4 Reading Lists & Literary Guides for February

February celebrates Black History Month, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and snow! Here are reading lists and literary guides to connect you to the season with books for all ages.

Celebrating Black History with Children’s Picture Books
In celebration of Black History, here are ten titles which feature stories of bravery, heroism, the pursuit of justice, and so much more… and each one beautifully illustrated!

12 Picture Books to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Explorations of Chinese culture can begin with our rich list of children’s titles by author Demi exploring Chinese art and traditions offering young readers a visual feast! A recurring subject in her extensive body of work is that of ancient China. Many of her books are steeped in Chinese art, history, folklore, and tradition. Here are a dozen titles were written and illustrated by Demi that celebrates Chinese culture. Happy New Year! Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts’ai!

A Literary Guide for Valentine’s Day & Kindness
With Valentine’s Day serving as a catalyst, February is a time for practicing kindness in all its forms. Use titles from our library to learn about the impact that acts of kindness can have on the world, and to gather ideas for practicing kindness in your community.

A Community-Based Education Guide to Bill Easterling’s Prize in the Snow
A short and sweet tale of a very young trapper’s change of heart, Prize in the Snow can catalyze both learning animal tracks and signs, as well as an examination of the ethics of animal trapping and hunting – all within a community-based context!

HFVS Black History Month Episode (Radio Show/Podcast)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

Listen to Podcast:

Black History Month Show

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
February 20th & 21st, 2016
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: Ella Jenkins, the First Lady of the Children’s Folk Song, performs “I Know a City Called Okeechobee.”

 Archived Podcasts Radio  Facebook Twitter

Listen to Podcast:

  • Booker T. & The MG’s — “Green Onions
  • Ella Jenkins — “Black Royalty” [A Life of Song]
  • Count Basie & Tony Bennett — “Jeepers Creeper”
  • Duke Ellington — “Merry Go Round”
  • Earl “Fatha” Hines — “Stoway”
  • Nat King Cole — “Kee-Mo Ky-Mo”
  • Queen Latifah — “Walk the Dinosaur”
  • Bessie Smith — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
  • Little Richard — “Good Golly Miss Molly”
  • Aretha Franklin — “Respect”
  • Diana Ross — “When We Grow Up”
  • Mahalia Jackson — “I’m On My Way”
  • Ella Fitzgerald— “Chew-Chew-Chew”
  • James Brown — “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose”
  • Taj Mahal — “Brown Girl in the Ring”
  • Michael Jackson — “The Girl is Mine”
  • Rufus Thomas — “Walking the Dog”

Open Sesame: Celebrating Black History with Children’s Picture Books

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

10 New Books Celebrating Black History

In celebration of Black History, here are 10 new books for children of all ages and the grown-ups who love them. Full of inspiration, incredible acts of heroism and bravery, and striking illustration, these are needed books not just in February, but in every month of the year.

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece) presents the principles of nonviolence that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by. Each principle, presented in oversized font and bold, mixed-media illustration – have courage; love your enemies; fight the problem, not the person who caused it; when innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help; resist violence of any kind; and the universe honors love – is further explained with specific actions and events of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s life, from peaceful protests to rousing sermons.

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Elm’s College Exhibit Beautifully Illustrates African-American History

Rhythms of a Faithful Journey: Verses from Slavery to Presidency

African-American artist, educator, poet and author Robin Joyce Miller will present a slideshow and an exhibit of 14 mixed-media collage quilts at 7pm, Tuesday, February 3, 2015 in the Borgia Gallery at Elms College in Chicopee, MA.

The framed pieces in this exhibit are approximately 35″ x 46″. Twelve of them illustrate African-American history events or periods accompanying poetry from the book. Recitations of poems that accompany these works of art will be included in the presentation.

The slideshow, Restoring My African Soul, is a personal narrative of the journey to restoration and healing through faith, art, poetry and photography. Miller co-authored Rhythms of a Faithful Journey with her husband, James Walter Miller, who also will read some poems at the event.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Introducing Technicolor

Technicolor and Skin Color

 "WIZARD OF OZ ORIGINAL POSTER 1939" by MGM - http://daw.dyndns.org/images/movies/posters/wizard%20of%20oz.jpgalt source: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.Last month, we took our son to see the Wizard of Oz on the big screen. This all-time favorite had yet to debut on family movie night due to my hubby’s flying monkey terrors. As the one who gets called for nightmares at 2 a.m., I had no need to introduce flying monkeys yet. But the rare chance to watch on a big screen was worth the risk.

