1997 Carter G. Woodson Book Awards


Twenty five years ago, National Council for the Social Studies established a committee to “encourage the writing, publishing and dissemination of outstanding social studies books for young readers which treat topics related to ethnic minorities and race relations sensitively and accurately.” Since that time, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award Committee has honored books twenty-four times. The annual awards were named in honor of Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished historian, educator, and social activist whose own works stand as an example of the academic excellence that the award seeks to recognize.

Carter G. Woodson was an African American born to former slaves. He was raised in poverty on an isolated farm in
Virginia. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and then founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and its Journal of Negro History. Dr. Woodson was a prolific writer whose works included Miseducation of the Negro as well as many books on black history for both adults and young people. He is credited with establishing “Negro History Week” in the 1920s as an attempt to encourage Negroes to learn more about themselves. He choose a week in February for the educational celebration because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. “Negro History Week” was later expanded to become “Black History Month.” For his outstanding work in history, Dr. Woodson was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1925 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The establishment of the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards resulted from the efforts of the NCSS Racism and Social Justice Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. James A. Banks of the University of Washington in Seattle. The awards are presented each year at the NCSS Annual Conference.


Karen L. Selby

Chair, Carter G. Woodson Award Subcommittee




by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi. Illustrated by Omar Rayyan. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

Reviewed by Donna R. Cutler, Denton Elementary School, Denton, Maryland


This informative book describes the celebration of the month of Ramadan, the holiest in the Islamic calendar. The story follows Hakeem and his family as they observe this holiday.

The preparation Muslim families make for their month of fasting is presented clearly. Muslims wake up before dawn and eat an early meal called Suhur. They are allowed to eat until the break of dawn, when they recite together a prayer that states that they plan to fast for the whole day. When the sun finally sets, the family breaks its fast with a meal that is called Iftar.

We follow Hakeem and his family through a typical day during Ramadan. One strength of the book is that it makes Hakeem and his family’s cultural observances part of the American experience, rather than continuing to view Islam as foreign. Suhaib Hamid Ghazi explains the customs and traditions of Ramadan very clearly, and makes a skillful and interesting presentation of the strong family ties involved in this celebration.

Illustrator Omar Rayyan combines contemporary family pictures with traditional Islamic art work along their borders to make very appealing illustrations. Teachers might use the borders as a springboard for discussing the development of the principles of Islamic art and architecture. Very simply, but with wonderful detail, this book explains Muslim beliefs and customs on a level that everyone can understand and enjoy.




Celebrating Hanukkah

by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith. Photographs by Lawrence Migdale. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

Reviewed by Constance M. Wolcott, Denton Elementary School, Denton, Maryland


Celebrating Hanukkah introduces the reader to the history and traditions of the eight day holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. An eleven year old girl named Leora begins her story by informing the reader about the first Hanukkah two thousand years ago, providing some background about the Hebrew language and the Jewish religion. The rest of the book is devoted to the actual celebration of the holiday.

Leora tells how she celebrates Hanukkah at school, in the synagogue, and at home. In a delightful way, she shares the Hanukkah traditions that have been passed down through the generations, allowing the reader to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the celebration of the festival. The text is enriched with full color photographs of Leora and her family as they prepare for and celebrate the holiday.



Maya Angelou: More Than a Poet

by Elaine Slivinski Lisandrelli. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1996.

Reviewed by Judy D. Butler, State University of West Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia


She read their works as a child and believed that if William Shakespeare and Langston Hughes could write, then so could she. She was Marguerite Johnson, better known to the world as Maya Angelou. Through this biography, the reader is drawn vicariously into another time and place, and is invited to travel a road blazed by someone else. The author, wisely, lets Angelou’s words tell her story.

