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African American Classroom Guides


LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to serving the needs of today's teachers and students. It is our goal to provide educators with books that address the experiences of people of all backgrounds, but especially children of color—who now make up more than half of the school population. Our diverse collection of African American books for children includes contemporary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. In addition, we publish historical fiction and biographies, often focusing on lesser-known figures who have been ignored by traditional history books. Our African American books for children give these heroes their day in the sun and make their contributions known to a wider audience of readers.

Our books for children also satisfy the requirements of national standards. Our Active Learner Classroom Guides are FREE for classroom use and are available in both on-line format and as downloadable PDFs.

Active Learner Classroom Guide Common Features:
  • Reading Levels and Themes
  • Story Synopsis and Background Information
  • Special Teaching Tips
  • Pre-Reading Focus Questions
  • Exploring the Book
  • Setting a Purpose for Reading
  • Vocabulary
  • After-Reading Discussion Questions
  • Literature Circles
  • Reader's Response
  • Other Writing Activities
  • ELL/ESL Teaching Strategies
  • Interdisciplinary Activities
  • About the Author and Illustrator
  • Web Resources




GRADE 1-2 Reading Level

Christmas Makes Me Think Guide

The story of an African American boy who considers the meaning of giving and sharing and comes to understand the true spirit of Christmas.
Themes: Holidays, Environment/Nature, Sharing/Giving, Homelessness, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 1-2 Reading Level

Deshawn Days Guide

In this uplifting story told in verse, a young boy living in the inner city projects tells about his hopes, fears and dreams.
Themes: Family, Love, Growing Up, Self-esteem, Poetry, Urban Life, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2 Reading Level

Babu's Song Guide

The story of a young Tanzanian boy who learns a lesson about family love after selling the special music box his grandfather made for him.
Themes: African/African American Interest, Disability, Grandparents, Sharing & Giving, Poverty
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2 Reading Level

The Bus Ride Guide

An African American girl discovers how one child can make a difference when she refuses to sit in the back of a bus.
Themes: Personal Strength, Overcoming Injustice, Civil Rights, Sacrifice, Family Love, African American Interest
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GRADE 2 Reading Level

Children of Long Ago Guide

In this book Lessie Jones Little uses poetry to recall her childhood in the early part of the twentieth century in rural North Carolina.
Themes: Poetry/Verse, Family Traditions, African Americans, History, Early Childhood
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GRADE 2 Reading Level

Grandma's Purple Flowers

An African American girl who cherishes her frequent visits to her favorite Grandma finds a way to remember her grandmother with hope and joy after she passes away.
Themes: Intergenerational Relationships, Grandparents, Coping with Death, Seasons, African American Interest
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GRADE 2 Reading Level

Love to Langston Guide

This inspiring biography celebrates Langston Hughes' life through poetry. Told in verse, this collection shows Langston throughout his life as he overcame many obstacles to become the beloved poet he is today.
Themes: Biography, Langston Hughes, Poetry, Occupations, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2 Reading Level

The Palm of My Heart Guide

African American children celebrate the beauty of their lives and their culture through poetry.
Themes: African American Interest, Self-Esteem, Community, Poetry, Family
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2 Reading Level

The Piano Guide

Set in the deep South of the early 1900s, an African American girl learns to play the piano from her white employer, and their mutual love of music rewards them with a friendship that transcends age and race.
Themes: Music, Determination, Friendship (Intergenerational and Interracial), African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2 Reading Level

Rainbow Joe and Me Guide

A girl learns the power of imagination from her blind neighbor.
Themes: Imagination, Sensory Perception, Friendship, Art and Music, Dealing with Disabilities (Blindness), African American Interest
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GRADE 2 Reading Level

Strong to the Hoop Guide

A boy finally gets to play basketball on the main court with the older boys, and has to prove he can hold his own.
Themes: Sports, Self-esteem/Identity, Siblings, African Americans
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GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Allie's Basketball Dream Guide