We needn’t have worried. In the age of computer generated animation, his baseline of what looks real is vastly different than mine was at age 5. Hoisted up to the movie poster for a Facebook photo op, my kiddo commented on the image of Dorothy and Co. on the yellow brick road, Read the rest of this entry »

Black History Month at Westfield State

In Living Color: Westfield State celebrates Black History Month, bridges racial gap

“I hope to bring awareness and a different perspective,” Richeme said. “Black History Month is not just about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Ferguson. It’s more than just African American history as well. My hope is for attendees to see beyond the typical themes of the month and learn while enjoying themselves. Each program has its own definition, unique style, and is educational.” [Oil painting from exhibit]

Westfield State University will celebrate Black History Month by hosting a month-long celebration of events ranging from poetry performances, panel discussions, and interactive experiences.

Since 1974, Westfield State has held special events during the month of February dedicated to informing students, faculty, and staff as well as the community about the importance of black history, culture, and traditions. Black History Month is organized by a committee of faculty and staff.

For the first time, Black History Month celebrations are themed this year. The theme is “In Living Color,” a play on the 90’s sketch comedy of the same name, which utilized comedy, fashion, satire, and other media to captivate audiences. Black History Month Committee Chair Ashiah Richeme, staff assistant in Residential Life, said it was important for her to organize a variety of events including some contemporary discussions.

Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Activities Jessika Murphy said the plethora of events allow students to understand the time table of racial injustice: “We want to bridge the gap, to show where we as a country started, notice the positive changes we’ve made, and to look forward to ways will still need to grow,” Murphy said.

While the university has held events around Black History Month for 40 years, it recently began expanding cultural awareness programs, including its first recognition of Latino Heritage Month last fall.

“Part of our job as educators is to provide students with the opportunity to learn beyond their comfort zone, which includes learning about different cultures,” Murphy said. Read the rest of this entry »

21 Community Highlights: Tap Dance to Folklore. Tulips to Trees.

Edible Book to Dr. Seuss Birthday. Wind Turbines to Hydrodynamics. Black Holes to Hubble Telescope. Food Systems to Sugaring

These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week: Just when you think you can’t stand winter for one minute longer, the spring flower shows open up at area colleges offering smells and colors of spring! Both the Smith College Botanical Garden and the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden will show off their extensive collections of flowering bulbs in their greenhouses starting this Saturday, March 1. Smith College’s annual Spring Bulb Show will take place at the Lyman Conservatory in Northampton, and The Spring Flower Show at Mt. Holyoke will be held in the college’s Talcott Greenhouse in South Hadley. A visit to these free shows can support or inspire a love for flowers and learning about botany and plant habitat. Why is it, children might wonder, that the bulbs are blooming even though nothing else in nature seems to have woken up? What is it about greenhouses that allows plants to bloom when there is still snow on the ground? Ask questions and learn what makes a greenhouse different from outdoors to better understand the different needs that species of plants have.

Literacy/ArtLocal History  ♦ Performing ArtFolkloreHuman StudiesBotanyDendrologyFood StudiesScience & SustainabilityMaple HistoryAstronomyParent WorkshopsEngineering

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Black History Month: Six Featured New Titles Bring History Alive

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Five New Picks for Kids and One Just for Grown-Ups

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve selected five new kids’ books that bring history alive. Courageous individuals, unsung heroes, and influential, but little-known, events, reach through pages of text, photos, art, and poetry, and connect young readers to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement. And as a special addition this month, I have a book recommendation just for grown-ups, because I can’t help spreading the word about a wonderfully outrageous book related to abolitionist John Brown.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X, written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and illustrated by AG Ford, tells the story of Malcolm’s boyhood, with a special focus on his parents, Earl and Louise Little, who raised their children with love and “unstoppable optimism and faith.” The enchanted world of his mother’s garden and the stirring speeches of his father help shape Malcolm in his early years. When his father dies and Malcolm and his siblings become wards of the state, his upbringing helps forge an indomitable self-reliance, which carries him through difficult times, and eventually helps him become a zealous leader of equal rights. Lots of emotionally wrought text and rich-hued oil paintings throughout the book’s 48 pages create an intimate portrait of Malcolm’s boyhood. A good read for middle graders and beyond.

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31 Community Highlights: Shaker Inventions to Turkish Coffee. Telescopes to Architecture.

On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 22, families are invited to Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke for a free guided family program – “Signs of the Season.”

Shaker Inventions to Turkish Coffee. Smith Splash to Kitchen Kaboom. Telescopes to Rainforest

These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week: Students in grades 6 through 12 (ages 11 through 18) are invited to come to Smith Splash in Northampton on the Smith College campus for a day of workshops for middle and high school students taught by college students. Write a parody song, learn about energy and mathematical proofs, create a zine, and learn American Sign Language. Takes place on Saturday, Mar 1. Registration deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 26!

HistoryBirds of PreyFilm StudiesNature StudiesSTEMEntomologyCultureFood StudiesArchitectureBlack History MonthParent Workshops

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26 Community Highlights: Chain Reactions to Aviation. Candy Land to Medieval Feasts.

