However, before the 1960s there was a small and lovely body of African American children's books. The first of these books came from small Black-owned publishing houses, while later books were published by the big white-owned firms (and written illustrated both by black and by white artists), sometimes with financial subsidies from foundations committed to interracial understanding and to African American education.
The books below present some challenges for present-day readers. Some have a scene, a theme, or an illustration that would be considered problematic by most teachers and librarians. Arna Bontemps, Sad-Faced Boy has one in scene in which the African American boys in the story kidnap a little white boy and dress him up in blackface. I don't mind having it in LB's collection, we'll just talk about it, like we'll talk about blackface in the Little House books, but I can understand why an educator would think it inappropriate for a children's collection. Rowena, Teena, Tot is a very cute story, but it includes an illustration of a little boy eating a huge leg of chicken and African American women with old-fashioned kerchiefs on their heads-racially stereotypical images that Black librarians weren't entirely comfortable with even in the 1930s.
These books were created in a world where the vast majority of books featuring Black children were viciously racist. Black child characters were almost always stupid, cowardly, supersticious, subservient, and ugly. Against that backdrop, the books below are beautiful and life affirming
|Arna Bontemps, Sad-Faced Boy (1937). Three boys from the rural south runaway to Harlem. I love this book, it is such a fun story.|
|Arna Bontemps, Sad-Faced Boy (1937). Bontemps (and Hughes) were always short of money, and kept a little bit coming in with their juvenile titles.|
|Fannie Blumberg, Rowena, Teena, and Tot and the Runaway Turkey (1936). I love some of the illustrations in this book, although as I said above, some are racist by today's standards.|
|Ellen Tarry, Hezekiah Horton (1942). A story about a car-crazy boy in Harlem.|
|Marguerite de Angeli, Bright April, 1946. Most of the other books included in the post take place in all-African American communities. Bright April is one of the first books for kids that shows interracial friendship and racial prejudice.|