Angelou’s lifetime spans the later part of the 20th century, and the incidents described in this book can easily be springboards into studies of many geographical, cultural, or historical episodes in our country’s story. Her story speaks of sadness, fear and abuse, of pain, of love and loss, of success and disappointment, of hope and perseverance, of what it feels like to be in the pits of despair, yet to survive. The message is clear—we will encounter many defeats in life, but we should never allow ourselves to become defeated. There is hope for the future, even though the past has been troubled.

Angelou’s life presents dilemmas and struggles with which young people can connect. In a time when many of our children live in poverty, witness violence, struggle to get along with people different from themselves, are saddened by divorce, worry about the future, and even fear never growing up, this story offers an important truth—our spirits can overcome adversity. Somehow, morning always comes.



The Life and Death of Crazy Horse

by Russell Freedman. Drawings by Amos Bad Heart Bull. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

Reviewed by Karen L. Selby, Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, Michigan


The Sioux used pictographs to record the history of their people. Regarded as treasured family heirlooms, these historical artifacts were passed from one generation to another. The central strength of this book is that it uses these and other artifacts to retell a now familiar tale. Readers experience the history of the Sioux as depicted in a tribal historian’s pictographs and described in the journals of contemporaries.

The central theme of this book is the democratic value of liberty. The spirit of freedom led Crazy Horse and his people to break away from the forced march to a reservation. This spirit of freedom also led Amos Bad Heart Bull, a contemporary of Crazy Horse, to create pictographs of the stories that had made his people great. In the tradition of the Sioux, these pictographs were accompanied by the tribal historian’s oral retelling. Freedman’s own words have replaced this oral tradition with a tale that is remarkable in its detail and chilling in its truth. The brutality of this era in American history is made clear not only through a portrayal of American aggression against the Sioux, but also of the practices of the Sioux.

This book provides teachers with a wealth of information for their students. Students can use the book as a springboard for the study of Sioux historians and their traditions. The detailed description of the research process used to develop the text of the book could also be used to help students research their own papers about this historical era.



The Harlem Renaissance

by Jim Haskins. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1996.

Reviewed by Tasha Muto


This inspirational and thoughtful work tells of the emergence of the African American identity. Its refreshing twists will intrigue students and keep them thinking critically about one of the most influential periods in Afro-American history. It has proved to be an excellent resource for high school students.

Haskins portrays the lives of the African Americans who experienced and shaped the cultural and social transformation of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. Harlem comes alive through excerpts from the works of these unspoken heroes of African American literature, music, and art. In addition to the wealth of information about individuals who established themselves in the arts during the Renaissance, Haskins provides the reader with some questions to ponder. He challenges his readers to think about whether the Harlem Renaissance should really be considered a Renaissance or whether the real Renaissance for African Americans did not take place until the 1950s and 1960s during the Civil Rights movement. His ideas about how African American identity emerged throughout our history are captivating. The Harlem Renaissance is a wonderful book for use in social studies classrooms to enhance the multicultural curriculum.




The Tuskegee Airmen:
Heroes of World War II

by Jacqueline Harris. Parsippany, NJ: Dillon Press, 1996.

Reviewed by Carrie Sorensen


Sixty-three years ago, West Point Cadet Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was preparing to graduate. By graduating 35th in a class of 276 cadets, he earned the privilege to choose the branch of service he preferred for his post-graduation assignment. His choice? The U.S. Army Air Corps. But this hard-working, highly-motivated cadet was denied entry into the Air Corps because he was black. Standard military procedure at the time involved the segregation of soldiers into units of black soldiers and white soldiers. Sadly, there existed no black flying units in any branch of the U.S. military at the time of Davis’s application.

The Tuskegee Airmen: Black Heroes of World War II is a clearly written description of the struggle blacks in the United States have encountered to achieve inclusion in the field of aviation. Beginning with the “pioneers” of black aviation, Jacqueline Harris presents a fascinating historical account of spirit and determination.