To help kids understand the concept of interrelatedness, try building your very own chain reactions at home using dominos! Building chains of dominoes is the classic DIY chain reaction. On Monday afternoon, Feb. 17, the 7th Annual Domino Toppling Extravaganza take place!  See this classic DIY chain reaction take place on a large scale and marvel at the cascade of a chain reaction.

Chain Reactions to Aviation. Saber-Tooth Cat to Arctic Gray Wolf. Candy Land to Medieval Feasts….

These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week: Did you know that the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks is housed at Amherst College in the Beneski Museum of Natural History?  The Museum offers opportunities for families and students to learn about the natural history of the Pioneer Valley and many other parts of the world during February Vacation week, Feb 18-21, with free guided tours for families with children ages 5 and up. There are over 1,700 specimens (including skeletons of a mammoth, cave bear, and saber-tooth cat, and skulls of a tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops!), some from as far away as Patagonia, housed at the Museum, along with several collections, including anthropology, ichnology, meteorites, mineralogy, osteology, paleobotany and taxidermy. These guided tours will help museum visitors discover all the neat things the museum has to offer while learning about the natural history of the Pioneer Valley.

Animal TrackingMusic StudiesHistoryWolvesSTEMMuseum AdventuresCreative Free PlaySnowshoe Hikes

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40 Community Highlights: Valentine’s Day to Black History Month. Creative Free Play to Chemistry.

Pioneer Valley Bread House in South Hadley is holding a bread-baking event that’s open to everyone on Tuesday evening, February 11! Come learn how to bake bread from scratch and share, learn, and create with community members. Baking bread is a fun and useful skill and this is a perfect event to help you get started! Takes place at Five College Women’s Studies Research Center.

Valentine’s Day to Black History Month. Creative Free Play to Chemistry. Bread Baking to Snowshoeing.

These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week: The UMass Department of Chemistry and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Institute is holding a family chemistry demonstration night to display the wonders of chemistry and chemical reactions on Thursday, February 13 in Amherst. There will be exciting explosions, colorful reactions, and much more! Come see how cool chemistry is at this family event! Students, parents, and teachers are especially encouraged to attend this free night of science!

Creative Free Play Community Service/Animal WelfareSportsValentine HistoryLocal HistoryNature StudiesOutdoor AdventuresSTEMBaking ♦  Valentine’s DayBlack History MonthParent Workshops

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Westfield State Celebrates Black History Month

Westfield State Celebrates Black History Month

Since 1974, Westfield State University (WSU) has held special events during the month of February dedicated to informing students, faculty, and staff as well as the community about the importance of black history, culture, and traditions. Continuing this tradition, WSU will celebrate Black History Month this year by hosting community events ranging from music performances to diversity dinners:

Tuesday, February 3rd, 4:30-6pm- There will be a film screening of The Loving Story. The film follows the story of an interracial couple who was charged with breaking Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws in 1958. Following the screening, there will be a discussion led by Dr. Carlton Pickron, Vice President of Student Affairs. This event will be held in the Owl’s Nest in the Ely Building and is open to the campus community.

Click here to see move events happening throughout Black History Month at WSU…

George Washington Carver: A Life in Poems

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

In honor of Black History Month I want to share an extraordinary book about an extraordinary human being:

Carver, a life in poems (Front Street, 2001) is an intimate portrait of the botanist, inventor, scientist, artist, musician, and teacher, known as George Washington Carver. Written by acclaimed poet, Marilyn Nelson, the book takes us through Carver’s life in a series of narrative poems told from the voices of the people who knew him, and from Carver himself. Wrought with emotion and meaning, Nelson gives us a biographical experience of a man whose imprint on the world is still felt today.

Born a slave in Missouri in 1864, and raised by the white family that owned his mother, Carver seemed to always have a special spark, a reverence and joy for life, a thirst for knowledge, and an independent spirit, which led him to leave home in 1877, to attend school and begin a life-long quest for learning.

Carver’s curiosity, his hunger for answers, his drive to find out why, what if, propelled him into his destiny, and Nelson captures that in the poem, “Drifter“: “Something says find out / why rain falls, what makes corn proud / and squash so humble, the questions / call like a train whistle so at fourteen, / fifteen, eighteen, nineteen still on half-fare, / over the receding landscapes the perceiving self / stares back from the darkening window.”

Carver put himself through high school and college, studying art and science, washing people’s laundry to support himself. His success was continuous. He became known for his green thumb and his artistic talent. His paintings were exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, he earned his B.A and M.A. degrees, and joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute, where he stayed for the rest of his life working on ideas and inventions, from crop rotation and cotton seed to peanut recipes and paint colors. His generous nature dictated that he never profit from his discoveries, instead he gave them away for the benefit of all humankind.

