Black History Month: To debate or to celebrate? That is the question.

Many Februarys ago, I chose to celebrate. I have a lot of good reasons. One reason to celebrate is the new children's literature about black history that has been generated by this focused observance. Every year, more beautiful, informative books are published.

There are numerous books written on every age level for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and other familiar black heroes. This year, three of the new books are about people and events unfamiliar to me.

"Fort Mose and the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America" by Glennette Turner is a historical picture book about the place that is now a national landmark in St. Augustine, Fla.

Fort Mose, established in 1738, gave sanctuary to escaped Africans. In this frontier community, about 100 people lived in a blending of African, Spanish, Native American and English customs and culture.

The book, appropriate for third-graders and up, is illustrated with archival images and includes a glossary, bibliography and index. Who knew? Not I!

"In the Time of the Drums" by Kim L. Siegelson is based on a tale the author heard when she was growing up in Georgia.

According to the account, newly arrived slaves chose to drown themselves as a group rather than submit to their new masters. Very grim, very real and very beautifully presented in this book. At what age can a child grasp the concept of choosing between liberty and death? Please know your audience before reading this aloud.

"Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave" by Laban Carrick Hill is the picture book biography of a man who lived 200 years ago. We know about Dave largely because of the poems and musings he inscribed on his pottery.

In 1998, the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina held an exhibition of Dave's pots. The book includes a bibliography and websites with more information. Dave's life makes me wonder about all the other astonishing lives of slaves that may never be discovered.

"Odetta: The Queen of Folk" by Stephen Alcorn is a colorful introduction to the famous black singer who was born in Birmingham, Ala., and influenced the music of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and other famous musicians. The book refers to "Jim Crow" and incidents in Odetta's life that led to her strong desire to create harmony between black and white people. The book lists a selection of recordings that showcases Odetta's remarkable repertoire.

These are interesting, important stories that transcend color and race.

Reach Fran Hawk at