The 1998 Carter G. Woodson Awards

As a result of the efforts of the 1973 Racism and Social Justice Committee led by Dr. James A. Banks, National Council for the Social Studies established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards 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.” The committee focuses on the educational needs of minority students and guides NCSS in matters relating to equity issues.

The awards, which were first presented in 1974, were named to honor Carter G. Woodson, who distinguished himself as a social scientist and activist as well as an educator. A graduate of Harvard, Dr. Woodson authored a plethora of books and other materials on black history, including the seminal Miseducation of the Negro. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and was the first editor of the Journal of Negro History.

Dr. Woodson is most often remembered for his concept of “Negro History Week,” a time set aside to promote the study of African American history and to focus on the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s past. Originally designated as the second week in February, Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month, a time celebrated in schools throughout the country today.

The following reviews of the 1998 Carter G. Woodson Book Award winners are offered to help educators make decisions about their possible uses for instructional activities. A perusal of this year’s outstanding submissions indicates that the dreams of the Racism and Social Justice Committee are still being realized.

Judy D. Butler

Chair, 1998 Carter G. Woodson Committee



1998 Carter G. Woodson Secondary Award Winner

Langston Hughes

By Milton Meltzer, with illustrations by Stephen Alcorn. (Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press)

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

Langston Hughes is a rewrite of Milton Meltzer’s 1968 biography of the African American poet. It is a rich resource not only for the poet’s life—from growing up in a Jim Crow atmosphere, to participation in the Black Renaissance, to the achievement of high literary acclaim—but for many aspects of the black experience in twentieth century America. The American experience is multivaried, and the life and poems of Langston Hughes help us to comprehend this fact.

The book is enriched by the beautiful illustrations, made in casein and sand on board, by Stephen Alcorn. In creating these “bold symbolic statements,” the illustrator aimed to “contradict the stereotypical view of Hughes as solely a poet of the blues. I have created a variety of images that are decidedly playful.” This book may open doors for young people as they try to understand the struggles faced by black men in America, and in doing so, come to understand themselves better as well.


1998 Secondary Honor Book

The Flight of Red Bird: The Life of Zitkala-Sa

By Doreen Rappaport (New York: Dial Books, Penguin Putnam)

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

Issues of personal identity—its foundation, its loss, and the lifelong struggle to regain it—are central to Rappaport’s biography of Gertrude Bonnin. Brought up by her mother on the Yankton (Sioux) Reservation in South Dakota, Gertrude left home at the age of eight to attend an Indian boarding school in the “red apple country” of Indiana. “Killing the Indian” in Gertrude began immediately, as she later recalled: “I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit” (p 37).

In what the author calls an “autobiographical biography,” Bonnin’s own words—from diaries, letters, speeches, and stories—are used whenever possible to tell her story. of an uneasy life between two worlds. Although she gave herself the name Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird), Gertrude herself alternated between using it and her birth name of Bonnin. How she learned to move between her Native American roots and her white education makes for an engrossing story; Gertrude lived in two worlds, though never comfortably in either one. The result was a lifelong crusade to expose the evils of removing Native American children from their homelands and attempting to expunge their own cultures.


1998 Secondary Honor Book

Slavery Time: When I Was Chillun

By Belinda Hurmence (New York: Putnam Publishing Group)

Reviewed by Karen Selby of Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan

In 1936, the Works Progress Administration gave participants in the Federal Writers Project the task of collecting stories from some 2,000 former slaves. In this book, the author has selected twelve slave narratives from the collection of 2,000 now housed in the Library of Congress. Her choice of narratives emphasizes the depth of human experience that was African American slavery. This book should challenge readers to face some assumptions about slavery that, while erroneous, have long been held to be true.

The use of photographs from several different collections makes this book visually inviting. This includes pictures of artifacts and of building interiors and exteriors that help make clear the physical confines of slave life. The documents reproduced here likewise make clear the limitations that were routinely placed upon the actions of slaves. Students are likely to come away from this text asking to know more about the whole story of slavery in America. Teachers should find this book a powerful invitation to engage students in thinking about why race is still an issue in the United States today.