In spare, lyrical language, Nelson takes us through moments in Carver’s life, some public, some private, and reveals a man of uncommon talent and faith. She shows his gifts of observation, his thirst for knowledge, his simmering, creative energy, his insights, and his deep spirituality.

And though Carver’s life was full of the complexities of science and nature, and he never lacked for work to do, the poems also show how he valued simplicity and contemplation. Poems like “Dawn Walk” and “Dimensions of the Milky Way” depict him in quiet conversation with the universe. And light-hearted poems like “The Lace-Maker,” “The Joy of Sewing,” and ”The Wild Garden” express the simple pleasures he took in doing handwork and gathering wild greens. Recurring details like the flowers Carver would wear in the lapels of his second-hand suits not only help us imagine what he looked like but are also tender expressions of his character.

Nelson’s poems do not shy from the harsh racial climate of the era. She portrays Carver’s dedication to the Negro people, and his reactions to lynchings and injustices, with powerful poems like “Goliath.” When his Bible study students ask after another lynching, “Where is God now?” Carver responds, “God is right here. / Don’t lose contact with Him. Don’t yield to fear. / Fear is the root of hate, and hate destroys / the hater … When we lose contact, we see only hate, / only injustice, a giant so great / its shadow blocks our sun. But David slew / Goliath with the only things he knew: / the slingshot of intelligence, and one / pebble of truth.”

Each poem in the book is complete and can stand alone as an exquisite piece of poetry. The poems beckon to be read aloud, and to be read over and over again, peeling back layers of meaning and nuance. Read together in a sequence that spans Carver’s life, with seamless transitions from one poem to the next, and thematic strands that connect the poems to each other, the whole collection creates a stunning portrait of Carver and illuminates the man who he was.

As the book draws to a close, Nelson is able to capture Carver’s divine message of conservation in the poem, “Last Talk with Jim Hardwick”: “When I die I will live again. / By nature I am a conserver. / I have found Nature / to be a conserver, too. / Nothing is wasted / or permanently lost / in Nature. Things / change their form, / but they do not cease / to exist … God would be a bigger fool / than even a man / if He did not conserve / the human soul, / which seems to be / the most important thing / He has yet done in the universe.”

The very last poem, “Moton Field,” connects the past and the present, and Carver to the poet herself. The year is 1943, and we see Carver at the end of his life, penning answers to the letters piled at his bedside. While outside his window the poet’s father, Melvin Moton Nelson, one of the first Tuskegee airmen, is piloting a p-40 airplane ”high as a Negro has ever been.” The book ends with the final image of airman Nelson doing a “sky-roaring victory roll.”

Carver earned over a dozen accolades and awards including the 2001 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a 2002 Newberry Medal Honor Award, and a 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Award. Though this was Nelson’s first book for young adults, she was already an accomplished poet with several full-length poetry collections, chap books, and translations. Since the publication of Carver she has written many more books for young people. You can read about her work at www.marilyn-nelson.com/.

Carver: A Life in Poems written by Marilyn Nelson. Published by Front Street, Asheville, NC, 2001. ISBN: 1-886910-53-7


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

Underground Railroad History & Quiz

Underground Railroad Quiz
Listen to the HFVS Podcast Before Taking

Lloyd Miller from the Deedle Deedle Dees writes:

Our friends at the Hilltown Family Variety Show (HFVS) put together a special program all about the Underground Railroad. Our songs “Underground Railroad” and “Henry Box Brown” are on it. So are great versions of traditional songs by Taj Mahal and Bill Harley, a story read by Morgan Freeman and much more. Listen to it right now:

And listen carefully. That’s the only way you’ll pass the quiz we made up related to the show. The quiz is for 4th grade and up (or advanced readers of any age) and may require some extra research in addition to listening to the HFVS podcast.  Post your answers on a blog or Facebook page or public Google doc and share your link here.

Try to avoid using Wikipedia. Searching songbooks, history books, Bibles, and other tomes you hopefully have on your family’s shelves — or in your local library — will be a much more enjoyable way to find the information you don’t know already (Western MA resources available here).

  1. In our song “Underground Railroad,” what is the secret password needed to board? It’s actually three words.
  2. Name three cities or towns that were part of the Underground Railroad — and that we mention in our song about it.
    What is the “drinking gourd” described in the story read by Morgan Freeman and sung about by Taj Mahal?
  3. In the traditional song “Wade In the Water,” (Bill Harley’s version can be heard on the podcast) who, as the lyrics ask, are “these children all dressed in red” and “that young girl dressed in white?” There isn’t one right answer — tell us what you’ve read and what you think. (Hint: Many spirituals and Underground Railroad songs contained coded lyrics and secret messages)
  4. Henry “Box” Brown mailed himself to freedom in a box. In which city did he finally climb out of his box a free man?
  5. A state and a musical instrument are mentioned in “Nelly Grey” (Phil Rosenthal sings the version you hear on the podcast). Which state? Which instrument?
  6. Why was “Nelly Grey” written (Another question without one answer. We want your opinions as well as the results of your research)?
  7. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (Leadbelly and a choir close out the podcast with their version) describes a trip to heaven — or to freedom — in a real or metaphorical chariot. Which prophet left life on this Earth in a chariot according to the Old Testament?

