Nonfiction Monday: The Harlem Hellfighters by Walter Dean Myers and Bill Miles

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Anamaria Anderson at  

      I have been on a hunt for nonfiction books to add to my class library ever since I began nonfiction books clubs last year and discovered how few of this genre of books we had.  I bought quite a few science oriented books last year (mainly the Scientists in the Field series), and have turned my focus to books about history and social issues for this year.  Among my recent finds was:

     Walter Dean Myers teams up with film maker Bill Miles to create the story of “unsung American heroes” – the African American soldiers of the 369th. Infantry Regiment of World War I.  At a time when America was still trying to come to terms with issues of race and equality, its African American citizens were struggling to break racial barriers that prevented equal access to opportunities for many things – including military service.
     The 369th. grew out of  New York’s Fighting 15th. – National Guardsmen formed from areas around New York and New Jersey.  When World War I began, the men of the 15th. wanted to board ships bound for fighting in Europe, just as  their white brothers were doing in defense of the nation.   As Myers writes, ” it was an opportunity to show the world and their own community , what talented black men could achieve. . .it also meant a chance to work and live in a situation in which equality was measured by rank, not skin color.”
     Myers and Miles use both photographs and prose to describe what this journey was like – from the formation of the 369th  (in spite of staunch opposition from the powers that be) to their success on the battlefields and in the trenches. The hardships of war were exacerbated by prejudice, but the men of the 369th. persevered and won respect for their unflinching courage and grit.
     Told in a photo essay type of format – this book picks up a historical narrative that my sixth graders begin with their study of slavery, the Civil War and  the 54th. of Massachusetts.  I think it will be an important addition to our class library. 


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