Basketball is Allie's favorite sport. When her dad gives her a new basketball of her own, she hits the neighborhood courts, full of confidence. Once there, her enthusiasm ebbs as her shots fall short of the basket—at least at first.
Themes: Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence, Sports, Friendship, Father-Daughter Relationship, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

The Can Man Guide

To earn money, a young boy decides to collect and redeem empty soft drink cans, but ends up giving away his money to help a local homeless man.
Themes: Homelessness, Compassion, Friendship, Recycling, Working Toward a Goal
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Dear Mrs. Parks Guide

Through her heartfelt correspondence with children, Rosa Parks, the "Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement," answers their questions while challenging them to embrace life's possibilities.
Themes: Self-esteem, Values, Peer Pressure, Courage and Hope, Family, Education, Freedom, Justice, Social Issues, Civil Rights Movement, African American History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall Guide

Twelve poets give testimony to the powerful bond between African American fathers, children, and grandchildren, in this brilliantly illustrated volume.
Themes: Family, Poetry, Fathers, Grandfathers and Children
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Elizabeti Series Guide

Includes reference to the entire Elizabeti series, with special emphasis on Elizabeti's School. Perfect for back to school!
Themes: Family, Growing Up, Sibling Relationships, Learning, Responsibility, School
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GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Gettin' Through Thursday Guide

A young African American boy experiences the love and support of his family as they try to make ends meet each week.
Themes: Family, Single Mothers, Mothers and Sons, African American Interest
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GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Howard Thurman's Great Hope Guide

A biography of the Reverend Howard Thurman–author, philosopher, theologian, civil rights leader, and idol of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–focusing on Thurman’s childhood pursuit of education.
Themes: Education, Segregation/Civil Rights Movement, Overcoming Obstacles/Achieving Goals, United States History, African/African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Keepers Guide

An African American boy creates an innovative way to preserve — and add to — family stories and traditions.
Themes: Traditions, Giving, Sports, African American Interest
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GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

The Jones Family Express Guide

In his debut as both author and illustrator, Javaka Steptoe combines humor and warmth in the story of an African American boy who wants to make a special gift for his aunt when she comes to visit.
Themes: Family, Togetherness, Urban Life, Creativity, Travel, Giving, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Juneteenth Jamboree Guide

A young girl experiences the traditions of Juneteenth, an emancipation holiday that celebrates the freeing of the last slaves in the U.S.
Themes: Celebrations/Cultural Traditions, Community, Family, Moving, African American History, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Night Golf Guide

Set in the South of the late 1950s, an African American boy who longs to play golf is banned from the game because of the color of his skin.
Themes: Golf, African American History, Self-esteem, Intergenerational Relationships, Discrimination, Friendship, Sports
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Paul Robeson Guide

A biography of Paul Robeson, who overcame racial discrimination to become an international entertainer and civil rights activist.
Themes: Entertainers, Activism, Perseverance/Overcoming Obstacles and Hardships, Discrimination, Dreams and Aspirations, Education, Sports, African American and United States History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Ray Charles Guide

A beautiful new edition of the award-winning biography of world-famous musician Ray Charles.
Themes: Music/Musicians, Jazz, Overcoming Hardship, African American History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Rent Party Jazz Guide

The story of an African American boy living in New Orleans in the 1930s who raises money to pay the rent with the help of a popular jazz musician.
Themes: Music/Musicians, Jazz, Overcoming Hardship, African American History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Richard Wright and the Library Card Guide

This is the true story of the renowned African American author Richard Wright and his determination to borrow books from the public library that turned him away because of his color.
Themes: African Americans, Determination, Courage, Discrimination
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

The Secret to Freedom Guide

In the days before the Civil War, an enslaved girl and her older brother help slaves escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad quilt code.
Themes: History, Quilting, Civil Rights, Discrimination, African Americans
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Sweet Potato Pie Guide