Deedle Deedle Dee-Endorsed History Resources

26 Community Highlights: Glass Blowing to Handmade Valentines. Ice Harvest to Hobby Railroad.

February is Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month. From the archives, we have a few episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show that would make excellent listening anytime, including the Underground Railroad Episode, Martin Luther King, Jr. Episode and Black History Month Episode— great shows for introducing American history and heroes to younger children through song and story. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield) 

Spelling Bee to Cosmology.  Glass Blowing to Handmade Valentines. Ice Harvest to Hobby Railroad. African-American History Month to Groundhogs Day… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week.  Get out into your community and learn while you play! And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!

Animals & Nature MYO Valentines
Black History Month
HistoryMusic & Art
Science & SpellingParents’ Night Out


Saturday, February 2nd is Groundhog Day! Families with young children can celebrate in the morning at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls by learning about the winter habits of the shadow-searching creatures, and make a guess about whether or not winter will last for six more weeks

Learn about raptors at the Greenfield Center School on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd at their annual free Birds of Prey Open House with Tom Ricardi, Raptor Rehabilitator. Bird-related activities and projects, like owl pellet dissecting, will be lead by Center School teachers.

In Williamstown in the afternoon on Sunday, explore Field Farm for their free Winter Wildlife Day at Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. Dress warmly to trek around the farm, searching for signs of wildlife and learning about how the many creatures who call the farmlands home survive during the winter months. Bring snowshoes or skis if you wish. Warm up after your adventure by toasting marshmallows over a campfire! 4

In the morning on Wednesday, February 7th in Williamsburg, start out your day with some fresh air with a free guided hike at Petticoat Hill with the Trustees of Reservations. The theme of the hike is edible plant identification, and the hike will stop a few times along the way for observations. Bring a field guide and a camera if you want.


Did you sign up for the Hilltown Families 5th annual Handmade Valentine Swap? Whether you did or not, making handmade valentines is a great way to push against the commercialization of yet another holiday, while being creative with your family and friends. There are a few opportunities to get out in your community to make valentines with others this weekend!

On Saturday morning, February 2nd, sign up to take part in the Eric Carle Museum’s Valentine-making party, which will take place in the museum’s art studio in Amherst or make your own valentines at the Mason Library in Great Barrington. In the afternoon on Saturday, families can also make their own handmade valentines at Art Party in Easthampton. If you can’t make any of those, on Sunday evening, February 3rd, kids ages 8-14 can learn basic drawing and print-making techniques with local artists at the Shutesburny Town Hall to use to create unique and beautiful handmade valentines.


There are also a few upcoming events happening at area museum that support the study of American history for older students. On Saturday morning, February 2nd the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield presents, “Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery,” the first in a two-part lecture series featuring author Barbara Krauthamer. The presentation will use historic images (including the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, Sojourner Truth, abolitionist conventions, and more) to examine what the freedom granted by the Emancipation Proclamation really looked like in the years just after its implementation. Older students can pair the event with studies of American history and civil rights – gaining a critical understanding of the implications of the historic proclamation can help students better understand the roots of race-related conflicts and inequalities. The second lecture will take place at the same time on Saturday, February 9th.

Learn about the history of slavery in the Connecticut River Valley on Thursday at noon, February 7th at the Springfield Museums’ Museums a la Carte lecture, featuring Amherst College Professor Robert Romer. During the 1700’s, it was commonplace for important, prominent people to own slaves – even ministers. Older students can learn how the practice of slave-holding affected the history of their community.

Learn about the powerful images that Norman Rockwell created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s on Friday afternoon, February 8th in Stockbridge. Norman Rockwell Museum’s Curator of Education Tom Daly will share the stories behind the creation of such paintings as “The Problem We All Live With,” “Murder in Mississippi,” and “New Kids in the Neighborhood,” and Rockwell’s dedication to civil rights throughout his career.


The annual Amherst Railroad Society Railroad Hobby Show takes place this weekend (Feb. 2nd & 3rd) at the Big E in West Springfield, and contains everything related to rail travel, from real life railroad pieces to scale models and extensive hobby train set-ups. There will be displays from railroad historical societies, hobby builders, suppliers, and more – the event has something for everyone, whether you’re new to studying railroads and model trains of a seasoned enthusiast! Families can learn about the history of rail travel, and the numerous types of trains and their uses. Kids can also learn about the history of railroad use in the area, and will learn about how their community has changed over the years.