1998 Carter G. Woodson Elementary Award Winner

Leon’s Story

By Leon Walter Tillage, with collage-art illustrations by Susan L. Roth (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux).

Reviewed by Carrie Sorenson, Omaha Public Schools, Omaha, Nebraska.

Reading Leon’s Story is like having a dinner table conversation with Mr. Tillage sometime back in the early years of this century. His recollections detail many aspects of everyday life to which students can easily relate. Mr. Tillage worked as a custodian in Baltimore Public Schools for 30 years, sharing his oral history with students who included the daughter of Susan Roth, who was instrumental in publishing this story.

This book does not glaze over the atrocities in the author’s life. Tragically, Leon’s father was maliciously killed by teenage white boys—an event witnessed by Leon and his siblings. Although the driver of the car was forced to apologize to the family, no legal charges were ever filed. Teachers who use this story may want to balance it with more hopeful aspects of the black experience in America, including the progress that has flowed from the civil rights movement. Students may be challenged to find someone in their own area who is willing to talk about similar life experiences. Seeking to find the untold stories of people in their community is a natural outgrowth of reading Leon’s Story.


1998 Elementary Honor Book

Buffalo Days

By Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith, with photographs by Lawrence Migdale (New York: Holiday House).

Reviewed by Elaine Roberts, State University of West Georgia.

Buffalo Days is an enlightened and authentic representation of the history of the Crow people. The author describes the Crow buffalo days through the eyes of 10-year old Clarence Three Irons. Vivid photography combines with an informative narrative of Crow life from the time when the buffalo were abundant, to the near eradication of the herds, to the present day when they are regaining in number. Clarence’s experiences help readers understand how the return of the buffalo has brought a renewed sense of pride to this Indian people.

This book provides a strong sense of what life is like for the Crow today. Similarities among Crow and other cultures are denoted in terms of dress, technology, and the role of the family. The pride of the modern Crow in their cultural heritage is emphasized through the depiction of their annual ceremonial fair, which includes setting up tepees, wearing traditional clothing, and participating in rodeos and dance contests. The book also includes a useful glossary of words in the Crow language.


1998 Elementary Honor Book

I Am Rosa Parks

By Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, illustrated by Wil Clay (New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Putnam).
Reviewed by Dorothy Dobson, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University, Logan Utah.


Rosa Parks did not suddenly become concerned with civil rights on a December day in 1955. The far-reaching decision she made that day was based on growing up in a family that valued learning and hard work, only to be faced with a lifetime of discrimination based on the color of her skin.

This fine book tells Rosa Parks’s story in her own words. The writing is simple and easy to read, and the pictures direct and understandable. The book provides a positive role model for children who feel they are experiencing discrimination of any kind, and may help them in working out peaceful and productive solutions to a problem. Most significantly, it gives us a rich picture of this icon of the civil rights movement whose heroic act did so much to further the growth of equality in our country.


1998 Elementary Honor Book

Princess of the Press: The Story of Ida B. Wells-Barnett

By Angela Shelf Medearis (New York: Lodestar Books, Penguin Putnam).

Reviewed by Lyn Vlaskamp, Friends Seminary, New York City, New York.

Princess of the Press is a vivid account of the life of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black journalist who lived between 1862 and 1931. This energetic woman demonstrated her concern for equality and freedom for her race by using her pen to wage the battle for equality throughout her lifetime. From her earliest days of providing care for her younger siblings, to her adult life as a writer, speaker, and editor of black periodicals, Ida B. Wells-Barnett lived by her beliefs.

The author demonstrates an accurate and sensitive knowledge of the individual and the time period. Her style of writing is suitable for a wide range of readers, but is most beneficial to readers from early elementary through middle school. Older youth and adults who do not know the story of Ida B. Wells-Barnett can also benefit from reading this text. It is a book that well deserves a place on a library shelf in the classroom and/or at home.

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.