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If you have been around the blog, you’ll know that I’ve been on a mission to include books into my music classes. I’ve done lessons with favorites like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, and today I am sharing some of my favorite Black History Month Books for elementary music.
Some of these books are lyrics to songs, some are about songs, some are about people, and some are just good stories.
I originally was only going to include 5, but as I was writing, I kept thinking, “This is a good one!” “This is a good one!”
You can click on the pictures to purchase the books on Amazon (affiliate links).
If you need some (free!) resources, you can click here to join the FREE resource library! You’ll get access to activities like Grizzly Bear powerpoint, Spanish fruit composition, and more!
So without further ado, let’s get to it.
Follow the Drinking Gourd
We’re starting with one of my favorites, Follow the Drinking Gourd.
Follow the Drinking Gourd is a spiritual, and it is amazing. First off, the piece is beautiful– but the history is even more beautiful.
This song was used as a coded message to teach slaves how to find the Underground Railroad and escape to the North. I use this song pretty much every year with my first and second grade students. It’s not always during Black History Month (Newsflash: You CAN and SHOULD use diverse music all year round, not JUST Hispanic music in October and African American in February. But that’s a post for another day.), but we always throw it in the curriculum somewhere.
We learn the song, talk about the coded messages, and read the book.
A few of the secret codes:
- Drinking gourd = Big Dipper (it points at the North Star!)
- First quail calls = in the Spring, when it is safe to travel
- Left foot, peg foot = a symbol that was often inscribed to show the path
There’s a lot more, but these are the three that we typically focus on with my kiddos.
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
If explaining the Underground Railroad to littles sounds difficult, I would highly recommend this book. Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky takes kids on a journey through the underground railroad in an easy to understand way.
We typically use this book in conjunction with Follow the Drinking Gourd to help us understand the Underground Railroad even better.
Jazz on a Saturday Night
On a completely different note, Jazz on a Saturday Night might be my favorite book on this list. I typically do a jazz unit in the Spring with third, fourth, and fifth graders. When I do this unit switches each year, but I love being able to talk about a lot of different musicians and introduce students to jazz.
I like to use this book with my third grade students when we first learn about jazz. It’s pretty short (which I like!), and it does rhyme.
Jazz on a Saturday Night goes through an imaginary concert with a ton of jazz giants– like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Theolonius Monk, and more.
I love this book to talk about all the different people, and also to look at the different instruments. I really work with my third grade on instrument identification, so I love being able to talk about what instruments different people play.
Hair Love is a really sweet book about loving you natural hair. I love the message that it sends to young students, and I especially love that it is about a little girl and her dad.
I use this book with the chant Queen Caroline. We talk about different ways that you take care of your hair, and different things that you might put in it.
Queen, queen, Caroline washed her hair with turpentine.
Turpentine made it shine. Queen, queen Caroline.
Queen, queen, Caroline washed her hair with turpentine.
Princess Zuri, detangles her curlies.
With either version of the chant, you can have students play body percussion or instruments on the rhyming words. For an added challenge, you can find the rhythm!
If your students are at home, you can have them play the rhyming words on their hair products. Bottles of shampoo, brushes… anything will work!
Ada Twist, Scientist
After Follow the Drinking Gourd and learning about the stars, you can read Ada Twist, Scientist. This book is so cute and features a young African American girl as a young scientist.
I love that this book allows students to see that science can be for everyone.
You can also talk about how music is science! You can do the science of sound, listen to the planets, or learn how instruments make noise!
What a Wonderful World
There are a few different picture books for What a Wonderful World. My school has this one
But I would like to purchase this one for the illustrations.
Either way, you can learn about Louis Armstrong. This song plays at the end of Finding Dory, so a lot of your students will be familiar with it. Also it’s amazing, so they should be familiar with it.
I use this with all grade levels. I typically use this song with the older kids, because 4-5 grade does a HUGE jazz unit. I also like to throw it in with the littles because it’s just so good. I think I prefer the book for younger students though.
Ideas for teaching What a Wonderful World include:
- Learning the sign language (this is really great if you are online! We have been learning all the sign language.)
- Put it in order: As a class or by ourselves, we put the song in order. I made cards that have the different parts of the song (trees of green, red roses, etc). As we listen, we put them in the correct order. I’m working on a google Slides version for this year!
- Drawing or writing about a wonderful world. What would make our world wonderful? Ask the kids and have them write or draw about it.
I also have a fun activity that is on Google Slides and goes along with this book. We listen to the piece, learn about Louis Armstrong, learn about the instruments, put the lyrics in order, and more!
Before John was a Jazz Giant
Can you tell that I teach a lot of Jazz? I don’t think I realized it until I started writing this blog.
This book is about John Coletrane, and specifically about when he was a kid. It talks about all of the different things that he heard– dad playing the ukulele, the phonograph, sermons preached by his grandad, and more.
This book can lead into learning about jazz and John Coletrane, but you can also talk about found sounds. You could pair this with a listening walk or the book The Listening Walk. An easy way to do this is to have students close their eyes and listen. Then have them talk, draw, or write about what they hear.
Also read: Lesson Ideas for Jazz
Ella, Queen of Jazz or Skit Scat Raggety Cat
Ella Fitzgerald is one of my favorites, so of course, I had to incorporate this into our list of Black History Month books.
This is a good book for third grade and under to learn about Ella Fitzgerald and her life.
I like to teach the students the song A Tisket A Tasket (which you can play a Duck Duck Goose like game with the “basket”), and then have them listen to Ella’s version. She changes a few words, so I like to have them tell me which ones she changed.
I also used these two songs with 4-5 grade while teaching ukulele last year. We did the folk song to learn how to change chords, and then listened to Ella’s version as we learned about her.
I also love Skit, Skat, Raggety Cat. It is also about Ella Fitzgerald, but it’s a bit long. I would not read it in one sitting, but maybe over two days in fourth or fifth grade. I do like that it goes more into detail about her life– she had a rough childhood that mirrors some of my students’ childhood. It helps to show them that even if life is hard, you can still be amazing.
Sing a Song, How Lift Every Voice Inspired Generations
Lift Every Voice is commonly known as the Black Anthem. It is a spiritual popular in the 1960s that talks about overcoming adversity and achieving liberty and freedom. Boy, do those themes still feel relevant today.
This book talks about the song. It starts with a girl learning it the premiere. Then she grows up and teaches it to her son, and so on. Throughout the book, it goes through many generations, through the Civil Rights Movement, through Martin Luther King being killed, through Obama being elected, and more.
I especially love that it has parts of the song in the story. So it will have part of the story, and then a verse from the song.
I teach Lift Every Voice to my fourth graders, and we use this book. I would highly recommend it.
Alright, that is a few of my favorite books for Black History Month for elementary music class. What are your favorites? Share them on Instagram, and tag me @beccasmusicroom