Attend an old-fashioned ice harvest at the Old Shop Pond at the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation in Granville on Saturday afternoon, February 2nd. Dennis Picard, director of Storrowton Village, will teach visitors about the historic practice of cutting ice from the pond to store for the year. The museum will show a short video about the history of ice harvesting in New England on loop, so that visitors throughout the day can learn even more about winter life in early New England.

Local author Sarah Kilborne will read from American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, the Man Who Turned Disaster into Destiny. on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd. The book tells the story of Skinner’s life, and offers much information about the history of local silk production, and Haydenville’s recovery from the 1874 flood. Takes place at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg.

Families can do hands-on activities to learn about early New England life at Old Sturbridge Village! The village’s winter homeschool day takes place on on Friday, February 8th and will feature a variety of special workshops for all ages, in addition to the daily opportunities to explore the village, meet historical re-enactors, and learn all about 1830’s culture and practices. Some of the workshops offered today include learning to make a kitchen grater using tin-working techniques, open hearth cooking, and studying the language of fans and dance etiquette.


Celebrate the opening of glass artist Noah Rockland’s new glassblowing studio on Sunday, February 3rd in Montague. Families can learn about the art of glassblowing and watch demonstrations.

Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall will be filled with the sounds of a capella on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd in Northampton. The Northampton Arts Council’s annual Silver Chord Bowl will feature groups from Smith College, Northeastern, the University of Connecticut, Yale, Tufts, NYU, Berklee College of Music, and the Northamptones. Families will love the unique sound that each group has, and can learn to better understand a capella music by listening to a sampling of well-performed pieces.

The Mt. Holyoke College Music Department presents flutist Andrea Kapell Loewy, principal in the Acadania Symphony, in concert on Wednesday afternoon, February 6th in Hadley. Students with audience skills can learn about the unique sound of this beautiful wind instrument at this free performance.


Older students can learn about the science behind the human sense of smell at the OEB Science Cafe on Monday evening, February 4th in Hadley. This free event will take place at Esselon Cafe, and will be lead by UMass graduate student Tom Eiting will explain his work researching how nasal passages work and how smell is perceived in the brain.

Where did the universe come from? Learn about its origins on Tuesday evening, February 5th with cosmologist Lawrence Krauss at Williams College in Williamstown. Best for older students, the talk will cover recent developments in the field of particle physics, as well as ideas behind why there is something in the universe instead of nothing at this free talk.

The second annual Westfield city-wide spelling bee, Words With Friends, takes place on Thursday evening, February 7th. Students from all of the city’s fifth grade classrooms have participated in preliminary bees, and this final event will include two top spellers from each school! Takes place at Westfield State University.


Saturday night, February 2nd: Enjoy an evening of classic jazz at the Gateways Inn Restaurant in Lenox. The event is a fundraiser for the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School’s high school, and will feature local musicians.

Thursday, afternoon February 7th: Enjoy an indulgent night of wine and chocolate at the Springfield Museums! There will be wines to taste, chocolates to try, and delicious chocolate hors d’ouevres, as well as guest speaker Donald Williams, a professional wine buyer.

Friday, evening February 8th: New Orleans’ own legends the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are playing The Clark in Williamstown! Playing both Dixieland and traditional jazz, the group represents the historic Preservation Hall’s decades-long musical tradition.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.


Poetry for Young People by African-American Poet, Langston Hughes

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper

“Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamers, Bring me all of your Heart melodies That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers Of the world.”

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

This is the opening to one of my very favorite books of poetry for children. Originally published in 1932, The Dream Keeper, written by African-American poet, Langston Hughes, included 59 poems selected especially for young people. Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, became an important literary figure during the Harlem Renaissance.

He was a successful poet, novelist, short story writer, editor, translator, and lecturer, publishing dozens of works during his lifetime. His experiences traveling around the world informed his poetry, which readers will enjoy in the section titled, “Sea Charm.”

Poignant, sensitive, passionate, brilliant, beautiful, sweet, musical, intuitive – the poems in this collection are all of the above. Ranging in subject matter from the sharpness of the winter moon to a piano player’s weary blues, Hughes is able to communicate universal truths that ring just as true today as they did 80 years ago.

Through verse that sometimes rhymes, and sometimes doesn’t, and images that are sometimes playful, and sometimes serious, Hughes expresses a love for humanity and a hope for the world which young readers will find deeply inspiring. His ability to write about the life and emotion of black people in poems such as “The Negro” and “Mother To Son,” while maintaining a child-like sense of wonder and whimsy in poems such as “Fairies” and “Snail,” shows his versatility in communicating diverse experiences through poetry and mastery of his craft.

The Dream Keeper was re-issued in 1994 with seven additional poems and more than 50 scratch-board illustrations by African-American illustrator, Brian Pinkney, making Hughes’ poems even more accessible to children today. Readers, both young and old, will be uplifted by Hughes’ message of love and unwavering faith in reaching for your dreams.

