Black History Month Staff and Board Member Book Picks

Kelly Lynn Staff Image

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh staff and board members recommend these must read books that celebrate African American authors, culture and history.

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Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Moments after her birth to the mistress of a sprawling Virginia plantation, Lisbeth Wainwright is entrusted to Mattie, an enslaved wet nurse. From then on, Mattie serves as Lisbeth’s stand-in mother, nursing her, singing her to sleep, and soothing her in the night. And yet mothering Lisbeth tears Mattie away from her own baby, Samuel, who lives in the slave quarters. Growing up under Mattie’s tender care, Lisbeth adopts her traditions of prayer, singing, eating black-eyed peas, and hunting for yellow crocuses in the spring. As the years pass, Lisbeth is drawn back into the white world, earning a growing awareness of the inequality of her and Mattie’s stations. She struggles to reconcile her love for Mattie with her parents’ expectations for her future, intent on keeping the best of both worlds-until a terrible betrayal forces her to choose once and for all. Yellow Crocus is a compelling novel of love, loss, and redemption set during one of the most sinister chapters of American history.

Recommended by Debbie El, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Children’s Librarian


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Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Explore the previously uncelebrated but pivotal contributions of NASA’s African-American women mathematicians to America’s space program and how Jim Crow laws segregated them from their white counterparts despite their groundbreaking successes.

Recommended by Kristina Harris, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Reference Librarian


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My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King and Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds

Often seen only as an after-thought to her more famous husband, this book chronicles the story of a determined, intelligent, compassionate woman who worked her whole life to fight discrimination and injustice for all people.

Recommended by Diane Powell, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Board Member


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The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley

Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation–these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West , now takes on the “P” word–poverty.

Recommended by Ray Robinson, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Board Member and Program Administrator for Children’s Services in Jefferson County


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Red River by Lalita Tademy

From the New York Times bestselling author of Cane River comes the dramatic, intertwining story of two families and their struggles during the tumultuous years that followed the Civil War.

Recommended by LaShawnda Thomas, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Board Member and Senior Director, Accounting and Financial Reporting at Carnegie Mellon University


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The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they’re not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it’s about her dark, black skin. When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the new teacher’s attitude surprises Maleeka. Miss Saunders loves the skin she’s in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?

Recommended by Brittany Thurman, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Library Assistant


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Nat Turner by Kyle Baker

The story of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion–which began on August 21, 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia–is known among school children and adults. To some he is a hero, a symbol of Black resistance and a precursor to the civil rights movement; to others he is monster–a murderer whose name is never uttered. In Nat Turner, acclaimed author and illustrator Kyle Baker depicts the evils of slavery in this moving and historically accurate story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. Told nearly wordlessly, every image resonates with the reader as the brutal story unfolds. Find teaching guides for Nat Turner and other titles at abramsbooks.com/resources. This graphic novel collects all four issues of Kyle Baker’s critically acclaimed miniseries together for the first time in hardcover and paperback.

Recommended by Camden Yandel, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Specialist


Share your Black History Month picks in the comments!