First-grader Skylar Williams, who prefers novels to picture books, picks out a book at the September 2019 unveiling of two new Little Free Libraries in Jackson Park. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

HYDE PARK — Brown Books and Paintbrushes, a Hyde Park-based literacy and art nonprofit, will honor Black History Month by giving away books that “celebrate the Black childhood experience” around the South Side.

The organization’s lineup for February includes:

  • Book donations to pre-kindergarteners at South Shore Fine Arts Academy and second graders at Dixon Elementary School in Chatham early this month.
  • The “Radiant Black Boy Joy” free library pop-up, running Feb. 4-28 at Afro Joe’s Coffee and Tea, 8344 S. Halsted St. in Auburn Gresham. The pop-up, which will feature about 500 books from Black male authors and illustrators, is held in collaboration with Burst Into Books.
  • A refill of Little Free Libraries in Hyde Park and Bronzeville with donated children’s books by bell hooks Feb. 14.
  • A virtual book drive and fundraiser Feb. 20-28. Books by Black authors and illustrators are preferred, while cash donations will be used to purchase from Black-owned bookstores like Rose Café in Roseland, Semicolon Books in Wicker Park and Da Book Joint in Washington Park.
  • A refill of South Shore’s Little Free Libraries in Jackson Park with art supplies and books inspired by President Barack Obama Feb. 21.
  • A month-long book club reading of Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” as adapted for young readers. The book club culminates in a private session with reparations activist and former Evanston Ald. Robin Rue Simmons Feb. 26.

The month’s theme, “Dream Street,” is inspired by Ekua Holmes’ illustrations in Tricia Elam Walker’s most recent book of the same name, Brown Books and Paintbrushes founder Candice Washington said.

The book “is about their childhood experiences, and the theme [dovetailed] off that concept,” Washington said. “This Black History Month, we can find a way to celebrate Black childhood experiences — not just for Black children, but for all children and families.”

Black Books and Paintbrushes’ fundraiser, which closes out the month, aims to build on the momentum from being featured on the Oprah’s Book Club Instagram page last week.

New supporters from as far as Germany have reached out, asking where to get a copy of “African Proverbs For All Ages” — the book from Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Nelda LaTeef featured in the picture — and offering to donate money and books, Washington said.

The Black History Month calendar of events serves as a “mirror” for Black children to see their lives reflected in books, and a “window” for non-Black children to learn about Black culture, Washington said.

“Black children need more mirrors to their experiences, and other children need more windows into the lives of Black people, so we can move forward,” she said.

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