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems written by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994. 83 pg. ISBN: 0-679-88347-9


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

In Honor of Black History Month, 5 Award Winning Books

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

In Honor of Black History Month, 5 Award Winning Books

Every January the American Library Association announces the much-anticipated Youth Media Awards, some of the highest honors given to books for children and young adults in this country. The Coretta Scott King Book Award is one of those awards. It commemorates the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honors Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and continuing work for peace. The annual award recognizes outstanding books for children by African-American authors and illustrators that reflect the African-American experience.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

The 2012 Coretta Scott King author winner is Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, written by Kadir Nelson. This epic work, told by a nameless grandmother narrator, who interweaves her family’s trials and tribulations with the history of America, sheds light on how African Americans helped shape our country’s history. From colonial times and abolition, through several wars, Reconstruction, and the Great Migration, to the Civil Rights Era and a 21st century presidential election, the narrator takes listeners on a perilous journey, that in the end, leads to freedom and equal rights. The book comes to a close as the narrator proudly tells how she cast her vote for the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

The storytelling voice is direct, no-nonsense, unflinching in its truth telling. But the narrator’s tone and warmth, her endearments of “honey” and “chile,” which are sprinkled throughout, add a sweetness that makes this difficult period in American history a bit easier for children to swallow. This intimacy pulls the listener right in, you want to listen, even though what she’s saying is often hard to hear. There’s a sense that receiving her story is a gift, and a responsibility, to remember the past and to always be moving toward equal rights and justice.

Heart and Soul was also awarded the 2012 Coretta Scott King honor award for illustration. Kadir Neslon’s lush oil paintings are rendered in deep, colorful tones that shine with an inner brilliance. Their impact is enormous, powerful, arriving with every turn of the page, some spreading across two pages at once. These portraitures of history tell a story of their own.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, published by Balzer & Bray of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2011. 108 pg. ISBN: 978-0-06-173074-0

The Great Migration: Journey to the North

Two books received Coretta Scott King honorable mentions for authorship. One is The Great Migration: Journey to the North, written by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, a picture book about a transformational time in American history.

More than a million African-Americans left the south and moved north between the years of 1915 and 1930. They left behind all they had known to escape the brutalities of the Ku Klux Klan, a dire economic situation, and the harsh realities of segregation.

Read the rest of this entry »

HFVS Black History Month & Underground Railroad Episodes (Radio Show/Podcast)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

The last two installments of the Hilltown Family Variety Show have been re-broadcasts of two very popular episodes:

  1. Underground Railroad Episode
  2. Black History Month Episode

Follow the links above to listen to our archived podcasts and to see playlists, video and resources.


Our friends, The Deedle Deedle Dees, an educational rock band based in Brooklyn, NY, are currently a doing a quiz for students ages 9 and older based on our Underground Railroad Episode.  They are inviting families to listen carefully to our podcast and then to take their 8 question quiz. Listeners are asked to supplement their listening with songbooks, history and scholarly books found on their shelves at home or at the library to come up with your answers.  Everyone who tries to answer all 8 questions will receive a free copy of a Deedle Deedle Dees CD of their choice! Wow!  That’s generous!  They are giving you one week to complete the quiz with the deadline being Friday, Feb. 10th by 11:59pm (EST).  This is a fun way to get your kids to learn more about the history of the Underground Railroad along with discovering the meaning of the symbols and metaphors found in these songs about freedom.  Read the quiz and find out how to participate at Dee-Mocracy.

HFVS Black History Month Episode (Radio Show/Podcast)

Listen to Podcast:

Black History Month Show

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
February 12th & 13th, 2011
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: Ella Jenkins, the First Lady of the Children’s Folk Song, performs “I Know a City Called Okeechobee.”

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  • Booker T. & The MG’s — “Green Onions
  • Ella Jenkins — “Black Royalty” [A Life of Song] Music
  • Count Basie & Tony Bennett — “Jeepers Creeper”
  • Duke Ellington — “Merry Go Round”
  • Earl “Fatha” Hines — “Stoway”
  • Nat King Cole — “Kee-Mo Ky-Mo”
  • Queen Latifah — “Walk the Dinosaur”
  • Bessie Smith — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
  • Little Richard — “Good Golly Miss Molly”
  • Aretha Franklin — “Respect”
  • Diana Ross — “When We Grow Up”
  • Mahalia Jackson — “I’m On My Way”
  • Ella Fitzgerald— “Chew-Chew-Chew”
  • James Brown — “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose”
  • Taj Mahal — “Brown Girl in the Ring”
  • Michael Jackson — “The Girl is Mine”
  • Rufus Thomas — “Walking the Dog”

Ticket Giveaway: The Deedle Deedle Dees Family Concert

Saturday, February 26th @ 1:30pm
At Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA

Hilltown Families & Spare the Rock present Valley favorites The Deedle Deedle Dees in their triumphant return to Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA at the Old Town Hall on Saturday, February 26th, at 1:30pm (doors open at 1pm). 

