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STORIES OF LIFE IN BLACK AMERICA

A 25th anniversary edition of Mildred D. Taylor's powerful novel, "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" (Phillis Fogleman Books, $18.99) leads the list of recommended titles for young readers for February, Black History Month.

Taylor won the 1977 Newbery Medal for this harrowing tale of a black family's struggle against racism and economic blackmail in rural Mississippi during the Depression. Told from the perspective of young Cassie Logan, the story paints a vivid portrait of a family struggling to keep their farm with the help of a sympathetic white lawyer.

The author, who used her own family's experience as the basis for her novel, includes a new forward noting that some seek to remove her book from reading lists because her narrations are too painful, while others object to her use of the n-word. While it's true that Taylor's book is painful (in "Thunder," three people are set afire, Cassie's father is shot, and a neighbor boy barely escapes a lynching), the story is one that needs telling. A "prequel" is due out this fall.

Another excellent choice for Young Adult readers is this year's Coretta Scott King Award winner, Jacqueline Woodson's "Miracle's Boys," a heart-warming story about a young man trying to care for his two younger brothers after their mother dies. Middle-grade readers can't go wrong with last year's Newbery-winner, Christopher Paul Curtis' "Bud, Not Buddy," or his first novel, "The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963." (For other recipients of the King Awards, go to the American Library Association Web site at www.
ala.org/alsc/awards.)

Here are some new books worthy of special attention during Black History Month:

"Hurry Freedom, African Americans in Gold Rush California" by Jerry Stanley (Crown, $18.95). This fascinating read tells the story of Mifflin Gibbs, who arrived in San Francisco with 10 cents in his pocket, started a shoe store, helped slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad and fought for the right for blacks to testify in court in California. Californians may already know the details of the fascinating fight over slavery there, but most of this will be new to New Yorkers.

"Bound for the North Star, True Stories of Fugitive Slaves," by Dennis Brindell Fradin (Clarion, $20). This compelling collection of true stories includes Henry "Box" Brown, who shipped himself to freedom in a packing crate; light-skinned Ellen Craft, who posed as a white planter and her husband, William, as her servant for the perilous journey North; and Margaret Garner, who killed her child rather than see her returned to slavery (Garner's story became the basis of Toni Morrison's novel, "Beloved").

"Walking to the Bus Rider Blues," by Harriette Gillem Robinet (Atheneum, $16). As she did in "For
ty Acres and Maybe a Mule," Robinet offers a vivid, youthful perspective on a crucial period in African American history. Here she tells the story of young Alfa Merryfield who must walk everywhere during the 1955-1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. Alfa works in a grocery store to help pay the rent for the shack he shares with his older sister and great-grandmother. But someone is stealing the rent money, and Alfa and his sister must figure out who it is.

"Freedom Summer" by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (Atheneum, $16). A white boy and his friend -- the son of the family's black maid -- run into the harsh reality of segregation (in response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a Southern town fills its swimming pool with asphalt) in this poignant picture book.

"Freedom School, Yes!" by Amy Littlesugar, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Philomel Books, $16.99). Another poignant, beautifully illustrated picture book about a black family that comes under attack for housing a white volunteer schoolteacher through the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School Summer Project.

"In the Hollow of Your Hand, Slave Lullabies," a book and CD of slave lullabies collected and sung by Alice McGill, illustrations by Michael Cummings (Houghton Mifflin, $18). This historical curiosity is beautifully illustrated with vibrant quilt collages. Each song comes with a brief description of its origin.

"Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys" by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Simon & Schuster, $16). This charming story about a little girl's insistence on walking seven miles to attend a Quaker school with her big brothers is based on Howard's grandfather's experience attending a Quaker school for ex-slaves in Jonesborough, Tenn.

"Off to the Sweet Shores of Africa" by Uzo Unobagha, illustrated by Julia Cairns (Chronicle Books, $16.95). A native of Nigeria creates playful rhymes of West African village life for young children, for an entertaining sort of Mother Goose effect. The colorful illustrations are lovely.
Some worthy titles from the library include "Stealing Freedom" by Elisa Carbone, a suspenseful fictionalized account of 12-year-old Anna Maria Weems' dramatic journey to freedom; "The Middle Passage" by Tom Feelings, a powerful nonfiction account of the slave trade; and "Ajeemah and His Son" by James Berry, a compelling novel of an African man and his son sold into the slave trade in Jamaica.

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