In this fictional story set in the South in the 1920s, an African American girl and her family sell Mama's sweet potato pies at the Harvest Celebration to raise money and save their farm.
Themes: Resourcefulness and Creative Problem-Solving, Family, Farming, Cooking, Finances, Harvests, Teamwork, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 2-3 Reading Level

Up the Learning Tree Guide

An enslaved boy in the pre-Civil War South secretly learns to read and write while hiding in a sycamore tree outside the schoolhouse.
Themes: Self-Esteem, Diversity, African/African American Interest, Historical Interest, Slavery and Freedom
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Bird Guide

An African American boy nicknamed Bird uses drawing as a creative outlet as he struggles to make sense of his grandfather's death and his brother's drug addiction.
Themes: Family, Coping with Death, Art (drawing), Mentors, Siblings, Urban Life, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Brothers in Hope Guide

A young boy unites with thousands of other orphaned boys to walk to safety in a refugee camp in another country, after war destroys their villages in southern Sudan. Based on true events.
Themes: Overcoming Adversity, War, Discrimination, Tolerance, Coping with Death, Education, African History, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

First Come the Zebra Guide

The story of two young Kenyan boys, one Maasai and one Kikuyu, who find a way to overcome their traditional rivalries and become friends.
Themes: Traditional Culture, Tribal Rivalry, Animals, Working Toward a Common Goal, Conflict Resolution, Friendship, African/African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery Guide

The story of the African American abolitionist who, in one dramatic incident, discovered the meaning of freedom.
Themes: Slavery, Biography, Peace, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Joe Louis, My Champion

During the mid-1930s, an African American boy who yearns to be a boxer learns the value of determination, perseverance, and his own natural abilities from the example of his hero, world champion prizefighter Joe Louis.
Themes: Sports (boxing), Role Models, Self-Esteem, Overcoming Obstacles, Famous African Americans, Sports History, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Joshua's Masai Mask Guide

Joshua's Masai Mask is a positive tale in which a young boy learns what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.
Themes: Self-image, Competition, African Traditions, Role Models
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

Knockin'on Wood Guide

An inspirational biography of Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates (1907–1998), an African American man who overcame the hardship of losing a leg at age 12 and went on to become a world-renowned tap dancer.
Themes: Dance, Disability, Discrimination, Dreams & Aspirations, Historical Interest, Nonfiction
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

The Legend of Freedom Hill Guide

A fictional story set during the California Gold Rush, in which a girl teams up with her best friend in search of gold to buy her mother's freedom from a slave catcher.
Themes: California Gold Rush, African American History, Interracial Friendship, Jewish Interest, Bravery, Slavery
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3 Reading Level

The Mangrove Tree Guide

The Mangrove Tree invites readers to discover how Dr. Sato’s mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village into a self-sufficient community.
Themes: Environment, Science, Farming, Community Outreach/Helping Others, Sociological and Social Transformations, Creativity, Africa, Asian/Asian American
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GRADE 3 Reading Level

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation

A photographic essay about contemporary Maasai—the changes in lifestyle, land, and farming practices they face and how they are adapting to those changes.
Themes: Animals, African/African American Interest, Conflict resolution, Cultural diversity, Environment/Nature, Farming, Food, Religion/Spiritual, Self Esteem/Identity, Nonfiction, Nature/Science, Photographic Illustrations
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream

A story based on the childhood of Marcenia “Toni Stone” Lyle Alberga (1921–1995), an African American girl who grew up to become the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team.
Themes: Sports (baseball), Self-Esteem, Achieving Goals/Determination, Women’s History/Breaking Gender Barriers, Famous African Americans
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Destiny's Gift

An African American girl tries to help her friend's neighborhood bookstore from going out of business by using her resourcefulness and creativity.
Themes: Intergenerational Friendship, Neighbors, Community Involvement, Reading/Love of Books, Sharing and Giving Creativity, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip Guide

An account of the life and career of George Crum, a biracial chef who is credited with the invention of the potato chip at a Saratoga Springs, New York, restaurant in 1853. Based on historical records.
Themes: Inventions, Food/Cooking, Family, Persistence, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