When the U.S. military began to develop the use of aircraft in transportation and battle, there was no system for training black pilots or the support crew necessary to maintain base squadrons. In April 1939, a congressional law allowed civilian schools to provide initial pilot training, with higher stages of fighter-flight training to be performed at military bases. An amendment was attached to this law to include blacks. Although the U.S. War Department resisted this amendment, later that same year, six black colleges received approval to provide this training. At a base built for “blacks only” near Tuskegee, Alabama, thirteen pilots-in-training were assigned to begin higher-stage training. From this base came the group that would later be called the 99th Fighter Squadron.
Its commanding officer was West Point graduate Captain
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

In the years following the formation of the Fighting 99th, training, equipment and combat assignments continued to come slowly. World War II battles were fought in the air by the pilots, and on the ground by supporters of these black soldiers’ rights to prove themselves and to be recognized for a job well done. Through it all, the pilots and their base support crews maintained an admirable level of excellence.

Harris has written a high-interest, inspirational text which will provide excellent supplemental material in a study of blacks in twentieth-century history.



Children of Topaz:
The Story of a Japanese-American Internment Camp

by Michael Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

Reviewed by Dee Storey, Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, Michigan


On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor plummeted the United States into war with Japan and Germany. Racial hatred flared up against people of Japanese heritage. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing military zones within the United States to be designated as camps for unwanted and excluded persons.

In 1941 there were about 125,000 persons of Japanese heritage in the United States. Many of these individuals, who were called “the Nikkei,” were citizens of the United States who had never been to Japan, could not speak Japanese and did not see themselves as a threat to the American way of life. The prisoners were shipped off to concentration camps in some of the most desolate parts of the country. Despite the circumstances, prisoners tried to make their camp a home. There were censored newspapers, drama clubs, religious proceedings, and even gardening clubs.

The Children of Topaz tells how one group of youngsters tried to maintain some semblance of normal life under these abysmal conditions. At their camp in Topaz, Utah, the children went to school and got on with the business of childhood, no matter how different life was from a year earlier. They were Scouts. They saved bent nails “for the war effort.” They helped with Victory gardens. They went for nature walks. What makes this book so special is its use of an actual classroom diary kept by one teacher, Miss Hori, and her third grade class for a year.

Children of Topaz will make for many interesting class discussions of Constitutional law and the rights afforded citizens of the United States. Tunnel and Chilcoat recognize the horror of the situation faced by the Nikkei, but they balance that recognition with an emphasis on the will people have to go on with their lives.



The Japanese American
Family Album

by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. Introduced by George Takei. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Reviewed by Dee Storey, Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, Michigan


In the late 1800s, individuals from Japan began to immigrate to the United States for a number of reasons. Thousands of men, and later their wives, came to a country that treated them with disrespect, discrimination, and hatred. Settling mainly on the West Coast, the Japanese encountered numerous restrictions on opportunities to become citizens, own land, and earn the same wages as other workers. Later, immigration laws made it impossible for Japanese families to come together in America.

Although prospects did not seem to be very good, the Japanese in America maintained a sense of community and family and endured. They believed in a better life and education, and sought to provide a future for their children that they could only imagine. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a traumatic and brutal instance of discrimination; yet, in a show of patriotism, men of Japanese ancestry formed the 442nd Regimental combat team, which became the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. After the war, shattered lives were put back together, presidential apologies and compensation were made (years later), and the Japanese American community went on to thrive and further enrich the culture of the United States.

This book, which is part of “The American Family Series,” covers the Japanese American historical experience. As the title suggests, one of its strengths lies in the hundreds of black and white photographs, which add a very personal touch to a history filled with racial discrimination. The text includes scores of personal commentaries from different people of Japanese ancestry, which give the book a humanistic twist but leave a somewhat fragmented impression. The book would have been enhanced by more expository text giving readers a sense of the bigger picture. Despite this, The Japanese American Family Album will be an eye opener for readers who have no understanding of how people of Japanese ancestry came to the United States and how badly they were treated. v