paul promised. Eagerly, she pushed through the crowd until she reached the edge of the water. She dropped her stola and stood waiting in her simple tunic.

Like Henderson’s other stories, Lydia is not an action packed book. It is compelling in a quiet, every-day way.

What are some of your favorite, fictional conversion scenes? What type of scenes make you cry (or get your heart beating fast … whatever your reaction is)?


Book Review: Ruth


“Belief is something that can happen in a minute,” Ruth said slowly, groping for the words. “In the way that the sun can come through the clouds suddenly after a storm. But faith — that’s something different. More like the almond blossoms I guess … They grow so slowly from bud to blossom that you’re hardly aware of it.”

Though married to and in love with Hebrew Mahlon, Ruth has never embraced the Jewish religion as her own. She also wastes little devotion on worship of Chemosh, the god of her own people. When death steals Mahlon and smothers the last hope of an heir for the house of Elimelech, the three widows of the household are left to struggle for survival. Naomi longs to return to her homeland. In her own quiet way, Ruth promises that if Naomi’s God provides a miracle and opens a way for them to travel to Bethlehem, she will go with Naomi and know that the God of Israel is the true God.

Though very simple and old-fashioned, I believe you (like me) will find this book hard to put down after the first 50 pages. I have read the story of Ruth more times than I can count. Despite knowing the entire plot and how the tale would end, watching Ruth’s faith grow and experiencing love blossom between her and Boaz kept me reading as if I’d never heard the story before.

Published in the 1980s, author Lois T. Henderson depicts a much less romanticized version of Bible times than more recent books. I have found the unique angle of her stories refreshing! That said, where the Bible shows the budding and development of love and marriage, Henderson does not shy from weaving those threads into prominent view in her tales.

I highly recommend this book for lovers of Bible fiction, classics, and non-mainstream books.

Book Review: The King’s Shadow

King's Shadow, The

“You, Shadow!” the slave master shouted, as though Evyn were deaf as well as dumb. Laughter erupted behind him. “Shadow” was what they called dogs or horses. Evyn burned with shame. Uncle Morgan had even stolen his name.

Young Evyn is a Welsh serf in the 11th century. His life is turned upside down when his uncle betrays him and his father, leaving his father dead and Evyn a mute orphan. The uncle then sells Evyn into a life of slavery and pockets the money to repay a debt. Evyn becomes Shadow, a often mistreated and sometimes pitied slave boy. But his fortunes begin to change when he learns to read and write. He becomes a squire to Earl Harold and in time, the two become close friends. When Harold is crowned king, he makes Evyn his foster son. It’s a bond that will throw Evyn into the middle of two of the greatest battles of his time.

It’s funny how some books fade from your memory within a week of reading them, while some linger for years. The King’s Shadow is one that has lingered. I read it in 2008 (wow, is that really six years ago?), yet I still remember feeling furious at Uncle Morgan and deeply sympathetic towards Evyn. And it fits pretty well into the “hodge podge” theme this month because I’ve read very few books about this time period.

What’s your favorite time period to read about? Do you like any other books set in the 11th century?

Book Review: The Abolitionist

Abolitionist, The When I began contemplating the theme for this month I only knew that I wanted it to tie into Independence Day somehow. I finally decided to do a WWII theme, but with an exception. For the next three Friday’s, I’ll be posting reviews on WWII stories, but today I’m doing a story set in the early 19th century because it captures the essence of freedom so well. Happy (belated) 4th of July! Enjoy.

Anna rushed to speak before she was overcome with fear–fear of consequences, of inconveniences she did not want to consider: “I … I cannot allow you to so mistreat a child and a dependent in your care, be he slave or … or free.”

Anna Ashwell is a young English woman entering adulthood in the early 1800s. Born into a family of abolitionists, she is pleased when her older brother and guardian writes to say that Mr. Wilberforce has succeeded in abolishing the slave trade. However, as she enters society, Anna soon finds that slavery and injustice have not ended. Her heart is gripped by the plight of a young slave boy. Yet, in the face of social pressure and scornful peers, Anna finds her convictions wavering. What, after all, can one girl do?

This story is one of those rare historical fictions that speaks just as eloquently to contemporary issues as to those of yesteryear. As I read I found myself encouraged to stand for what is right no matter what society accepts as socially or politically correct. The story itself is delightful. I had never before read a novel about slavery in England and found The Abolitionist to be a wonderful introduction. The book also contains a sweet love story which even the most sensitive of readers should be able to enjoy. I’m looking forward to sharing this book with my friends.

Author: Elisabeth Allen
Audience: Tweens and up
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 329

Which book(s) do you feel embodies the concept of freedom?

Book Review: Gideon’s Call

Tad, a small slave boy on a Carolinian island, is destined for a unique and impressive future. As the Civil War approaches the island, the white masters flee, but the slaves stay. The new community of freedmen is swiftly selected to host a government experiment to see if the freed slaves can become contributing members of society. Tad’s smarts and entrepreneurial initiative soon catch the attention of Edward Pierce, leader of the experiment. As the war progresses, both Tad and Pierce are in for many adventures. Can Pierce’s connections and Tad’s firsthand experience of the brutality of slavery win the freedman a chance for a fresh start and a brighter future?

The Civil War is one of my favorite periods of history, and I have researched it extensively. Mr. Leavell wrote about an element of the time period I never heard about before. That was enough to hook me! The story is well written and the characters are sympathetic and compelling. There is a bit of a love story between Tad and a girl from the same plantation, however this sub-plot remained a sub-plot and did not dominate the story. This is a good book about an important period of history.

Author: Peter Leavell
Audience: Adults
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 359
Publisher: Worthy Publishing

What are your favorite stories set during the Civil War?

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Book Review: Jefferson’s Sons

Do you know who I am?

William Beverly and James Madison “Maddy” Hemings grow up in Monticello, but they are different from the other slaves. They are Thomas Jefferson’s sons. The fact is a secret everyone knows. Beverly aches for his father’s attention, but Maddy rarely thinks of Jefferson as his father, especially after his best friend is sold. How can a man admired for defending liberty hold his own children in bondage?

This is a very thought provoking book. The story is interesting, gives a peek into the past, and hold the reader’s attention. I recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Audience: 12 and up
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Publisher: Dial