Virginia Hamilton is an award-winning author of books on the African American experience. Some of her works are traditional folktales but many are wonderfully written novels for older children and teens that immerse the reader in the experiences of the heroes. These books give voice to a population often overlooked in children’s literature but the conflicts and struggles are common to all people. The stories show the power of the individual and the family in African American culture. I love how her characters are written, not specifically described as belonging to one culture or another, but emerging as a member of the African American community throughout the course of the story. I have read these stories with my family, and to children in inner-city and rural schools. Children from all cultures and backgrounds find themselves engrossed in these books. Many of these texts are appropriate for family read aloud, but be mindful of the appropriate ages because of some content or plot complexity.
The House of Dies Drear
In Virginia Hamilton’s Edgar Award–winning novel, teenager Thomas Small and his family must uncover the haunting historical legacy of their Civil War–era house.
Shortly after moving into an old, spooky home, thirteen-year-old Thomas Small and his family start hearing strange noises. The house has a past, and when Thomas discovers a hidden passageway that may have been part of the Underground Railroad, the family realizes the house has a history as well. To find out all there is to know about the House of Dies Drear, Thomas must explore secret rooms—and the secrets of lives lived centuries before, lives that tell the story of America’s troubled early years.Appropriate ages: 8-12
Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales
A collection of twenty-five African-American folktales focuses on strong female characters and includes “”Little Girl and Bruh Rabby,”" “”Catskinella,”" and “”Annie Christmas.”" Appropriate ages: 10-14
Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush
A beautiful ghost appears to a troubled teen and shows her the heartbreaking secrets of her family’s past.
Fifteen-year-old Teresa has fallen in love—with a ghost. The handsome man that she’s passed on the street a few times captures her attention, and she thinks he notices her too. But when the man suddenly appears inside her home, hovering in the air and passing through solid furniture, Teresa realizes this isn’t going to be a typical crush. The ghost is Brother Rush, a man tied to Teresa’s past, who has come to show her the ways her life has special meaning, and that her problems at school and at home are not what they seem. Appropriate ages: 14-18
Although all the other animals also feel threatened by the encroachment of humans, only Rundi and Coati journey northward in search of a safer place to live. Appropriate ages: 5-8
The Bells of Christmas
Twelve-year-old Jason Bell waits impatiently for Christmas 1890. In this ALA Notable book set against the carefully researched background life of a middle-class black family in Ohio a century ago. Appropriate ages:11-14
“We’ll spend the whole summer on the farm with Uncle Ross. I ought to make up something special just because we’ve never ever gone alone like this!” And the first thing Elizabeth does is give herself and her younger brother, John, new names — Geeder and Toeboy.
The farm is special too, with its pump house, pond, and especially the prize razorback hogs that belong to Nat Tayber and his daughter, Zeely. Zeely Tayber is tall and dignified, unlike anyone else in the small town. Geeder is fascinated. And when she finds a picture of a Watutsi queen who looks like she could be Zeely’s twin, Geeder knows she is in the presence of royalty.Appropriate ages: 8-12
A White Romance
Swept away by the illusions of romance, Talley Barbour, a black high school student, falls for a devastatingly handsome white classmate. Appropriate ages: 13-18
Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom
Unavailable for several years, Virginia Hamilton’s award-winning companion to The People Could Fly traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. Leo and Diane Dillon’s brilliant black-and-white illustrations echo the stories’ subtlety and power, making this book as stunning to look at as it is to read. Appropriate ages: 5-14
A Ring of Tricksters
Newbery Medalist Virginia Hamilton and National Book Award-winner Barry Moser join forces to tell 11 humorous trickster tales from the story ring of the slave trade. Following the migration of stories during the Plantation Era, Hamilton presents readers with a fascinating history of the first African Americans and the wonderful stories they brought with them to the West Indies and America. Appropriate ages: 3-8
Cammy’s only trouble in life is a cousin named Patty Ann who overshadows her in every way—until suddenly, Patty Ann is no longer around.
Cammy has a happy life and a great family, except for one little problem: a cousin who thinks she’s better than everyone else. It’s true that Patty Ann is beautiful, talented, and bright, but to Cammy she’s also vain, conceited, and mean-spirited. Sometimes Cammy wishes that Patty Ann would disappear, just vanish in a puff of smoke. But when the unthinkable happens and Patty Ann is lost forever, Cammy struggles to atone for her bad feelings toward someone so close. Appropriate ages: 10-14