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”

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: Gabriel’s Horses

When Pa shows me something, I take note. Pa’s the best horseman in Kentucky, and I aim to follow in his path.

Horses and horse racing are Gabriel’s life. He is the son of a freedman and a slave woman, making him a slave. He enjoys jockeying for his master and learning about horses from his father. He is happy until war sends his world spinning. His father leaves and a new horse trainer with harsh training methods arrives. To top things off, Confederate soldiers begin stealing horses. Gabriel must make sense of his new life while trying to protect the horses he loves.

This is the first book in the Racing to Freedom Trilogy. I read the trilogy several years ago. My library purchased the second book in the trilogy. After reading that book, I begged the librarians to buy the first and third book to add to their collection. They did and I enjoyed all three books. The story is fast paced and provides an unusual look at a popular period of history.

Author: Alison Hart
Audience: Middle Grade–Tween
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 160
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

What are your favorite historical horse stories?

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Author Interview: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Why did you choose tell “Jefferson’s Sons” through the eyes of three characters?
This was mostly a decision based on structure. As I did the research for this book, the time frame kept expanding. I could see how the world in which Beverly spent his early years, at Monticello during the relative stillness of Jefferson’s Presidency, was very different from that in which Maddy grew up, after Jefferson’s retirement, when visitors flocked to the farm. I wanted to contrast those differences. But I also really, really, wanted to tell what I saw as the natural end of the story–that horrifying auction after Jefferson’s death–and, by that point, Beverly is long gone, and Maddy fully grown. Peter Fossett actually left a written account of his childhood at Monticello, a terrific first-person source for those final years. To start where I wanted to start, I had to be in Beverly’s voice–he’s really the only one old enough to carry the story–and at the end, I had to be in Peter’s voice, as he’s the only one left.

Theoretically I could have stayed with just those two, but there’s another problem: I wanted this book to reach middle school audiences. To do that, I have to keep a certain level of innocence in the discourse. Some of the topics we cover would be viewed and discussed very differently by adult narrators, and the minute I slide into an adult point-of-view I run the danger of losing of either being untruthful to the history, or writing something inappropriate for a fifth-grader to read. When I split the narrative three ways, so that each voice begins at around age 7 and continues into early teens (a bit younger for Peter), I could cover the ground I wanted to cover, and still write the book I wanted to write.

Please note that if this hadn’t been based so strongly on historical facts I wouldn’t have done it this way. If it were straight fiction–I was making all this up–I’d have used one narrator and a much shorter time frame. Easier on everyone. But the biggest strength of the book is that is very much based on fact.

Do you have a favorite scene in this book?
Hmm. I’d have to go with the ending–very hard to write, and it’s certainly not the happiest scene, but I was really pleased with how I got it in the end. I think it has a rhythm that suits the action.

What was one of the most unexpected facts or stories you uncovered while researching for “Jefferson’s Sons”?
There are simply tons of good stories, many of which couldn’t make it into the book. For example, Joe Fossett’s older brother Daniel, who is very briefly mentioned as having been sold away why Joe was a small boy, actually bought Wormley Hughes at the auction. He bought him for a dollar and gave him his freedom. Where Daniel had been living and how he gained his own freedom are completely unknown–from a historical point of view, he appears, then disappears again.

Part way through my research, the historians at Monticello found evidence that Patsy Fossett gained her freedom as an adult–she comes up in Census records in 1830, in Cincinnati, which is where many of the Fossetts were living, including Joe and Edith. Prior to a few years ago, she was “lost” from a historical point of view–no one knew what had happened to her.

Do you have plans for another historical fiction?
I’m in the middle of a book set in England during World War II. It features wholly fictional characters, more like my book Weaver’s Daughter than Jefferson’s Sons.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
Read everything you can. Especially read writers you admire. Write, but don’t be too eager for publication–publication is really hard, and rejection is really discouraging, and at the start you just need to write for yourself, nobody else. Forget “write what you know.” Write what you want to read.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
I’m really pleased at how many people are reading and responding to Jefferson’s Sons. It’s been a really good journey. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, and for caring about my book.

Thank you for joining us on this blog! I’m looking forward to reading your new books in the future.

Visit Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Website
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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

Book Review: Bright Freedom’s Song

“The first time Bright had seen a brown face, she had been six years old, so proud of being allowed to gather eggs from the henhouse. She had gone alone into the small, dark log building her father had built to protect the eggs from the fox that sometimes wandered the yard at night.”


Bright still remembers the fright she got from finding human eyes peering at her from inside the henhouse. Those eyes belonged to her father’s friend Marcus, an escaped slave who helps on the Underground Railroad. As Bright gets involved in her parent’s Underground Railroad station, she begins to learn just how important freedom is.

Visit author Gloria Houston’s website.
Read the first two chapter of the book on Amazon.

Book Review: William Henry is a Fine Name

Jake pushed a greasy hank of hair off his forehead and hitched up his pants. “I guess whipping your pa for trespassing last week wasn’t enough, William Henry. We’ll see who thinks he’s funny when I tell my pa that darkies and white trash is stealing our fish.”

I felt William Henry’s muscles tense beside me, but his mouth never twitched.


Robert’s best friend is black, his father works on the Underground Railroad, and his mother still clings to the mindset of the plantation she grew up on. When his mother takes Robert to her childhood home, he meets his grandfather and finds himself trying to rationalize slavery. When he sees two runaway slaves brutally punished he realizes that the “peculiar institution” of the south cannot be rationalized. Will he make the right choice when people’s lives depend on him?

Visit author Cathy Gohlke’s website.
Read the first chapter on amazon.