How We Are Smart Guide

A multifaceted biography of twelve talented people that introduces readers to the eight ways people can be smart and the realization that intelligence is "not about how smart you are, but how you are smart."
Themes: Learning, Creativity, Self-Esteem, Diversity, Occupations, Multiple Intelligences
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement Guide

A biography of John Lewis, one of the Big Six civil rights leaders of the 1960s, focusing on his involvement in Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Themes: Learning, Creativity, Self-Esteem, Diversity, Occupations, Multiple Intelligences
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby Guide

The story of Jimmy Winkfield, one of horse racing’s all-time great jockeys and the last African American to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.
Themes: Sports (horse racing), Animals (horses), Overcoming Obstacles and Adversity, History, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Saturday at the New You Guide

A girl spends the day at her mother's hair salon, a neighborhood gathering place.
Themes: Working Mothers, Community, Taking Children to Work
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GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Seeds of Change Guide

A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman-and first environmentalist-to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004), for her work planting trees in her native Kenya.
Themes: Biography, African/African American Interest, Breaking Gender Barriers, Conflict resolution, Dreams & Aspirations, Education, Environment/Nature, Farming, Home, Occupations, Overcoming Obstacles, Religion/Spiritual, Responsibility, Sharing & Giving, Nonfiction, Nature/Science
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Seven Miles to Freedom Guide

The true story of Robert Smalls, a slave steamboat wheelman who commandeered a Confederate ship during the Civil War and escaped with his family and crew to freedom.
Themes: History (Civil War), Heroism, Slavery and Freedom, Leadership, Overcoming Adversity, African/African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 3-4 Reading Level

Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree Guide

The true story of the famous African American writer, who as a young girl learned about hope and strength from her mother.
Themes: Dreams and Aspirations, Gender Roles, Death in Family, African American History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 4 Reading Level

Mama's Window Guide

In the early 1900s, an orphaned African American boy learns about hope and family as he struggles to adapt to a new home with his uncle and keep alive his mother's dream of a stained-glass window for their church. For middle-grade readers.
Themes: Family, Belonging, Hope, Fulfilling Dreams, African American Interest
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 4 and up Reading Level

Yummy Discussion Questions

A graphic novel based on the life and death of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, an eleven-year-old gang member from Chicago's Southside who was killed by his own gang members.
Themes: Gang Violence, Family, Conflict Resolution, Coping with Death, Urban Life
Download Discussion Questions in PDF


GRADE 5 Reading Level

Etched in Clay Guide

The story of the life and times of Dave, an enslaved potter who inscribed his works with sayings and short poems in spite of the slave anti-literacy sentiment in South Carolina in the years leading up to the Civil War. Middle grade/young adult biography in verse.
Themes: Art (Pottery), Slavery, Power of Reading and Writing, Freedom of Expression, Overcoming Obstacles, Self Esteem/Identity, Creative Inspiration, Poetry, United States and African American History
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 5-6 Reading Level

i see the rhythm

A musical journey beginning with the roots of black music in Africa and continuing on to contemporary hip hop.
Themes: Art, African/African American Interest, Dance, Historical Interest, Music, Poetry, Slavery, United States History, Nonfiction
Download Classroom Guide in PDF


GRADE 6 and up Reading Level

Tankborn Discussion Questions

Kayla and Mishalla, two genetically engineered non-human slaves (GENs), fall in love with higher-status boys, discover deep secrets about the creation of GENs, and in the process find out what it means to be human.
Themes: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Friendship, Romance, First Love, Genetic Engineering, Ethics, Coming of Age, Socioeconomic Privilege, Family
Download Discussion Questions in PDF


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Our Active Learner Classroom Guides are designed to help you, the teacher, deliver useful and practical information to your students. So, PLEASE feel free to email your comments and suggestions. If you have ideas for lesson plans to implement with any LEE & LOW titles, send them to us and we will include them with an acknowledgment.





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