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Honoring Black History Month Through Poetry, Music, Art, and Dance

By Andrea J. Spillett on January 25, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

This week I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share outstanding books and ideas that will teach your students about the many contributions that African Americans have made through poetry, music, art, and dance. 




A Tribute to Poetry

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

—Langston Hughes


Langston's Train Ride

Written by Robert Burleigh

Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins



One of most innovative poets of the 20th century is Langston Hughes. To honor the “Poet Laureate of Harlem,” Robert Burleigh has written a captivating book about the moment Langston Hughes realized that he was an actual poet. The book embodies the theme that everyone can achieve their dreams. I can’t think of a better mantra for our students.

After reading the book, create a poster of all the powerful words that your students heard in the story and discuss exactly what they mean. Words like pride, golden, soul, bright, free spirit, and brave are wonderfully descriptive words to add to their vocabulary and writing. 


A good friend and mentor, Diana Reyes, had her students do a poetry reading from Langston Hughes’ book of poems The Sweet and Sour Animal Book. He has a way of turning intricate ideas into simple language comprehensible to young children. Each student chose a letter from the alphabet and recited the poem in a dramatic style for their peers, families, and friends. FYI, poetry month is coming up in April! Other notable poets you may want to have your students learn about are Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, and Alice Walker.


A Tribute to Jazz & the Blues

What we play is life.

—Louis Armstrong 


Ben’s Trumpet                                   

Written and Illustrated by Rachel Isadora



Ben’s Trumpet is about a young boy who dreams of playing the trumpet. Every night he sits on the fire escape listening to the jazz music from the Zig Zag Club. Using his imagination, he joins in with the musicians playing their set. By the end of this heartwarming story, you and your class will be wishing that somebody would please give this boy a trumpet to play! You'll have to read the book to your class to find out if this wish comes true.

In addition to reading the story, do an activity that allows the students to listen to jazz and blues music. Start by cutting out big musical notes using white construction paper. Then, while listening to jazz, have the students draw on one side of the musical notes, using colors to show how they feel. Finally, play blues music while the students use colors on the other side to illustrate how that music makes them feel.

Discuss other influential musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald (The song "A Tisket, a Tasket" is one of my favorites and fun to sing with the students), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and B. B. King. And learn more about the history of jazz in Scholastic's Culture and Change unit.


A Tribute to Art

If one can anyone can. All you gotta do is try!

—Faith Ringgold


Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks

My Dream of Martin Luther King

All written & Illustrated by Faith Ringgold

I first saw Faith Ringgold's artwork Tar Beach at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City many, many, many years ago. I remember thinking, "How striking, unique, and interesting is this artist's work." I had to learn more about her. During my 18 years of teaching, I've truly treasured the joy of sharing her stories and artwork with my students. Through Faith Ringgold’s stunning artistry and intricate storytelling, her books will teach your students about three extraordinary African-American heroes, leaders, and legends: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Black History Month activities from Scholastic Printables will go along with all three of these books. Other notable African-American artist to introduce your students to are Jacob Lawrence, Edmonia Lewis, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.


A Tribute to Dance

He talked with his feet.



Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles — Think of That!

Written and Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon




Rap a Tap Tap will introduce your students to one of the most popular African-American tap dancers of all time, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. This book will have the whole class tapping their toes and clapping their hands in rhythm along with the rhyming text.

 With this book, use rhythm sticks for a companion activity your students will love. Give each student two rhythm sticks. As you read the text, have the students use the sticks to tap out the rhythm. If you don’t have rhythm sticks, improvise with pencils or markers. Then discuss other famous African-American dancers with your students such as Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, and Arthur Mitchell.


Find more book ideas to share with your students during Black History Month in an Instructor article. I especially like the Jazz Clouds activity. And share your own ideas in the comments section below! We'd love to hear them.

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