Part of the fantastic No Nap Happy Hour Series, The Dees will be doing a Black History Month Show — and we’re giving away a family 4-pack of free tickets. Deadline to enter to win: 02/23/11 by 7pm (details below).


The Deedle Deedle Dees are an educational rock band based in Brooklyn, NY.  Since October 2003, the band has been entertaining family audiences with songs inspired by history and science — “Underground Railroad,” “Nellie Bly,” “Rancher Ants” — as well as simple movement-based tunes.

The Dees will be doing a special Black History Month show featuring tunes about Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, Henry Box Brown, and other folks worthy of song — including some songs never before performed in the Valley. www.thedeedledeedledees.com


Started by Bill Childs of Spare the Rock in 2009, the No Nap Happy Hour concert series continues at it’s new location, Flywheel (43 Main St., Easthampton, MA).  The series has been featuring the kinds of bands that seem to have taken their cue from They Might Be Giants in believing that kids’ music doesn’t have to condescend or, well, suck. The series has brought many fantastic acts to the Pioneer Valley, including Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Gustafer Yellowgold, AudraRox, Bill Harley, Justin Roberts, Lunch Money, Uncle Rock and the Deedle Deedle Dees. www.sparetherock.com


The Flywheel Arts Collective’s new home (Easthampton’s Old Town Hall) is a delightful space for families to come enjoy fabulous family entertainers! Home of the Easthampton Family Center, Flywheel is a collectively run, not-for-profit space, aimed at building community and giving artists opportunities to craft, practice, and perform their work in an environment where creativity is valued over profit. Volunteer-run and governed by consensus, Flywheel believes that art and information should be equally accessible and affordable to all people. www.flywheelarts.org


Your chance to win a family 4-pack of free tickets to see The Deedle Deedle Dees at Flywheel Arts Collective in the Easthampton Old Town Hall on Saturday, February 26th at 1:30pm, is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!  To win simply:

  2. RECOMMEND A SONG FOR OUR COMMUNITY PLAYLIST and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME (first/last) and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) must include your town to be eligible.
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address)
  6. We’ll randomly draw our winners and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win: Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 7pm (EST).

If you don’t win, you simply still must come!  The Dees will be doing a special Black History Month Show, a entertaining way for families to learn a little history. Advance discount tickets can be purchased online HERE and are $5 in advance, or $15 for a family four-pack.  Tickets can also be purchased at the door the day of the show. Flywheel is located in the Easthampton Old Town Hall at 43 Main St.

Giveaway: (DVD) March On! The Day Martin Changed the World

March On!
The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
… and more stories about African American history

This January, as America prepares to commemorate the birthday of our country’s most iconic civil rights leader and Black History Month, families can learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other heroes of African American history in an entertaining and educational new Scholastic Storybook Treasure DVD release, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, which includes more than an hour of inspiring true stories.

Hilltown Families is offering one winning family a copy of this newly release DVD.  Deadline to enter to win is Monday, 01/18/10 @ 7pm. Details below.


The lead story, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, is a moving account of the day when Martin Luther King, Jr. presented his “I Have a Dream” speech to the world during the civil rights March on Washington in1963. The story is told by Dr. King’s sister, Dr. Christine King Ferris, with colorful animation of London Ladd’s illustrations. As a bonus, the DVD includes an interview with the author, Dr. King Ferris. As the American Library Association noted about the production, “Lynn Whitfield’s sensitive and stirring narration is enriched with audio clips of Mahalia Jackson’s powerful song, crowd noises, and clips from MLK’s speech. Music by Michael Bacon sets the tone for the film and seamlessly accommodates songs of the era.”


Three more historical tales follow King’s amazing, true-life story, each carefully adapted from award-winning children’s books: Martin’s Big Words (adapted from the book by Doreen Rapport, illustrated by Michael Collier), Rosa (written and narrated by Nikki Giovanni, illustrations by Michael Sporn), Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad (based on the book by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Together the stories have won 15 awards, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, Caldecott Honor Award, and selection as a American Library Association Notable Video. Celebrity narration by Whitfield, Michael Clark Duncan and others, plus engaging music, make these tales come to life for a new generation of Americans.


Your chance to win March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World from Scholastic Storybook Treasures is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!

To win simply:

  1. POST A COMMENT BELOW (one entry per family) and be sure to tell us your
  2. FULL NAME and where you
  3. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) PLEASE include your town and state to be eligible.
  4. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address).
  5. We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline is Monday, 01/18/10 @ 7pm (EST).

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